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    Jhunan Grouper Action

    I finally tried something this weekend that I have been planning to do for quite some time—visit one of the many saltwater fishing ponds along the eastern coast of Taiwan. An expat angler I met through this site who lives in Hsinchu county has been telling me about a pond he and his friends frequent in nearby Jhunan. This weekend I finally had time to take him up on the offer come down and give it a try.

    Our first fish was a "small" one landed by Austin.Up just before dawn on Sunday morning, I was soon heading down the highway for my 7 a.m. rendezvous with Austin, a Kiwi who, being unwed and unburdened with children (OK, a “burden” I happily accept), seems to find time for angling that I could only dream of. He is particularly keen on the saltwater variety and often makes it down to Green Island and other offshore spots for his favorite activity—jigging for amberjacks and tuna.

    Once Austin’s gear was stored in the car, we headed to the fishing pond with a quick detour along the way for bait. The pond itself is tucked down a country road along an estuary not far from the Number 3 Highway. It would be difficult to locate without a guide or GPS. The Google satellite map shows it as a single pond, but it has since been divided into two.

    One pond allows you to keep your catch, and anglers pay NT$1,200 to fish for the day. This “keeper pond” is stocked with sea bass, black sea bream (porgy), milk fish and several other species. The second pond is stocked with a few different species of large grouper, some tipping the scale at over 20 kg. You don’t get to keep these brutes, but for NT$200 you can spend the day testing your tackle and arm muscles wrestling them up to shore. And that’s exactly what we came to do.

    After unpacking our gear, we staked out a corner of the pond that Austin said was particularly productive and got down to business. I was clear that the keeper pond was more popular with locals than the grouper pond as we were the only anglers on the catch-and-release side when we arrived. A few more anglers would show up as the day progressed, but never as many as the keeper side of things.

    As we set about rigging up, I was beginning to feel a bit like a hunter that brought a sling shot on an elephant hunt. The heaviest rod I have is a 7’ medium-action bass rod. Austin had assured me that this would be fine since he had landed one of his biggest groupers on a light freshwater spinning combo. On this day, however, he would be favoring a thick saltwater popping rod. It felt a bit strange rigging my comparatively flimsy rod with 70 lb. leader and 8/0 hooks, but I was willing to play along.

    Onto these massive hooks we threaded bloody six-inch fillets of mackerel. Austin said that there was no need to cast out to the middle of the pond since the groupers tend cruise along the edges when they are feeding. So, we tossed our baits a few meters out, opened the bails on our spinning reels and waited. It was a pleasant way to spend the morning. The sky was mostly clear and pines lining the levee provided shade and blocked some of the gusting wind.This bruiser was too heavy to lift with the lip grip.

    It wasn’t too long before something began stripping line off of Austin’s reel. He grabbed the rod and after a brief tussle, beached a “small” 7 or 8 kg. grouper. We popped the hook out, took a few photos and sent our first fish on its way. After this point, the strikes came to a sudden halt and the action cooled off for the next few hours. We were getting worried as midday approached and there had been no more strikes, since the hours around noon tend to be the slowest in the pond. Just around 11:30, several fish could be seen foraging around the edge of the pond. It wasn’t long before the line stripping off Austin’s reel. Graciously he waved me over to do the honors.

    I gave the fish a few seconds to take the bait all the way it its mouth before snapping the bail closed and setting the hook. That did little to stop the grouper’s progress across the pond as it continued to take line. Drag singing and rod bent over, it may not have been a “wild” fish on the end of the line, but it was definitely fun worth the price of admission. Finally able to turn the fish around and gain some ground after a little back and forth, I was able to drag up onto the sandy shore a bruiser that Austin estimated at a little over 12 kg. Try as we might to lift him with my puny lip grip for a photo, he was back on the ground with a shake of his tail. We took a few shots on the ground and sent him on his way.

    All in all it was a great half day of fishing. Austin said the action really picks up just before dusk. The grouper pond shuts down after sunset, but the keeper pond stays open into the night. I’ll definitely be heading back (with heavier tackle) to give it another go. 

    More photos


    Bass on the Fly

    I hit Jinjihu Pond in Pingjhen today with an old friend, Joe, his son and a new friend, Abe. Abe has commented on a few posts here and recently started working for Yoshida Seiko, a new tackle manufacture. He was keen to come along a try some Taiwan style bass fishing.

