Entries in jigging (7)
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.
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.
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).
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.
Scientific name: Caranx ignobilis
Common names: giant trevally, GT, giant kingfish, barrier trevally
Chinese names: (transliterated) lang ren shen, jhen shen, niou gang shen
Habitat: Habit ranges from inshore reefs, lagoons and estuaries to offshore waters. Usually found near submerged structures such as reefs, banks and drop-offs.
Size range: Have been known to grow to sizes in excess of 160 cm. The giant trevally reaches sexual maturity at 60 cm.
A top target of saltwater anglers not just in Taiwan, but throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the giant trevally or GT is an apex predator of the tropical and sub-tropical zone. Strong and aggressive, they are a favorite on all types of tackle. Schools of juveniles congregate near inshore reefs and sandy lagoons, making them a fun diversion for light tackle anglers. Hefty solitary adults challenge inshore and offshore anglers alike.
A member of the family of jacks known as Carangidae, they can be distinguished from amberjacks and yellowtail by the deeper curve their bodies and their steeply sloping forehead profiles. Juveniles and adult females are silvery in color with irregular black spots, while adult mails darken to almost black as they mature.
As with amberjacks, GTs are frequently targeted by boat anglers speed jigging large blade lures near submerged structure. Another common approach is casting top-water or shallow-running lures, particularly large poppers, which imitate struggling or injured baitfish. These tactics often product the violent strikes and pitched battles that make GTs so beloved by saltwater anglers.
Because of their tendency to hunt near reefs, GTs are among the larger of species accessible to shore anglers. Rock outcroppings and jetties along Taiwan’s north shore and east coast are the preferred haunt of those hoping to hook one. Favorite spots for GT anglers in the north include the outflows of the island’s nuclear power plants where warm water used to cool the reactors is released back into the sea.
Giant trevally prowl all the waters surrounding Taiwan, including the offshore islands. Late winter and spring are considered the best time to pursuing them. While some anglers consider them a good table fish, trevally have frequently be implicated in cases of ciguatera poisoning. Because of this fact as well as the depletion of the species in some areas, many anglers practice catch-and-release with GTs.
Scientific name: Seriola dumerili
Common names: Greater amberjack, amberjack, amberfish
Chinese name: 杜氏鰤
Habitat: Primarily a pelagic species found offshore in deep water, often over or near structures such as sunken reefs, pinnacles and oil platforms. They will occasionally move inshore near reefs, bays and drop-offs.
Size range: Average size is around 15 pounds (7 kg), but large specimens in the 40 to 50-pound range are not uncommon. The all-tackle record is 155 pounds 10 ounces.
The greater amberjack is arguably the king of Taiwan’s offshore sport fishing targets. No doubt tunas, giant trevally and billfish and a host of other pelagic species have their diehard adherents, but few species send Taiwanese anglers into a rabid jigging frenzy like these brutes.
A larger cousin of the yellowtail, think of the amberjack as a yellowtail on steroids…with a healthy dose of ’roid rage thrown in for good measure. The amberjack’s powerful torpedo-like shape tells you it is built for speed, something immediately apparent to anyone with the good fortune of finding one on the end of their fishing line. They can be distinguished from other jacks by the diagonal “fighter stripe” that extends from the upper jaw, through the eye to the first dorsal fin.
Late winter and spring are prime season for amberjack in Taiwan. They can be found offshore all around the island, but the waters between Taiwan and Japan are the prime hunting grounds for local anglers. Charter boats often seek out sonar marks near sunken reefs, submerged sea mounts and man-made structures like wrecks and drilling platforms. Vertical jigging is the preferred approach, with anglers dropping blade jigs to the proper depths and retrieving them with a rapid yo-yo action, then repeating until they get a hookup.
Greater amberjacks feed on crustaceans, squid and large baitfish. They are found both solitarily or in small schools. Amberjacks are highly desirable as an eating fish and are particularly prized for sashimi in Japanese cuisine. Care should be taken that fish are properly cleaned, as the species is suspected in cases of ciguatera poisoning.
I assume these are now available in Taiwan, since they were released last summer. Waxwing jigs would be great for shore/jetty fishing for jacks, bonito and barracuda on the east coast. I'll have to give them a try.
A few readers have asked about charters and party boats that target offshore species like tuna, amberjack and other pelagics. Charters can be found at most major harbors, particularly around Keelung in the north and Hualian and Taidung on the eastern side of the island. The experience is a bit different than what some anglers from western countries may be accustomed to. Tackle and fishing style usually favors fast jigging using knife jigs, rather than trolling or bait fishing. The video below was originally posted on YouTube by the same people that shot the kayak fishing clip. The poster also provided a link to the service through which they booked the boat, which unfortunately is in only Chinese.