Monthly Archives: April 2014

Round the island yak trip

Shawn/ April 17, 2014/ Bottom Fishing, Kayaking, Luring, Pulau Ubin, saltwater/ 2 comments

Foreword: I have since given up on the Kairos kb430 (affectionally known as “the white boat” or the kaboat) due to reliability issues (an issue seemingly common to others) and have switched to a yak, a Native Mariner 10 to be exact. This post, though posted after that event, may come before some posts about that event. Confusing? Don’t worry about it.

Today started like any other day that was started with an alarm clock. That is to say, I was not completely pleased to hear the incessant drone of the alarm. To top it off, a friend in need of programming help called me just as I fell asleep, that left me with about 4 hours left to sleep.

Mael had invited me to this little trip on the pretense of having another Mariner 10, for a total of two Mariner 10s and two Mariner 12.5s. When I last saw him, which was at our little post kayaking dinner gathering (post coming later), the plan was to get live prawns from the kelong before heading off to the north of Ubin. Having done this myself many times in my kaboat, I felt the need to press the difficulty of proceeding with that plan. When I messaged the guys the night before, the plan had changed to sticking under Ubin, but as this post goes on, you’ll find that we reverted back to the original plan.

My mantra on kaboating/kayaking in Singapore is: anything East of Ubin is hell. Many others have commented on the difficult conditions at changi but I believe I was one of the few fortunate enough to be able to pinpoint a more exact longitude where hell begins.

All these guys had already been through the treacherous conditions during our St John’s Kayak trip (another event that happened before this but where the post will come after this one) and had made it. I was confident they could take it. Nevertheless I tried my best to brief them on the serious conditions they would be facing but stopped short of saying no. I was excited after all, both to be heading back to one of my favourite places to boat as well as to the adventure that lay before us.

Our meetup time was set at 5-ish, and so I arrived so 5.57AM.

Hendrik was there but the others were not. I mounted my gadgets and tools slowly and was surprised to realise that I was the first to finish! My old kakis (Kiat, Alex) were almost always done before me. I took the delays as an opportunity to continue with my morning rituals (sans newspaper) while Mael and Fendy filtered in and set their yaks up.

The first thing I realised was all of their yaks were the same colour.

Mine’s the very visible orange in the centre of the picture.

If standardisation is the mark of a good team, then luckily I effectively had the same shirt as Mael. (Note: I wasn’t sucking in my stomach. Honest!)

Dennis made an appearance as well but he was to be launching with Nordin and his brother-in-law who recently purchased a Native Slayer Propel in Lizard Lick!

Andy (not pictured), whose birthday it was today, made an appearance as well but like Dennis, he wasn’t joining us. Instead, he was going out with a new Native owner.

By the time we launched, the sun had already established itself in the morning skies. For safety reasons (visibility) and ride comfort, this was a good thing. For avoiding getting burnt to a crisp, it was not.

Fendy and his cool camera rig, an idea I may decide to steal at some point. Dennis (top left – Orange Mariner 12.5, myself (top second left – Orange Mariner 10) and Mael (top right – Sand Mariner 10) pictured in background:

Fendy and Hendrik (Mariner 12.5):

If you’re looking for a pattern of inter-connectectivity in those photos… some of us had the same shirts, same nets, etc..

We made our way to the Kelong to buy some live prawns (an adventure in itself, which I also pointed out to them). We berthed on the side of the Kelong I didn’t usually berth at and I was surprised to see how different everything looked.

We then made our way to the south eastern corner of Ubin, being careful to look cool and very noticeable to the throngs of One-Day-Islanders arriving in the multitudes on bumboats. After all, there are usually many pretty girls who arrive on these boats. Having seen how I look like in my reclined position and bulky PFD (like a fat midget turtle) had no impact on my behaviour.

This was also my first time fishing the area with a fishfinder so I was anxious to see what it would show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could identify rock areas as well as seaweed. Though obviously nothing like in the promotional materials (fish finder owners will know this), I was able to vaguely see the individual clumps of seaweed on the seabed and from the intensity of the bounces, I could also clearly identify rock formations (which might possibly have been coral).

I tried my best to identify the location where I had caught my groupers on previous trips. I used the fishfinder, my geographical memories, as well as my memories on what the seabed felt like from the end of my rod. Alas, I could not find it. Perhaps it had moved. I eventually gave up on that idea and moved on to finding new spots. A number of spots looked promising and I had a few bites.