    On arrival, the pond owner Mr. Tsai warned us that the fishing had been bad lately and not to expect to catch much. He suggested waiting a few weeks until he restocked his ponds. Deciding that we had come to fish, we gave it a go anyway. Four hours in, we've caught nothing. It was starting to look like all that I would have to show for the morning was a bright pink sunburn (I need one of those nylon neck socks). 

    Finally around 11 a.m. I land a little 1 kg. bass on a Berkley Power Worm. OK, the day isn't a complete loss. Just before packing it in, I grabbed the fly rod for a couple of lazy casts. Wham, bass number two--my first on a fly rod. Thanks to Juan Wei in KL for hooking me up with some custom shrimp flies made by a friend of his. Another angler managed to catch a little snakehead that I'm sure is the same one I spotted on my last visit.



    Video of the Week: GT Fishing in South Taiwan

    This popped up in my YouTube recommondations. Not much description with the video, but that looks like Kaohsiung fishing guru Mr. Kenneth in most of the shots. 


    Keen on Cats

    I haven't had an opportunity to wet a line in a couple of weeks and I've been thinking on trying someithing new. I finally purchased some new fly line for the fly rod, as well as some bass-grade leader, so it may be time to get back to practicing my fly casting. Or I could go for something entirely different...

    I have also been keen on trying some local catfishing. While popular in the states, catfish golargely ignored as a target species in Taiwan. They mostly seem to be caught incidentally while fishing for other speciies, like carp. This is a shame, since Taiwan is home to several interesting varieties of catfish, most in the genus Clarias, which includes the walking catfish--now an invasive species in the U.S. A few can get quite large. I have read many online posts of people claiming to have seen fish up to a meter in length in the Keelung River near metro Taipei. I guess it's time to dig out the chicken livers and stink bait.Asian walking catfish (Clarias batrachus).

    Anyone who has done some catfishing in Taiwan, feel free to drop me a note and let me know how it went.


    Late July Bass Fishing


    Video: Overnight Hairtail (Cutlass Fish) Trip off Keelung


    Target Species: Striped Bonito

    Family: Scombridae

    Scientific name: Sarda orientalis

    Common names: striped bonito, oriental bonito, Mexican bonito

    Chinese names: 齒鰆 (chih chun), 东方狐鲣, (dōngfāng hú jiān)

    Habitat: Bonito usually congregate in schools close to coastal areas, over reefs and near islands.

    Size range: While they have been recorded up to 102 cm, specimens in the 50 cm range are much more common.

    Fast, aggressive, compact and wily — everything about the striped bonito says “fun” for the light tackle saltwater angler. They are like the guest you hope shows up at a drab party who can dj, dance and tell hilarious jokes, all while mixing cocktails. In other words, they are always welcome.Striped Bonito (Photo by Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences)

    On a size scale, bonitos occupy a space between mackerels and tunas. Don’t let their compact size fool you; they pack a lot of punch in their little bodies. The striped bonito can be distinguished from its slightly larger cousins the Pacific (Sarda chiliensis lineolata) and Australian (Sarda australis) by the greater concentration of vertical stripes running head to tail down the upper portion of its body. 

    Bonito feed primarily a marine crustaceans, small fish and squid. Wherever one finds large schools of baitfish near the surface in Taiwan, the striped bonitos are usually not far off. They are found along every coastal area of Taiwan and the outlying islands.  

    A wide variety of tactics and tackle options are open to bonito anglers. Trolling spoons and feathered lures works well. In Taiwan, where trolling isn’t always an option for the average angler, still fishing from a boat or shore with metal jigs, stick lures, spoons and anything that imitates an injured baitfish should result in interest if bonito are in the vicinity.

    Interest doesn’t always guarantee a hookup or even a strike, however. Aggressive hunters they may be, but striped bonito can be crafty as well, and get skittish once one of their fellow schoolmates is hooked. Individual fish will sometimes pursue, even bump a lure before breaking off the attack at the last second if something doesn’t look right. Low visibility leaders are recommended, and be prepared to change lure color, retrieve speed and depth to find what the bonito are responding to given the immediate conditions.

    Of course, all their clever caution goes out the window when a school goes into a feeding frenzy, and then the fish will seem to strike at anything thrown their way. Once hooked, especially on a lighter rod, get ready for a an exciting little tussle.

    As an eating fish, bonito sometimes don’t get the respect they are due, especially in western regions where some find them too strong tasting. Smoked or barbecued, they can be delicious. Better yet, try some bonito sashimi. If you prefer milder flavor, just cut away the darker red flesh.


