Fishing in Singapore: Reel Deal

Fishing in Singapore is not restricted to just beachside locations. Here are some other places to go to for the big catch
Kezia Toh Straits Times 10 May 13;

They say the early bird catches the worm, and for avid anglers such as undergraduate Kang Bao Long, the best time to fish is during the "first and last light" of the day.

Rod and bait in hand, he eyes a time window for the best catch: 5 to 6am, and 5 to 7pm later in the day.

"You have to match the time to the type of fish you want," says the 26-year-old, who has been fishing for the past seven years.

The freshwater snakehead and peacock bass - a type of fish native to the Amazon River basin in South America - for example, come out to play as the sun rises.

Scratch the idea of placid fishermen grazing lazily on shorelines waiting for fish to bite: Fishing is a hunting game - pooling wits, strength and glory.

"It starts from planning which spot and what time to cast, followed by the thrill from that first tension in the rod, then tackling and finally landing your catch," says Mr Kang.

The angler community is about 200,000 strong - a number that has quadrupled in the past three years - says Mr Luke Cunico, 36, who runs local angling forum Fishing Kaki.

This is because the activity is an "easygoing and social" one, he adds, revolving around time spent with family and friends.

The Sport Fishing Association of Singapore does not keep track of angler numbers.

For those keen on netting a catch, Life!Weekend lays out the different types of fishing available in Singapore.

Fishing 101

For beginners, start with a general rod - about 1.8m to 2.1m long - for about $60.
A simple spinning reel to accompany the rod costs about $30, and add on a pack of hooks for a few dollars from fishing apparel shops.
Match the bait to the fish you are trying to catch. Catfish bite on raw chicken liver, for example, while breamfish like insects such as crickets.
Wear boots or non-slip footwear. These will be handy for the times you may have to unexpectedly wade into water. For deep sea or kayak fishing, a safety vest is a must.
When a fish bites, pump the rod back and reel the fish in, periodically dipping the tip of the rod down.
When the fish is reeled in close enough, scoop up your catch with a net.
When a fish comes close enough, net it head-first. A fish caught by its tail could jump out of the net.
To release a fish back into the water, wet your hands first, then gently unhook the fish and immediately slide it back into the water.
If a fish has swallowed the hook, cut the line close to its mouth and slide the fish back into the water. The hook will dissolve in the fish's stomach acid.

Pay Pond Fishing

This is the "convenience store" version of fishing.

"Everything is in one place because there are different types of fish swimming about in a controlled area, so chances of landing a catch are higher," says MrJimmy Aw, 39, a Sport Fishing Association of Singapore committee member.

The project controller at an IT company has been fishing for more than 30 years, a hobby that started when his parents took him and a younger brother to Boat Quay to cast for live prawns in the 1980s.

Pay ponds are popular with avid anglers hungering for a catch, but who have limited time to spend fishing, adds Mr Aw.

But it is also good for beginners keen on trying their luck, says Ms Eunice Boo, 30, owner of pay pond Fishing Paradise ($10 an hour or $50 for 12 hours, Bottle Tree Park, 81 Lorong Chencharu, go to or call 9753-2596).

"The bite rate is high as we replenish fish stocks every two months or so, and we are usually around to guide beginners," she says.

Her pay pond also has a small creek for beginners, teeming with fish such as the grass carp, red tail catfish and red-bellied pacu.

Anglers use artificial bait - shaped to wriggle like the tail of a small fish in water, which keeps the water clean - or bring their own bait such as pieces of bread, shrimp and small fish.

Pay ponds practise catch-and-release fishing where, after landing the fish, anglers unhook and return their live catch to the water. It is the same practice at C&R Pond (No. 2 Pasir Ris Farmway 1, call 9062-4923 for updated pricing). But the quick-fix thrill is the same, says owner Davy Ong, 38.

"Rather than waiting for hours on end, this is for people who want to come and enjoy the thrill of the fight," he says. "It is man versus nature: how man learns to outsmart the fish by understanding its habitat and feeding habits," he adds.

A pay pond is also a good stepping stone for beginners to socialise with more experienced anglers, says Mr Philip Lee, 60, owner of Anglers' Paradise ($55 for three hours, 60 Punggol East, 01-11, call 6886-4487). He says: "Newcomers start from here and make friends, and slowly 'graduate' to the open seas in a few months, as more experienced anglers guide them along."

Landfill Fishing

A landfill is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of clear, pristine water - but that is exactly what army regular Raymond Aw, 34, looks forward to each time he visits Pulau Semakau.

The island, an offshore landfill south of Singapore, is home to coral reefs, mangroves and a variety of marine life.

His most exciting catch: a 1.5kg barracuda in February. "It is very exciting because you can see the fish homing in on the lure and fighting in the clear water," he says.

The Sport Fishing Association of Singapore runs guided fishing trips to the island ($50 a person, go to for updated details on next trip) where anglers can net fish such as the blacktip reef shark, giant herring and Spanish flag snapper.

It takes just 15 minutes for a fish to bite and the "fight" to begin, because anglers on the island release their catch to maintain fish stocks, says Mr Aw.

He adds: "The fish behave very naturally in their own habitat, in the way they feed and move around, and this is a beautiful thing to see."

Jetty Fishing

Want to catch squid? Here is a secret: jetty fishing is the best way to do so, says fishing blogger Kerry Loh, 56.

