Fishermen angle for more space

Enthusiasts are appealing for bigger fishing areas in reservoirs as more people take up the sport
Melissa Sim Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

Singapore's freshwater fishermen are reeling - they say there are not enough official spots for them to cast their lines.

The problem has arisen because more people are becoming hooked on angling.

There are about 800 fly fishermen and 'more than 1,000 fishermen in Singapore', says Mr Chin Chi Khiong, president of the Sports Fishing Association of Singapore.

Fly fishermen use artificial bait and a weighted line, and there are other types of fishing too - with ready-made lures and bottom-fishing using live bait and weights.

A lot of new faces are joining the sport or picking it up as an activity, say fishermen and supply shops.

Madam Elizabeth Lai, director of E-waves Fishbyte, a tackle shop in Clementi West, says: 'We see families walking in and just trying it out.'

Previously, new customers were usually taken there by avid fishermen, who were introducing the sport to their friends.

However, these fishermen are permitted to fish only in spots designated by the PUB, which manages reservoirs in Singapore.

Staying in designated areas and using artificial bait will 'minimise pollution to our drinking water sources and avoid inconveniences to other reservoir users', says PUB.

Fishing is allowed at eight out of Singapore's 17 reservoirs and only within certain areas. These are small sections of about 50m to 100m and anglers complain that they are often within 5m of each other.

These spots are in MacRitchie, Lower Peirce, Upper and Lower Seletar, Kranji, Bedok and Pandan reservoirs and Jurong Lake.

Avid angler Henry Lau, 41, who manages Coho Fishing Tackle shop, says of the situation here and overseas: 'Elsewhere, we have walkie-talkies and are often 10km apart. Here we can talk to each other.'

He says he gets complaints from joggers about the danger of casting off with a hooked line.

But jostling for space with other park users cannot be avoided without the authorities opening up more fishing areas.

'If we have more space to fish, we can move elsewhere if we know that there are a lot of joggers in a particular area,' he adds.

Fishing is not allowed in rivers, canals and storm drains due to safety concerns.

Mr Kelvin Ang, 36, a financial services consultant who is assistant treasurer of the Gamefish & Aquatic Rehabilitation Society, points to another gripe. The problem with a designated legal spot is that it becomes 'barren' as fish wise up to the fact that they are being hunted.

He adds: 'The authorities like to build platforms and structures for anglers, but we are nature lovers and we want to explore on our own.'

So, to avoid crowds and barren freshwater grounds, anglers either go overseas or head out to sea.

Mr Chin of the Sports Fishing Association says it organises monthly trips to his choice location: Semakau landfill.

Newbies are also crowding commercial fishing ponds in Pasir Ris Town Park and Bottle Tree Park in Yishun.

Mr Tan Nguan Sen, PUB's director of catchment and waterways, acknowledges the growing interest in sports fishing and says the PUB is working with various interest groups to 'explore the feasibility of opening more fishing grounds in our reservoirs'.

He adds that 'in future, fishing will be allowed on significantly bigger areas along reservoirs and waterways, with the exception of designated non-fishing zones.'

But the PUB has been trotting out the same message for more than a year.

Mr Tan Tien Yun, executive committee member of Gamefish & Aquatic Rehabilitation Society, says his organisation and the Sports Fishing Association of Singapore have submitted proposals on how to have sustainable fishery.

Their stand is that users must be educated on how to keep the place clean and not over-fish, and rangers should patrol the reservoirs to keep anglers in check.

But that would, of course, require resources which could come from fishing licences and the Government.

He adds: 'To their credit, PUB has started talking to us, but they are most concerned about water quality, and opening up fishing spots is not an economic or strategic priority for the authorities.'

Catching fish in a kayak
Melody Zaccheus Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

Some fishermen have found that there are, indeed, plenty more fish in the sea.

An intrepid group takes kayaks, often equipped with GPS navigation systems and high-tech fish finder devices, out to sea on weekends.

Their haul ranges from eels to large sail fish, which they reel in using a rod and line.

One of these kayak fishermen, Mr Mathew Tan, 32, says: 'Kayak fishing gives us access to new hunting grounds which shoreline fishing does not.

'It's also pretty easy to catch a fish on a kayak as it is a silent vessel which does not spook fish. We often find ourselves in the midst of large schools of fish and all we have to do is drop our lines and they bite.'

He is part of an online community of more than 40 kayak fishermen who met on a fishing forum two years ago. They have an official Facebook page, Kayak Fishing Singapore.

Outings usually comprise groups of two to five members. The kayak is their boat of choice because of its aerodynamic design that glides through the water. It is also collapsible, making it easy to transport.

The kayakers usually leave from Pasir Ris Beach, East Coast Park and Sembawang Beach. Sometimes they also explore mangroves off Pulau Ubin and a 'secret' fishing spot they declined to name.

On average, they cover distances of 6km to and fro, in waters up to 12m deep. They usually plan their trips to return to shore with the tide to conserve energy.

Mr Tan has caught groupers, snappers, eels, catfish, queenfish, grunters, flatheads and giant herrings, which can measure up to 1m long.

He usually releases them after taking photos with them for his blog ( Sometimes he brings the catch home for his wife, 31, to cook. They have a four-year- old daughter and two-year-old son.

Mr Tan, an interface designer for a firm which develops iPhone apps, has been fishing for the past 23 years. He got hooked after a trip out to sea in a two-seater kayak with his uncle in 2009.

