Indonesian Fishing Village

Recently, an old friend of mine that i met while working with my former employer got in touch with me. He had some time ago told me about his relatives who live on an Indonesian Island. These guys are full time fishermen, and they sell their catches to make a living. I was invited along with Jith to spend a couple of days there with them to join them on their fishing trips.

We set off on Friday morning, and after a 2 hour ferry ride we arrived at Tanjung Pinang. There the fishermen picked us up and we made our way to their island. It took us close to an hour's journey to get to their village. We had to jump off and push the boat in as the tide had gone out. Finally, we had arrived. We were introduced to our hosts and shown around before we had a sumptuous lunch. We would have to wait for the tide to come in before we could head out, so we spent some time wading in the crystal clear waters looking for clams for dinner. We also visited their Fish trap which is more than 6 feet tall. The fish trap had recently been damaged by a large Barracuda and we watched them fix it with great efficiency.

Pretty soon the tide had come in and we headed out to fish with them. Using sabikis attached to hand lines, we were told that we were targeting a species of trevally, which is also known Sagai. These fish are also commonly found in the Southern Islands in Singapore, and very popular with angler's who like to micro jig. The first thing that amazed me was that we were barely 50m from the shore. The fish were fun to fight on the hand line. The important thing was to wet our hands, Other wise a nasty burn would result from the friction caused by the fish pulling in the opposite direction. Jith hit a good sized Sagai and had to keep his composure as the fish took him round the small and unstable fishing boat. Shortly after a double hook up of the bigger Sagai between Jith and I resulted in a rocky 5 minutes on the boat. Our hosts have amazing balance and they were very accommodating of us two rocking the boat every now and then with our movements.

There were a few other boats with us and they all had some sort of competition going on. I found out later that the boat i was on was the boat of the village champion! He is 47 years old and fit and nimble. Soon the sun had set but the action carried on til it was dinner time. We went back for some really yummy dinner, complete with the clams we had collected earlier. After a 15 minute break, we set off again.

This time the target was arrowhead squid. The fishing method was interesting. a small apollo-esque rig was tied to the end of the hand line. A tamban was hooked on his head and sent down. They did a madai jigging sort of action until the squid grabs hold of the tamban and sinks it's beak in. Then they slowly bring the squid to the surface and grab it with their hands!!! This was pretty interesting to see as the arrowheads could not squirt out the ink until they were in the cooler. After a couple of tries, we managed to get into the groove. Everyone was hauling up squid and some of them were as long as our forearms. The squid fishing came to an end as a storm was approaching. We headed back just in the nick of time as the heavens opened. The view was spectacular. we all went to bed to get some rest as we had a date with some prawns in the early dawn hours.

I woke up to some noise outside and went to see what was going on. The fishermen were catching prawns right below our kelong! Using nothing but a small head lamp and a small trident spear, they were catching prawn after prawn. And some of these prawns were huge! i heard that some of them had departed to another location to use nets to catch the prawns. We did not part take in the prawn catching as they were worried that we might get cut on the sharp rocks. So we went back to sleep after an hour.

We woke up to light rain. Had a simple breakfast as the cold wind blew. My friend told me to take a look into the horizon. He told me if i was lucky that i would be able to see a flying stingray. We left shortly after to do some bottom fishing. We were about 100m offshore, where there was a huge drop off. We heard that this drop off was very deep and was home to shovel nose rays.  If we hooked onto one on our hand line, it would be a one way ticket for sure! We were fishing in deep waters with a fast current. This was challenging as we had to use really heavy sinkers. But as soon as the bite started all the pain disappeared. We got some Parrotfish to start off with. They were not giving up easily. We brought them up with the guidance from the boat man. Slow was the name of the game. Much like manual madai jigging. We landed about 6 pieces of parrots and a few snappers when the deckie hit a string of yellow tails on his sabiki. He lost the sabiki on the next drop. We were told Spanish Mackeral do prowl the area we were fishing in but now they were not in season.   i was pleasantly surprised that even they practice sustainable fishing. However, they do take back smaller fish caught from deep as these fish are not able to swim back down. They are not aware that puncturing the air bladder will allow the fish to swim back down.

Back to the fishing. An assortment of fish had been landed by lunch time. These included Some Parrot fish, Cobias, some Kaci, and some small snappers. Then they brought us to some Bubus. They located the bubus buy dragging a heavy apparatus that has hooks on the seabed until they hook onto their bubus. This is done solely based on the boatman's memory as there are no marker of any kind for fear of theft. It is a physically taxing job to retrieve the bubu from such a depth. But these guys are so strong it takes them less than a minute to haul the bubus up. And mind you, the bubus are not small and are extremely heavy as wood is used to build the frame.

During one of retrieval, we were hit by a rogue wave, and i was almost thrown overboard! If not for the reflexes of the boatmen i would have hit the water and my momentum would have overturned the fishing boat. Recovering from the shock, i sat down and took a breather, while they made me the butt of their jokes. It was all in good fun. As i sat down staring into the horizon, i saw a stingray fly out of the water, i could only yell and point as the lucky ones saw it crashing back down. Poor Jith, he turned on the wrong side and only managed to see the big splash. The boatmen smiled and said that it was a sign of good luck. As we went through the Bubus, there was plenty of fish. But save for the occasional big fish, the rest were pretty small. The fishermen kept these for their consumption. We headed back for some lunch after we had cleared their 5 bubus.

After lunch we packed our stuff, and lazed around. The wind was heavenly and soon i dozed off.  I woke up awhile later to some delicious mangoes and some tea. The mangoes were from the boatman's house. They were called apple mangoes. (due to the shape i suppose) The only source of entertainment here were some rusty old guitars. As i sat down to play, i suddenly had a small audience. A couple of songs later, it was the boatman's turn. They play some of their folk songs and their rendition of La Bamba. It was amazing to see how music overcame the language barrier with such simplicity.

Later on, the boatman and his cousin washed our catches and packed them for us in our coolers. We were given some dried squid as a farewell gift before we departed. Our hosts, told us stories about their fishing adventures on our way back to Tanjung Pinang. Once we arrived at the jetty, we felt a tinge of sadness as we said our goodbyes. We had made some new friends, and were blessed with their humble hospitality. They invited us back anytime we wanted to come. This was a great honour for us as outsiders are not allowed into the village. It also gives us an opportunity to share with them the more modern fishing methods like Micro Jigging and Madai Jigging the next time we visit. We can't wait to go back to their paradise.

A big shout out to Dino for arranging this trip for us! Thank you! We had a Blast!

The Island
Our home for the 2 days
Low tide
Lunch
Bait that they use
Plenty of these guys around
Gigantic Fish Trap
Arrowhead Squid
Some big squid
Prawns caught in the early morning kept fresh in ice
Baby Catfish
Next time we'll fish for the Sagai with micro jigs
Teaching the locals to pose!
Total Catch for 2days
Loading up the gear
Last picture before we set off

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