The day started really early (“really really early” is reserved for my St John’s Kayak Trip, where we met at 3am, and left at 6am). As I was transporting my kayak on my van, instead of in the communal lorry, I managed to get away with meeting them at 4am, instead of 2am.
We left at about 5am. It was a very long journey from Watercross at Pasir Ris to Raffles Marina at Tuas. You don’t realise how far Tuas is from Pasir Ris till you drive from one to the other in the middle of the night. Luckily, I had Hermann to keep me company with his conversation.
This is not 6am. This is 7.30am.
We reached the place at about 6am, just after the lorry had arrived. As we set about unloading the kayaks and setting up, I discovered that there was a problem with my DIY electronics. My DIY lamp refused to turn on. Thankfully, the way I designed it was so that in situations like these, I could reroute the power manually as and when I wanted. I later found out that I had put the MOSFET switch on the high side instead of the low side. No permanent damage was brought upon the MOSFET.
This was also to be my maiden trip with my new Sports Camera. As is to be expected, I did some DIYing with this as well. A write up will come soon, about this and all the other DIY/DIY electronic things I have done to my kayak.
In essence, I made it so that when I flipped up a switch, the camera would start recording and when I flipped it back down, it would stop.
I’ve since made some modifications to it and it’s much neater.
Switchbox for Native Mariner 10 Propel. My new kayak’s switch panel (not shown here) is much neater and more advanced.
On the left you can see my switch box and wiring, both of which is now much neater as well.
While waiting for the late arrivals, we dawdled and mingled as we nibbled on our “provided breakfast” – a bun with various flavoured cream fillings. It’s good to point out that the Native vs Hobie rivalry isn’t very apparent in most of the kayak anglers that were there. This is something I’m very proud of.
Most of us were hesitant to roll our kayaks on the seemingly well manicured grass, despite the instructions from the organiser. Perhaps it’s silly, but it’s the little things like this show of thoughtfulness that gives me another reason to be proud that I’m in this community.
Early in the morning…
Hermann, Fendy and Nordin
Eye In The Sky. Our videographer for the start of the event.
Briefing in progress…
After the briefing, which was unusually unrowdy, all of us made a beeline for our kayaks and the slipway. As they say, the early bird catches the worm. Little did we know, just how early into the competition someone would land a fish, and a sizable one at that.
Slightly under half of the kayak anglers were still at the slipway, some about to make way, some not even launch ready. I was only just reaching the Tuas Second Link bridge when I heard over the VHF that Bennett Hsu had just caught a Giant Trevally weighing around 4Kg.
Our spirits soared at the prospect of an awesome day fishing on rich waters. At the same time, my heart sank, thinking that as far as I was concerned, these waters were unknown to me and being Singapore, rich waters was unlikely. Feeling that it would be very difficult to beat the 4Kg mark, I nevertheless set off, sneakily joining the hoardes of eavesdroppers hoping for a glimmer of a clue as to where Bennett had caught his fish.
Whether or not any of us made it there is something I’ll never know, because no one else brought up anything, at least not anywhere near where Bennett was, and at least not for a while.
There was one guy who did seem to be struggling with a large fish slightly further up. I made my way to him but when I was at least 300 metres from him, when he was about to pull the fish into the boat, I heard him yell out. I saw his hands waving in the air as his head slumped low and I knew then, that he had just seen what he had lost. I put my video camera down. There was nothing else to see.
I fished around the area for a while, confused by where the border actually was. There was one defined by my maps, another defined by the organiser, another “close one eye” border apparently defined by the Malaysians, and another defined by how far out our PCG boats were – listed in increasing distances.
I eventually allowed the kayak to drift back under the bridge and almost past Raffles Marina.
Planning my next move, I radioed Nordin and asked where he was going. He said that he was going further west of the bridge. Having trouble receiving him with the shitty stock antenna on my radio, I decided that I might as well join them. This didn’t turn out to be a good fishing decision for me either.
Nordin, who had caught some fish by now was all over the radio, bragging about his catch, and asking when the rest of us were going to catch ours. When Fendy caught his, Nordin continued on with the bragging, especially after he caught a few more, even though they were very small.
All of us took this in good stride though. Teasing is part of the culture after all, and is especially strong in this group of kakis.
Another thing that was strong was the current but it was getting worse. It wasn’t really an issue unless you were anchored. If anchored in a small kayak, you have to worry about the fulcrum point as you lift and secure the anchor. The 4 of us had little problems thoug as we had endured much faster currents on our St John’s trip and we knew both ourselves and our yaks could handle it. It would just take us slightly longer to get to where we wanted to go.
I fished up to where the Malaysian “defined” border was and landed 2 large cuttlefish. I had never caught such large ones in Singapore before.
The current was picking up and it was getting difficult to stay in one place, even with my Native Propel.
I tried anchoring and mooring and found both to be mostly pointless. The anchor would not set on whatever it was that was down below, and mooring to the bridge’s pillar put me in bad fishing spots.
I made my way around the pillars and did a bit of controlled drift fishing. I eventually ended up near the Singapore shore and found Azhar and his wife anchored just in front of the pillar.
So I lifted up my line and looked for the next convenient location to fish. As luck would have it, the nearest spot was right next to the pillar, and only 3 to 5 metres from him. It was around a corner though, so he couldn’t really reach it, at least not with the way the current was going.