His fishing buddy, Mr Mervin Low, 42, got the bug that same year, after having to give up his weekend soccer due to an injury.

Mr Low, who runs an event planning company, has caught a 5.5kg golden pomfret measuring 1m in length and a 7kg barramundi about 1.3m long.

To boost the chances of getting large catches, Mr Tan spent about $300 on two second-hand navigation and fish-finder systems.

The kayak fishermen adhere closely to safety regulations and they make it a point to fish between daylight hours of 7am and 7pm. Newbies are encouraged to take basic kayaking lessons to learn safety rules.

Mr Tan says kayak fishing allows anglers to experience the open sea in all its glory. 'Once, we saw a submarine slowly rising to the surface. On another occasion, I spotted a family of otters having a nice morning swim,' he says.

Mr Low has seen large turtles in the waters off Sentosa and Changi surfacing beside his kayak for a breather.

He recalls: 'It was an amazing sight. Being one with nature can be very therapeutic. Giving up my weekend soccer boots for kayak fishing was certainly a good decision.'

Fisherman at sea
Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

Fisherman Raju Ducro, 62, has lived on his fishing boat for the past 11 years and takes people out to sea almost every day in pursuit of a catch.

'I can't sleep on a bed on land, but this rocking motion puts me to sleep,' says the sea lover, who docks his 40ft vessel at Marina Country Club in Punggol for $600 a month.

His wife, whom he visits every month, lives with her sister. Their two adult children often visit him on his boat.

Mr Ducro, who started fishing at the age of eight, says: 'It's just easier sleeping here. I finish cleaning my boat at 7pm and then by 6am, I have to be here to get ready to go out again.'

He says that sometimes, people also call him in the middle of the night to tow their boat when their vessel breaks down.

The former shipyard worker, who later started a machining business which made spare parts, says he saved up $50,000 for his first boat about 20 years ago.

His current boat can take six passengers who pool their money to cover costs.

He and his friends like to go to his favourite spots near Changi, about 20 minutes from the marina, to catch fish including garoupa, golden snapper and mangrove jacks. 'My challenge is reading the current and the tide, and looking for the fish,' he says.

Taking home some fish is only part of the draw.

In words that echo Ernest Hemingway's famous character from his book The Old Man And The Sea, Mr Ducro declares: 'We are anglers, we want the fight. If people just want fish, I tell them to go to the market, there are plenty there.'

It is not just 'the fight', but the danger involved, too.

He has to look out for sharks, even in Singapore waters.

One time he was under his boat trying to cut a rope tangled in the propeller, and was cut by barnacles, causing him to bleed. He had a rope tied to his waist and his friends on deck, who were holding it, started tugging.

When he surfaced, they told him to get out of the water as they feared a shark was near him.

'I wasn't scared, I didn't see it. But luckily, I had cut the rope already and we could move,' he says matter-of-factly.

Fly fisherman
Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

If you spot an elderly man flailing around with a fishing rod in a field in Yishun, it is probably Mr Amin Rahmat, 67, perfecting his casting techniques.

He says that when he is not out fishing, he practises casting for at least 20 minutes every day in the open space near his HDB flat in Yishun.

The avid fly fisherman is one of only five instructors in the sport in Singapore.

He does not only have vast experience, but he has also done a fly fishing instructors' course in Oregon in the United States and taken a test in Brisbane, Australia, to qualify as an instructor.

'To me, it's a form of art when you can throw the line gracefully,' he says.

The artistry is not only in how the fishing line is thrown from the rod and reel, or to use the fishing term 'is cast', but it is also in the making of the 'flies' used to lure the fish which are attached to the regular piece of nylon fishing line called the leader. The hook is also attached to the leader.

The flies act as bait for the unsuspecting fish.

'We make imitation crabs, insects and small fish and we share the ones we have tied with our friends,' he says, showing off his box of handmade flies in colours from pink to neon green.

He enjoys both salt-water and freshwater fishing and has travelled to countries such as Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Australia and the former Yugoslavia.

During his many years of fishing, he has caught coveted game fish known for their speed and strength, including the bonefish, but the Atlantic tarpon - found only in some parts of the Atlantic Ocean - has remained elusive.

'It's a very challenging fish and it's very expensive to travel there to catch it,' he says.

In Singapore, he goes fishing at some reservoirs, including MacRitchie and Lower Peirce, but says there is not enough space.

'We have only 50m or 100m of space to fish and we also have to worry about other people around when we cast. It's quite difficult to fish here,' he says.

Recalling fishing trips overseas with friends, his eyes light up.

'We fish together and the environment is different, so we just relax and admire the place,' he says.

He has made fishing trips to the Maldives every year for 15 years.

The retiree, who gives fishing lessons in his spare time, says he spends about $2,500 on such trips.

He also travels once a month to fish all over Malaysia, including places such as Terengganu and Perak.

When he is not fishing or coaching, he meets other fly fishing enthusiasts at Coho Fishing Tackle shop in Bali Lane.

He teaches students the art of casting on an undeveloped plot of land opposite the shop. It is convenient as it is near the tackle shop which serves as an unofficial clubhouse for fly fishermen.

He charges $50 a lesson a person, as long as there is a group of four or more, and $100 to $200 for individual lessons. He provides the rod and lines and says he will teach until the person can cast a decent distance.

A basic set of rod and line costs about $200 to $300.

Strangely, in spite of Mr Amin's knowledge and fervour for the sport, none of his five children, aged between 23 and 41, has fallen in love with it.

'I'm happy to teach because I like to share my passion,' he says.