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March 06, 2009

Sea of Sailfish

Visit exotic Malaysia for world-class billfish action at bargain-basement prices

But initial perceptions quickly gave way to a very different reality on our first day when my third cast off the bow with a Williamson popper brought a couple of lit-up sailfish  following it almost to the boat. Then we began to notice birds in twos, threes or fours here and there flying erratically and dipping to the water over tails, bills and towering dorsal fins, plus occasional silver splashes of free-jumpers. In fact, the ocean was alive with sailfish.

"There's been no research to support this, but I think the area off Rompin is a breeding ground," says Anthony Sullivan, another area outfitter. He notes that 10 years ago, no one had the slightest idea that such a fishery existed here. When hand-line trollers pursuing narrowbarred mackerel complained of hooking sailfish, a few angling enthusiasts took notice.

These days, 10 or so boats will take out anglers (most from Japan, Australia and Europe) for Rompin sails during prime season, Pereira says.

Rig for Silent Drifting
Fishzone charters simply run a thin-wire 5/0 Mutu Light Owner circle hook on a 6-foot 120-pound fluoro   or mono leader through the collar of  the baitfish. Often, one of the crew attaches a balloon, rigged to break away at the strike, as a float, though sometimes the bite's too hot to need or want to mess with that. The angler free-spools the livey back 100 feet or a bit more to wait with the rig in hand or in a rod holder (clicker on) -   generally not for long.

I didn't see much enthusiasm for kite fishing here. The why-bother attitude is hard to argue with when very simple techniques take sail after sail. Another reason kites could be more trouble than they're worth: Much of the time during sailfish season, there's so little wind that a boat would need to carry helium.

As further testament to the abundance of sailfish, consider that anglers hook most from boats drifting, quietly. Even when that drift barely moves the boat, sails generally find the baits in short order. Granted, we had slow periods when an hour would go by without a fish, and we would run farther out or head north or south to look for bird activity. But we also had long stretches when clickers would scream almost as soon as a bait hit the water.

Some anglers, notably from Japan, come here to throw poppers all day for sails. Often, their skippers will run-and-gun them to within casting range of sails on top. And while their numbers hooked will be considerably fewer than with bait, they do score. I know, seeing them hook up (and hearing the loud whoops) numerous times.