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    Taichung River Quest: In Search of Skygazers

    Few areas in Taiwan offer as many freshwater fishing opportunities as Taichung county in the heart of the island’s western-central plain. Numerous waterways, streams and rivers, drain down from the mountains and cut through the flat agricultural lands and urban sprawl in a dash for the coast. A tantalizing variety of species lurk in these waters — catfish, skygazers (redfin culter), Taiwan mahseer (Spinibarbus hollandi or Holland’s carp), common carp, zacco, to name just a few.

    I made a trip down in March to meet up with Tre, an avid fly angler from Canada who lives in Taichung and knows its waterways as well as any expat in the area. On that trip we did a bit of spinning for amur catfish and I was keen to go back. After he mentioned that he had located a prime spot for skygazers and mahseer I was soon putting in for some mid-week vacation time with my employer and making preparations to head south.

    Joining on this latest adventure was Russian fishing enthusiast Maxim Filippov who maintains his own YouTube channel devoted to fishing in Taiwan. Maxim was anxious to check the skygazer off his angling bucket list.

    Maxim picked me up around 4:30 a.m. and we began the nearly two-hour trek down to Taichung and the GPS coordinates Tre had passed on for his skygazer honey hole. The spot was on a tributary of the Dadu River near the Changhua-Taichung county line. Thanks to recent rains, the water was swift and somewhat cloudy. Once we found the spot, we dropped our gear on the bank and Maxim set up his array of video equipment. I decided to go small and tied on a little inline spinner. Maxim went the other direction and rigged a three-inch jointed jerk bait with a soft plastic paddle tail. To me, this seemed like overkill for the conditions, but I would quickly be proven wrong.

    Things looked promising as I hooked and landed a nice little mahseer on the fourth or fifth cast. Maxim followed that with a fat amur catfish that he foul hooked in the tail. Next on the line was a rare and somewhat stomach churning river eel that surfaced in a writhing brown knot before coming off — thankfully — before it could slime my landing net. After the eel, the bite seemed to shut down.

    Following fruitless hour of casting and losing lures on snags, we broke for lunch and then moved upstream. Around mid-afternoon we shifted back to the original stretch of water to meet with Tre as he got off work. Tre arrived managed to hook and land a nice mahseer on his first cast. The bite appeared to be back on. Maxim landed two more mahseer after wading out to mid-channel just below a rapid, and then he got his skygazer. Tre netted one or two more mahseer and then it was time for Maxim and I to head back north.Tre (aka, The Fishing Fiend), Taiwan Angler and Maxim beside the Taichung skygazer honey hole.

    Tre said the relative lack skygazer action was disappointing as the same spot had been going off a week prior, but that’s always the way it is — sometimes the bite is on and sometimes it isn’t. It had been raining for about a solid week before our trip, so that may have played a role.

    We were all using light to medium-weight spinner tackle. I switched between small inline spinners, one and two-inch ribbon tail grubs on jig heads, and 6 to 8 gm spoons. Tre was throwing mostly larger gold spoons that were about 8 grams and having good luck with the mahseer. Maxim cleaned up with his magic jerk bait, which has me thinking that I may go with a shallow running crankbait like a Cotton Cordell Big O or small Rapala that I can bounce off the rocks without snagging it. Size certainly didn’t seem to matter with lure success. Though both the skygazers and mahseer have relatively small mouths, they were not shy about attacking larger lures. 

    More photos from the day can be found in the gallery section and be sure to check out Maxim's video below. 


    South Taiwan Toman Hunt


    A good article on the effects of lure color



    November Snakehead Morning

    On a recent rainy Sunday morning, I headed to the fishing grounds we have dubbed "Tombstone" for its proximity to a hillside graveyard for some mid-Autumn snakehead hunting. This is actually a system of ponds with varying depths and amounts of cover. Joining me was new angliing friend and recent California transpant William Ting. Will is an experienced angler both on freshwater and in the ocean, but this was his first time stalking snakehead. He certainly seems to be a fast learner because in no time he bagged a pair of nice blotched snakehead on a hollow-body topwater frog, in spite of the chilly (for Taiwan) and wet weather.



    Blotched Snakehead Surprise

    I paid another visit to my neighborhood snakehead pond and got a pleasant surprise in the form of a relatively large blotched snakehead (Channa maculata). The online literature on the species says they grow to a max of 30 or 40 cm. This one was about 52 cm and I've seen others online about twice this size. So, it sounds like its time for a few "authorities" out there to update their data. I'm looking at you, Taiwan Fish Database and Wikipedia.

