Hook eager Singaporeans

Report and pictures by: 
Jonathan Choo

With gentle waves caressing sandy beaches, the sleepy, idyllic town of Rompin belies its action-packed promises offshore. Just three hours’ drive from Singapore on the eastern side of peninsular Malaysia, it has gained a reputation as the place to go for big game fishing.
Specifically, sailfish.
And for that, Singaporeans have been driving 220km north-east to this town in the state of Pahang.
Some even say that Rompin’s fishing grounds are among the world’s best spots for hooking sailfish. The sailfish season is at its peak from August to November.
The New Paper had wanted to find out what keeps Singaporeans going back, despite the string of accidents in the area in the past few years.
Last month, a Singaporean diving instructor and his student, also a Singaporean, drowned in the waters off Pulau Tioman. In April, three Singaporeans died and five others were injured in a collision between two boats in the waters off Rompin. 
TNP followed six ardent fishing adventurers last month from Singapore to the waters off Rompin. One of them, chef Daniel Xue, 52, had travelled to great fishing spots around the world, including Australia and Hawaii.
He proclaimed Rompin to be his favourite and returns as many as seven times a year.
He arranges for his group of anglers the logistics, including boat hires and seasoned boatmen. He has used his regular boatman, who wanted to be known only as Ah Pow, for 17 years.
With Ah Pow’s expert advice, the anglers leave only when weather conditions are ideal, and only to spots where there are calmer seas with an abundance of sailfish.  
One of the regulars, Mr Eugene Tan, 44, assistant director of the Career Development Centre of Insead Singapore, is unfazed by the recent string of mishaps happening around Rompin.  
"Fishing in Rompin is always an adventure that is not overly dangerous,” he said. “You wouldn’t call it an adventure if there are no risks involved. It’s what makes this sport so addictive. ”  
But for church administrator Ivan Eng, 44, the affordability and the huge sailfish are what draws him to Rompin.
Unlike conventional fishing, Mr Eng uses a special artificial bait that makes popping sounds to lure sailfish.
Mr Eng said this method is more proactive than the usual bait and wait method involving live bait of smaller fish. 
True to Rompin’s promise, the day’s haul was 11 sailfish, each as long as 2.5m and weighing up to 30kg. 
Catch and release is compulsory to preserve stocks and so the anglers have only a minute to capture the moment for posterity before the fish is returned to the deep. 

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on 7 October 2013.