    Fishing Report: Keelung Overnight Hairtail Trip

    One of the many hairtails caught on our overnight trip off Keelung.A steamy, sticky mid-July weekend in northern Taiwan, there is no better time or place to leave the land behind and take to the water for an all-night fishing adventure. With this in mind, coworker and de facto fishing partner Patrick and I hooked up with Edward Lee from Jigging Master and made our way to Shenao Harbor just southeast of Keelung for some light inshore jigging action. Our main target for this trip was hairtail — aka cutlass fish, saber fish or bai dai yu (白帶魚) in Chinese.

    We met up at the Jigging Master shop in Nangang and organized our gear for the night. Since at this point all my tackle in Taiwan is for freshwater angling, we opted to rent a pair of lightweight jigging rods, perfect for hairtail or most any other inshore species we happened upon. We also purchased a couple of jigs and rigging for bait fishing (those jigging arms do get tired).

    At about 4:30 p.m., we piled into Edward’s van and headed out to harbor with a quick stop along the way for B&B – bait and beer. Soon we were rolling up to our vessel. Now I’m familiar with the term “party boat” as it is applied in my native California to any large group or charter vessel 20 to 40 or so anglers. Here they seem to take the term a bit more literally. Along with our Jigging Master group of ten plus anglers, there were another eight or so individuals who seemed to be well into their cups long before the lines were cast off, including several scantily clad ladies in their best high-seas high heels and halter tops, who were singing bawdy drinking songs and whooping it up in general.Jigging Master team rig up.

    Soon enough, we were putting out to sea and making the 10 minute run to the fishing grounds. Hairtail are found close to shore and it was apparent where the fish were congregating from the line of other fishing vessels situated a mile or so off Keelung Harbor. Within no time, we were drifting among the other boats, dropping and flipping jigs over the side in search of a hook up. Cutlass fish can be found anywhere in the near-shore water column from around 500 meters right up on the surface. We started off vertical jigging various depths, working the jigs back up to the surface waiting for the unmistakable strike.

    It wasn’t long until we were into the fish. Not the strongest saltwater species, cutlass fish still put up a respectable fight, particularly the larger ones. They will occasionally swim toward the boat, leading you to think you’ve lost your fish, only to change direction and renew the battle. Most of the fish were in the two-foot range with a few pushing a meter. They are truly a strange and beautiful species with their scaless metallic skin, eel-like bodies and needle-sharp teeth.

    It wasn’t long before the sea around us was alive with creatures of all shapes and sizes drawn in by the boat’s bright lights. Tiny crabs and other crustaceans flitted about and large balls of baitfish swarmed just below the surface. Small groups of trumpet fish and flying fish cruised about hoping for an easy meal. Opportunistic mackerel and their larger cousins the striped bonito soon followed. 

    Few inshore species can match bonito for light tackle fun and we were quickly tossing jigs, hoping to entice these wily-yet-aggressive predators to bite. A few did and rewarded us with short frenetic battles.Edward with a freshly caught bonito.

    As our jigging arms tired, we switched to bait rigs consisting of a large lead drop sinker on wire leader with a perpendicular wire rigged with a rubber octopus skirt and four close-set  1/0 bait holder hooks.  We had purchased what resembled a pizza box packed with four-inch strips of fish earlier on the way to the boat. A single strip could be strung onto all four hooks. While the bait proved to be as productive as the jigs, it seemed everthing was now homing in on our lines, including packs of voracious and ultimately useless pufferfish. At one point I managed to hook three of these swimming pincushions at once and spent a good 15 minutes attempting to gingerly extricated the tangle of hooks from their flopping bodies.

    Looking for a change of pace, I switched rigs again, this time to a dropper rig with four flies hoping to entice a few mackerel onto my line. I didn’t have to wait long before I was hooking one, two, three and finally four fish at a time.

    I finished the evening with another nice bonito just as the sun was rising over the Taiwan Strait. Patrick had long since found a bunk below to grab a quick nap. Soon we were heading back to port with an ice chest packed with cutlass fish, mackerel, one tiger fish and a trio of bonito (eaten as sashimi later Sunday night).

    Our haul for the evening.Cost for the trip: NT$1,500 for boat (noodle dinner with fresh fish and squid included), NT$300 for rod and reel rental, NT$500 for jig, flies, weights and bait rig, and NT$200 for box of frozen bait. So, the total came to about NT$2,500 per person. Not bad for a night of fishing, and of course it would have been cheaper if I had my own saltwater tackle and rods with me.

    Jigging Master arranges these sorts of trips throughout the summer, as well as seasonal offshore trips for bigger species like amberjack, tuna and dorado.

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