Eventually though, I was blessed to land this tiny “Arumugam”, a kind of grouper that most angler’s hate to see (because they are usually small and come in groups that devour anything on a hook). For me though, this was a welcome sight. Having gone 2 months without a catch (admittedly I didn’t launch in the first month), I was happy to “break my egg” (a local colloquialism for breaking the zero).

With no one else hooking up anything, including those chartered boats (who were fishing in the illegal area I might add), we decided we needed a plan.

These were easy going guys, but with everyone lightly slipping in a suggestion for heading north, I knew where we would be going. Again, I impressed upon them the conditions we would be in but stopped short of saying no. My favourite part was when I showed the charts to one of them and he said “wah! very near la”. I pointed out the differences between “near” and “so close yet so far” but stopped short of saying “No, you mad cow!”. I was excited after all, and so were they.

Here’s an image showing we actually avoided an illegal crossing of Chek Jawa, which is something I have not yet seen any kayaker do! If anyone knows if there is a specific exemption for kayakers, do let me know! Regardless of whether you cross Chek Jawa or not, do be careful about the sand banks at low tide. The sand bank extends north out of the illegal area!

We eventually made it past the north east corner of Ubin. The guys made a few stops along the way to drop their lines. Mael and Fendy also took a quick break for lunch, letting the current and wind push us towards the west. Checking the tide was something I did the moment Mael invited me on this trip. I knew it would work in our favour if we got in trouble. An easy guide for those planning kayaking trips in the North East (East of the causeway) is this:

  • Whatever time is stated on the NEA website, most tide table cards from local fishing shops, and some other websites, the tide stated will occur at least an hour later.
  • The effects (choppy waves and current) of the tide will be about an hour after the tide is reached. (There’s usually a “calm” period from when the high/low tide is reached to about an hour later)
  • Anything WEST of Pulau Seletar (that’s the one near Sembawang, and where you’ll often see wakeboarders) generally has currents that are mild and has small waves.
  • Between Pulau Seletar and Pulau Serangoon (sometimes called Coney Island), an area which also includes Pulau Punggol, will have stronger currents and “normal waves”.
  • East of Pulau Serangoon (Pulau Serangoon till about the East of Ubin) will have much stronger currents and “normal” to choppy waves.
  • Anything East of Ubin will have strong currents and typically very choppy waves (especially on the eastern side of Ubin, where Chek Jawa is).
  • Anything East of Pulau Tekong, is usually doable with proper planning but is asking for trouble.

In a post that is to come, I describe how strong the currents East of Ubin actually are. My 2nd second-hand motor (sic) died while we were at tekong and on the kaboat. We were blown out from the west of tekong, to the east of tekong and nearly reached the border. When we dropped anchor and it was set, the water was rushing past us at a speed we could never paddle the kaboat over. But that’s another story for another post.

Always look for shelter from the wind and current. Estuaries often are calm. Sometimes you can even see a line clearly demarcating where the wind or current has a diminished effect.

Also, consider this. In most cases, the closer you go to shore, the slower the current will be. This is not related to the bank effect. During our St John’s trip, a group lagging behind (and those who were watching over them) eventually came across strong currents. At full “throttle”, none of us could move, not even the experienced peddlers/paddlers. I had no idea how strong this effect could be till one of the paddlers instinctively moved, well, crabbed, closer to the shore. But again, that’s for another post.

Anyway, back to today. We eventually made our way to one of the rivers.

I pointed out the places that were known for fish but no one tried them. Neither did I. The water was incredibly dirty. It wasn’t simply “not clear”. There was mud, there was algae, there were dead leaves and twigs and of course, the usual refuse. As if to underscore the filthy state of the water, two pretty blonde “Ang Mohs” on the shore called out to us to ask “Where is the beach? Is this it?”. I asked Hendrik if we should have given them a lift to another beach and he said yes but alas, when I turned back, they were gone.

This was the first time that I had used my fishfinder here and was surprised to see just how shallow everything was. Then I remembered that I was in a shallow draft kayak. I didn’t need to worry.

So I moved a little further down the river and found myself in a small eddy and having already been carried quite far from the rest, I maneuvered to stay in the eddy.

Then I felt something unusual on the end of my rod. It felt almost like the sinker was bouncing off a rocky seabed, but not quite. A few more bounces then…

Whack! And that was it.

