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March 06, 2009

Sea of Sailfish

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



Where's Malaysia? Malaysia is a large Southeast Asian country. While Malays make up much of the population, Indians and Chinese account for sizeable proportions.

How do I get there? Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur (KL), is served by many major international air carriers including the country's own Malaysian Airlines (www.malaysianairlines.com), one of only a few five-star airlines, according to Skytrax (www.airlinequality.com).

What's the main city like? KL, it's modern skyline dominated by the bright-silver Petronas Twin Towers, among the world's tallest buildings, is increasingly becoming a major center for shoppers from all over Asia, Australia and Europe. English is very widely spoken, passably if not always fluently. I had little idea what to expect; I found a clean, progressive and prospering city of striking new architecture and diverse and gracious people. In general, Malaysia proved a fascinating destination. From a culinary standpoint, food is a mélange of Indonesian, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines. Those who love highly spiced/flavored food will find this a large corner of heaven. I can't imagine anyone coming over to Malaysia to fish without spending some time in KL.

When should I go? As noted, the fishing off Rompin starts in April, with prime time for sails under way by the latter part of July, and runs into early November when monsoons end the season.

What about money? Currency is in ringgits; even with the mighty U.S. dollar no longer so mighty abroad, accommodations and food remain good and often great bargains here.

Speaking of money, is this very expensive? No. Granted, the thousand-dollar-or-so cost to fly across the big pond is a bit pricier than a jaunt to Central America or a Caribbean island. On the other hand, the price to fish here is shockingly cheap. To wit, at press time, Fishzone Sportfishing was holding with a seven-day (six-night) package for four anglers - five full days on the water - for $1,370 per person. That is truly inclusive (minus alcohol and gratuities - which will be minimal by American standards): You're picked up at the airport, transported (the five hours or so) to Kuala Rompin, housed in a large condo (clean, comfortable and air-conditioned, if a bit  austere), fed fabulously and provided with quality tackle. By way of comparison, I priced out some typical Central American fishing resorts and found rates for four commonly $600-750 per person per   fishing day. The Malaysian package comes out to a bit more than $250 per fishing day.

What should I expect at Kuala Rompin? The large fishing village of Kuala Rompin sits on the coast by car a few hours southeast of Kuala Lumpur (mostly excellent highways) or a few hours north of Singapore. It's notably undeveloped and a decidedly agreeable spot. We also found it free of biting bugs (which is good since we opted out of malaria prophylaxis) or other vermin, and the coastal temperature, even very near the equator, was generally very pleasant. (Exception: the middle part of the day when winds died - just be sure to drink a lot of water.)

What should I bring? Fishzone supplies all tackle, but if you want to bring some, particularly if you're fly-rodding it, you can. This year, the primary gear for anglers consisted of Shimano TLD20s with 50-pound braid. I prefer much smaller, lighter high-quality gear for these sails and brought a Shimano Trinidad 14 and Saragosa 4000 with 20-pound braid that worked perfectly (heavier would have meant giving up too much challenge and losing too much fight; any lighter would have put too much stress on the fish by increasing fight times unacceptably). However, also check with Fishzone: Pereira said they plan to add high-quality spinning gear to their arsenal for 2009. The operation prides itself on supplying everything for visiting anglers, "down to the sunblock." Also, expect to gain weight since you'll consistently be served amazing meals.

How do I book a sailfish trip? To book a trip, visit www.fishzone.com.sg, or contact Dominic Pereira at info@fishzone.com.sg or fishzonesportfishing@yahoo.com.sg. Pereira and partner Ian Pinto speak English fluently; they are well versed in and truly enthused about sport fishing. Their operation is set up so they sweat the details and let their anglers focus on fishing. They'll pick you up at either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore airport, or in either city.

For more information: Tourism Malaysia - www.tourism.gov.my, 800-558-6787 or 212-754-1113.

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