Striking a match to the wick of a crusty 20-year-old kerosene lamp, he then secures it to a rope, dangling the lit beacon from his perch at Bedok Jetty - a hair's breath away from the water's surface.

"Squids are drawn to light, so I just cast and wait," says the executive in a trading company, who has been fishing for the past 39 years.

To up the chances of fish biting - he also dangles three baits - bits of herring fished from a portable cooler - instead of just one. "More bait, more chances," he says.

The jetty is also deep enough to net other types of fish: grouper, chermin and the golden travelly in the daytime; and stingray, marine catfish, snapper and even the shovelnose shark at night, he says. But it is a lesson in patience - a four-hour wait on average to reel in a catch.

The fish caught at jetties may be yours to keep, but can be too small in size, says service engineer Francis Yip, 52. A rule of thumb: He releases anything that weighs less than 800g.

He says: "In this case, I would just throw them back into the sea so they can grow."

Other jetties where you can try your luck: Certain stretches of the jetty at Woodlands Waterfront Park.

Reservoir Fishing

Angling at the reservoir is like a courtship dance, says fishing blogger Nigel Lian, 24. There are limited fish in the reservoirs, so observe "visible success patterns" when you cast out.

"Like a relationship, if you understand what the other party wants, you will get the fish," he says.

Fishing is allowed at designated sites in reservoirs such as Bedok, Lower Seletar and MacRitchie.

Using artificial bait - the only type permitted at reservoirs - shakes up the "dating game", says Mr Lian. "It is more technical and challenging than using dead bait - where a fish gets hooked just because it is hungry for food," he says.

Anglers are encouraged to release their catch to maintain the stock of fish in reservoirs.

Kayak Fishing

Take note: this one is for toughies game for a more "organic" fishing experience, says Mr Jack Lai, 33, of Kayak Fishing Singapore (free membership, search for its group on Facebook), a four-year-old online community that runs a resource website for kayak anglers.

It now has about 200 members.

Anglers typically set off from beaches on East Coast, Changi and Pulau Ubin, paddling in groups of two to eight, on fishing kayaks that come with holders for fishing rods.

This way, they glide silently to explore new hunting ground in a manner that does not scare off fish, says Mr Lai.

It costs about $50 a day to rent a kayak, but the activity brings a fruitful haul: a one-hour average wait for fish such as the seabass and queen fish.

Most kayak fishermen release their catch, but those keen on bringing it home store the fish in a small ice-box or bag, placing it on the deck at the back of the kayak, or stowing it in the kayak's watertight compartment.

"It is a different feeling to be so close to the fish, and you can enjoy your moment of peace in the sea or river," says Mr Lai, who has been fishing for more than 10 years but started kayak fishing two years ago.

Because of the close proximity to the open sea, anglers check the weather forecast for lightning, tide and current updates before heading out.

A safety vest is also a must, says Mr Lai, regardless of your level of expertise.

Still, this is a way to separate the serious anglers from the recreational ones, he adds.

"Out of the large angling community, few would be so 'hardcore' as to paddle up to 10km just to fish. This is a real workout," he says.

Kayak fishing is also cheaper and more convenient to arrange - it can take just two people to paddle out - rather than a deep sea fishing jaunt which typically needs a boat-load of anglers to split the high cost of boat rental, says interior designer Winston Lee, 33, who picked up the sport a year ago.

He now goes kayak fishing four times a month to paddle away the stress of daily life.

He says: "The freedom of fishing from a kayak in the early morning, just as the sun rises from the horizon, is so calming that I leave the exhaustion from my week's work at the shore."

Deep Sea Fishing

In the open seas, one man's castaway may well be another's treasure.

One example: A 20kg cobia swimming to freedom after it was released during an auspicious day on the lunar calendar was promptly scooped up by an enthusiastic angler.

Owner Bryan Ang, 25, who runs recreational fishing company Deep Sea Fishing (from $49 a tour, go to or call 9663-0330) netted such a "lucky" catch on a tour last year.

He runs guided fishing tours to the waters around Changi and the Southern Islands on a charter boat. About 70 per cent of his clientele are beginners.

"Beginners will usually ask this key question: whether the waters around Changi or Southern Islands are better," he says.

His take? The Southern seas, for its deeper waters and bigger fish, such as parrot fish, snapper and grouper.

But the area around Changi also teems with catch such as catfish in the sandy areas, grouper in rocky areas and other types such as the fingerbream snapper and seabass near the shoreline.

Deep sea jaunts are usually fruitful: about six to 12 fish from a group of about 10 people.

Most deep sea anglers will keep their catch as a "trophy", says Mr Ang.

But a rule of thumb on smaller fish: "If it is smaller than your own foot, it is probably a 'juvenile fish' you should release so it can grow in the wild," he says.

The ease of movement is a plus for those keen on deep sea fishing: If a spot does not "have any bite", the boat can take you to another fishing area to try your luck, says angler Fadzil Ismail, 35.

The manager in an F&B company has been fishing for the past 10 years, but picked up deep sea angling three years ago.

It takes about 11/2 hours before netting your first catch in a marine environment that is "more authentic", he says.

"Even the way the fish fights is more real - it has a stronger bite and you will take a longer time to reel it in, until your hands chafe and get numb from fighting," he says.