The fish didn’t have anywhere to run to after all. On one side, it had my kayak in barely a metre of water, and on the other, it had shore. I dutifully pulled it out of the water and it looked green, but with no where for it to run but into snags, I didn’t have a choice. It flapped around quite a bit on the deck but it was well hooked so didn’t have a chance.

I yelled out a short “Oi” in the general direction of the other guys and they came to try their luck while I took a selfie (known in my day as a self portrait).

I let my line down again and felt a few more of those unusual bumps but got no hookups. So I eventually moved on.

We had little luck further down the river so we decided to fish our way back out. Unfortunately, as we were nearing the exit, my line got snagged. I tried to unsnag it but this happened:

Ironically, I loaded the rod much less than I usually do when unsnagging.

Having had many rods break on me before while in situations like these (no access to replacements), I was only mildly annoyed (especially since this was one of those rare times where I didn’t bring a spare) but was otherwise unphased.

We eventually caught sight of the entrance and Hendrik and Mael decided to stop off at the shore and look for a drinks store while Fendy and I dropped our lines. Fendy was casting into some heavy snags, seemingly looking for Barramundi.

Then quite suddenly, I saw his line go tight. As he turned to me I saw the slightest of grins begin to creep across his face. I asked him incredulously, “Got fish ah?”, but he seemed unable to speak.

After a relatively short fight, this pretty grouper was in the boat. I took the customaries while Mael and Hendrik scurried into their yaks.

Mael took Fendy’s spot and landed another one at about the same size. No photos though.

Hendrik, probably not keen on risking a snag, went out into the lagoon and managed to land a small Diamond Trevally. Again, no photos.

The fish eventually stopped biting and it came time to decide how to go back. Would we take the slightly shorter but much more difficult way, or would we take the longer but easier way? We chose the latter. The current and wind favoured the longer way, and we favoured favourable winds and current… favourably.

As we made our way around Ubin to head back to watercross, we saw many schools of baitfish boiling the surface of the water. In fact, I personally saw a flying Fingermark Snapper (Ang Cho Kee)!

After a long period of peddling, we took a short break.

With the wind and current still coming from our backs, we decided to let it push us back home while we fished.

The police coast guard, seemingly surprised to see 4 kayaks suddenly appear, came close for a visual inspection. They didn’t ask us to go alongside though, something I always had to do when I was in my kaboat.

As everyone settled into their positions and dropped their lines, I began to retie mine.

All of a sudden, my fishfinder started going mad. The last time I saw readings like these was on my first outing with other Native owners, when I caught 7 fish in half a day. Alas, I wasn’t yet ready to drop my line.

At about the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fendy, who was about 20 metres from me, struggling with his rod. It was bending quite heavily.

Suddenly, he gave a loud shout, “Yeaaahhhh!”, as he lifted this beauty out of the water.

I finally got my tackle ready so I started making patterns in the area, looking for the same readings on my fish finder but could find none. I eventually settled on an area that looked good. It felt rocky and just before I could begin to make a second pass, I got this guy on my broken rod.

At about the same time, Mael, who was further up, hooked up a nice sized Barramundi. Keen on Barramundi, I made my way to him as quickly as possible but alas, we had no more bites in the short while that we stayed there.

With some of us keen on getting back before dark, we eventually made a beeline for watercross. Well, at least I did, the rest made a beeline for Pulau Serangoon but I took a slightly more direct route.

To keep myself occupied for the long journey, I challenged myself to ride the waves and move with the winds, and I did. When you’re moving at speed and feel no wind, you know you’re moving with the wind. My highest speed was 3.6 knots.

When we had finally lugged our kayaks back to watercross, we found out that everyone else had been having a good day too.

We took pictures of our relatively modest catch.

Then we cleaned our kayaks, went home, and crashed into our respective beds in our respective homes.

The End.

Total Tally
Fendy: 1 sotong (Squid), 1 large chermin (Diamond Trevally), 1 grouper
Hendrik: 1 chermin
Mael: 1 grouper, 1 KBL (Barramundi)
Shawn: 1 small grouper, 2 groupers


Shawn started fishing in 1994. He caught his first fish (an Ah Seng) on that very first trip to Changi Carpark 4 (before it was barricaded). He built up his fishing knowledge and gear over the years but still keeps his old gear, just like the memories.