I cast my line into that corner but didn’t feel it sink. Thinking I had snagged something, I reeled in the slack when the line suddenly went taut. When I tried to reel it in again, instead of feeling a snag, which I was expecting, the line started going out. Knowing immediately I had a fish on, I moved to strike, and I did.
Then the line went slack again. I thought I had lost the fish but again, I didn’t feel the line sinking. Wanting to be extra cautious, I reeled in the slack again and when it went taut, I knew the fish was still on.
In the back of my mind, I suspected that it was a Barramundi. The way it felt, the way it ate, where it ate.. it felt right.
Feeling the weight of the fish as it fought me, I began to think that this could be a winning catch. Everything that was at the back of my mind then came forward. I fought to keep the line tight at all times, just in case.
When it jumped, and it did, I pulled the rod low to keep the hook from coming out. When it dived, I let it go. When it was running towards me, I reeled in the slack while keeping the rod bent. The tension was more or less maintained all the way.
All this time, I was fighting the current. This is where the ability to immediately reverse the kayak really came in useful. By reversing, I was able to keep the kayak in more or less the same place. I was also able to help myself keep more or less constant tension on the rod and fish. My position was upstream which meant the fish had to spend most of his time swimming in my direction, which made it that much easier for me to bring him in, and I did all of this while facing the fish I was fighting.
I eventually landed him and he was quite big. In my lifetime, I have seen enough Seabass caught, landed and weighed to know that whatever you think it weighs, divide it by half. They’re basically made of fluff. I knew then that I was probably looking at 3rd place.
Azhar and his wife cheered me on and gave me the thumbs up. They were smiling but I knew that they were hurting a little too. They had been there for quite a while and on my first cast, and only a few metres in front of them, hidden from their view, was this Seabass.
As news of this spread, the radios suddenly came alive. I couldn’t answer the calls though because I was busy trying to get my fish on the keepline. I had the intention of releasing the fish even though it couldn’t fit into my icebox.
After getting the fish on the keepline, I proceeded to guide the rest to the where I caught the fish. The current was really going strong though so getting them to the place was difficult. I managed to place myself there and got another bite but lost it. It felt smaller though. No one else managed to get anything there, including the anglers on the power boat that came respectfully close.
It was nearing the end of the competition so I told the guys that I was headed back to the scoring table. They opted to stay behind and try their luck at the eleventh hour but had no more hits.
I used all the tricks that I knew off to get to the slipway as quickly as I could. Riding the slower currents, riding parallel to others to get them to block the current thus giving me calmer water, and riding close to the shore. Surprisingly, I was going faster than most of the Hobie guys but it still wasn’t fast enough for me and I was getting tired.
Knowing how hardy Seabass were, I lifted the fish out of the water and place it in the kayak, periodically dipping it in the water. By doing this, I picked up speed considerably and at one point, despite the opposing current, hit a 4 knot average.
The slipway was full so I hug back for a bit and dropped the fish back into the water and had a nice but short chat with some guy sitting on the docks.
Recovering the kayak was a joy. The immense convenience of a proper concrete slipway, one that goes down all the way into the water, cannot be understated. I took only a minute to get my kayak on the wheels and had no trouble pulling the kayak up the ramp, despite my lack of energy. I didn’t need to struggle with mud in the water or soft sand on the beach, let alone small grassy or sandy hills.
When I reached the scoring table I was overjoyed to discover that I was indeed 3rd and with the competition about to close, I sauntered back to my kayak, feeling proud of myself, but not smug.
I hung around my kayak, waiting for the rest to return when I heard some of the other guys talking about a large Barracuda that this guy had caught while trolling his way back.
Immediately, I knew, I was probably going to be fourth. I made my way back to the scoring table to get some pictures when I saw it on the board. I had been pipped to the post. I wasn’t shaken, annoyed or angry. I was a bit disappointed though and I let it out with a playful “Nooooooooo….”. Ian Pearl who was behind made an encouraging comment about the nature of fishing and I said “yea but… so close”. That’s when he said “Me too” and I realised that I had done the same to him. He had caught 2 Barramundi between 1 to 2 Kg and came to the board to find my catch beating his.
I tried to make an encouraging comment back but I wasn’t sure if it stuck.
Most of us got our kayaks cleaned and ready for transport in short order. Then we headed for dinner and the prize presentation ceremony.
We were tired, mildly disappointed, but felt that we had had fun.
As the dinner and prize presentation went on and the usual hecklers shouted out at the Emcee, I became slightly curious after discovering that for some of the categories, they were now giving out prizes up to 5th place.
Immediately my heart soared, wondering if my category would get the same treatment. If I got any sort of prize, it would be my first ‘podium finish’ at a fishing competition.
I could hardly contain myself when the Emcee began announcing my category, Heaviest Catch, with “There will be 5 prizes for this category”. I tried to play it cool but I wasn’t sure if I suceeded.
Finally, my name was announced and I walked up to the stage to get my prize. I shook the guy’s hand, said thanks, smiled, and walked back to my table.
4th place hardly entailed a speech after all. Still, I was beaming. I had won something at a fishing competition.
Eventually, the last category was announced and then the Emcee thanked us all for our support and said that he hoped to see us at the next one.
They called up the prize winners to the stage for a group photo and once that was done, we all got up to leave.
I made sure to take a photo with Azhar and his wife, so that they, and everyone else, would know that they had a hand in this by sharing their spot with me. Sometimes, you get bad anglers who demand you stay well clear of their area.
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.