    This fellow inhaled on of my soft platic Stanley Ribbit Frog right next to the bank. It was a pretty explosive take after about an hour of coninuous casting with just a few strikes. Landing him was complicated by the fact that a giant Taiwan wasp decided he wanted a closer look at me as I was reeling in my catch. I must have looked like a complete lunatic running in circles and waving my arms with a fish still on my line. It took a bit of work to pry his jaws open and get the big 3/0 hook out. If you are fishing for snakehead, its a good idea to have two pairs of pliers on hand for just such an occasion, since you don't want to be sticking our fingers into a snakehead's toothy maw. 


    Buzzing for Summer Snakehead

    Bass anglers like to talk about the summer being the best time of the year for topwater action. The same seems to be true for snakehead, although its safe to say that most snakehead fishing is done on the surface regardless of the time of year. This time of year, however, snakehead seem paritcularly irritated by anything that flaps, wiggles or splashes across the surface. Maybe its because many of the fish are guarding schools of fry. Their hair triggers may be all the more sensitive. 

    This morning, revisited a pond I had not been back to for several years. Its near my home and I had written it off as containing nothing but tilapia. My error may have had to do with the fact that I was fishing the wrong baits on my last visit. This time I arrived with a tackle bag stuffed with frogs and buzzbaits. 

    I started off with the frogs and got a few promising strikes, but no hookups. Then I reached for a Booya Buzzbait that I had originally picked up up for bass fishing. A couple of casts parallel to a bed of weeds and water lettuce and a small striped snakehead hammered it.

    Looking closer at how it was hooked and it was easy to see why the hookup had been easier then with the frogs. While fish seemed to target the legs of the frogs I had been fishing, usually missing the hook, this fish seemed to home in directly at the buzzbaits skirt which hides a sharp 2/0 long-shanked hook.

    I switching locations on the shore and was quickly into two larger fish. These fish were hooking themselves without me having to worry about waiting until they took the bait all the way into their mouths. This can be a problem when using frogs on small to medium-sized snakehead, as they have smaller mouths than the bass many of these lures were designed for. Again, we are talking about smallish to medium fish, not the big toman and haruan found down south.

    The only drawback to the buzzabaits is durability. A couple of hard hits from snakeheads and my Booya Buzzbait's wire was bent out of whack. It was almost impossible to bend them back perfectly straight. 


    Spring Amberjack Jigging Pengjia Islet

    I’m a little late in getting this up, but I wanted to share a trip report on my March 29 jigging outing up to Pengjia Islet with the Hsinchu crew and Derek Huang from Jignesis. This was my first offshore trip for amberjacks in Asia, so it was quite an education for a southern California lad.

    We met up with Derek, who set up the trip, just before midnight at Wanli fishing harbor northwest of Keelung. We were running late and the dozen or so local anglers on this trip were already milling around waiting for our five tardy foreigners to show up.

    Aside from putting together two or three charters a week, Derek runs his own tackle company that produces quality jigging rods and high-end jigs. I don’t know if his rods have hit the market yet, but Jignesis brand jigs can be found in local tackle shops like Etuoh/Fun Lure. Since we were going to be fishing at depths in excess of 100 meters in an area with strong tidal currents, we would be dropping jigs in the 230-400 gram range. The heaviest jig in my bag was 280 grams, but luckily Derek had some of his stock on hand for us to fill out our personal arsenals.

    With our gear loaded up we were under way by about 1 a.m. for the four-hour ride to Pengjia Islet. After a few minute of pre-rigging solid rings and assist hooks, most of the anglers bedded down on bunks and tatami mats in the cabin for a little nap before we reached the fishing grounds. With the boat heading straight into a gentle 1.5 meter swell and a long day of jigging ahead, sleep came relatively easy in spite of the drone diesel engine.

    We pulled up to our first drop at dawn a few kilometers north of Pengjia Islet. The tiny island was just visible off the starboard side of the boat. The sky was grey and would remain overcast with the sun peaking through the clouds a couple of times throughout the day. Rain could be seen on the horizon, but somehow we managed to stay out of the weather until the ride back.

    Pengjia, also known as Agincourt Islet, is little more than a 114-hectare grass-covered rock with a lighthouse managed by the Taiwan military. The islet is surrounded by submerged seamounts and reefs, which make it prime habitat for greater amberjack, yellowtail kingfish and a variety of other game species.

    The order of the day was for Derek and his captain to locate fish on the sonar and set a drift. We would drop to the bottom at about 100-150 meters and jig over the area until we drifted off the target and the boat had to be repositioned for the next drift.

    Our excellent trip organizer, Derek Huang. (Photo by Jeff Harris)Anyone who as done this type of jigging knows it can be physically demanding. It doesn’t take long before shoulder, back and arm muscles are screaming. But once rods start bending with hookups, which happened fairly quickly, it’s easy to endure a little discomfort. About half the anglers on the boat—all locals—were using power-assisted reels. While it kind of strikes me as cheating, I will say that I was a bit jealous after an hour or so of yo-yoing a 380 gram jig off the bottom.

    After a smattering of fish in the 5 kg range were caught during the first few drifts, one of the local anglers at the stern lit into something big and was soon hauling aboard an amberjack that looked to be pushing 30 kg. It was the only trophy-sized fish of the day, but the small to medium ambers stayed steady for most of the morning.

    I started my day with a false alarm when I hooked the bottom and the boat’s drift had my reels drag screaming as if I had hooked into my own monster jack. Luckily I only lost my leader. After a quick re-rigging with a little help from the deckhand—the guy was a magician with his bobbin and a chain knots—I was back in the water and soon hooking my first amberjack. It would be my last jack of the day, but the thrill would keep me going for the hours ahead.

    A few times throughout the morning we ran into swarms of pufferfish, which are not only a nuisance when hooked, but will also have a go at your line and can snip through PE 5 braid without blinking their beady little eyes. More than a few NT$500-jigs went to the bottom never to be seen again thanks to these buggers.

    About midday when the amberjack action was cooling off, we ran into a few schools of bonito about midway up the water column. One minute not much would be happening and the next everyone is hooking up on 2-3kg bonitos—not a bad diversion. We also spotted a few dorado (mahi-mahi) just below the surface, Derek and his Jignesis co-worker were quick to toss a couple of small jigs their way and boat a fine pair of these feisty and beautiful fish.

    About 2 p.m. we took a one hour ride to a final spot on the south side of Pengjia. The bite picked up again with a nice mix of small amberjack and bonito filling up the ice chests. At about 4 p.m., we packed it in and started the run back to Wanli. At the harbor a few guys sold off their catches to a local seafood dealer who met us at the dock. Derek treated a few of us to a fantastic dinner at a local seafood restaurant that included some of the amberjack, bonito and mahi-mahi from the day’s haul—a perfect ending to a great day of angling.



    U.S. Lure Maker Takes the Leap to Snakehead Frogs

    Along with the Asian carp, the snakehead in recent years has become the favorite aquatic boogieman of the American media. Now that the “Fishzilla” hysteria has died down somewhat, U.S. anglers are learning what we here in Asia have known all along: snakeheads are fun to catch.

    U.S. tackle manufacturers are getting in on the action and marketing lures specifically designed for snakehead anglers. Snag Proof, an Ohio-based maker of bass lures, is one such company setting its sights on the snakehead market with the release of its Extreme Frog lure line.  

    Snag Proof’s specialty is topwater lures, so they understand the shapes and actions that entice predatory fish into surface strikes. As their name implies, they also design lures for throwing to and dragging through heavy cover, the kind of places both bass and snakehead love to hide and ambush prey.

    As anyone who has fished both species can tell you, there are differences in the way bass and snakeheads hit a bait. While bass will often inhale a lure into their mouths, snakeheads will snap and slash at it, particularly at any trailing bits like legs or skirts. Every snakehead angler has a collection of soft plastic “amputee” frogs in his tackle box that will attest to this.

    With the help of Japanese “snakehead expert’ Shinichi Morikawa of Green Diamond, the tackle company distributing the lures in Japan, Snag Proof have come up with a design they say is more snakehead centric than their other topwater lures, eliminating the skirts to avoid short strikes and make it less likely to hang up in heavy cover.

    Hopefully, we’ll be able to get our hands on a few of these and try them out locally. There’s no word as yet of whether they will be showing up in local shops, but Extreme Frogs can be found through both Snag Proof’s U.S. Web site and Green Diamonds Japan site.