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Tom Gorman, who lives in Hong Kong, checked in with this remarkable report on fly fishing for sailfish in Malaysia. He says he raised 178 sails in three days!
When the February 2011 issue of Sportfishing Magazine listed Rompin, Malaysia, among the top 15 spots on the planet to catch sailfish, it confirmed what I’d been hearing for a few years from Asian and Aussie friends who had fished there. Especially attractive for someone targeting sailfish on the fly, Rompin was rated as having better concentrations of sails on the surface than anywhere else.
So I booked a trip with Fishzone Sportfishing (www.fishzone.com.sg) during the prime fall months. Rompin is on Malaysia’s east coast, a roughly 100-mile drive north of Singapore’s Changi International Airport. As part of the package I booked, Fishzone met me at the airport in an air-conditioned van, and off we went on the four-hour drive on good, paved roads the whole way. I flew in from Hong Kong, which is a three-and-a-half hour flight. Airport formalities including immigration and luggage took about one hour, so door-to-door from my home in Hong Kong to the guesthouse in Rompin made for the better part of a ten-hour day.
Once we exited the bustling city of Johore Bahru (population 3.5 million), which first greets you on the other side of the Singapore-Malaysia border, the landscape turns from suburban to agricultural, with extensive plantations of oil palms replacing what were once mostly rubber plantations. Further north and inland are extensive national parks where wild elephant, tiger, and Sumatran rhinos still roam. Along the road we saw lots of monkeys, a pair of wild boar, a monitor lizard, and an “elephant crossing” sign.
Rompin is located in Pahang, the largest of Malaysia’s 14 states, which is home to the oldest rainforests in the world. Prior to the mid-1990s, it was known mainly to local and Singaporean anglers as a fishing destination for grouper, snapper, golden and giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, plus cobia, some dorado in season, and the occasional marlin. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Rompin’s world-class sailfishing was discovered. One theory is that the sails migrated there in numbers around that time and returned every year since for reasons unknown. Another is that they were always there but undiscovered by anglers. Having seen the incredible numbers of sailfish on the surface there now—free jumping, cruising, and busting bait—I find the latter theory hard to buy into. So the mystery remains, but fortunately, so do the big concentrations of sails.
Fishzone’s Dominic Pereira and Ian Pinto have been guiding out of Rompin for more than eight years, and they offer a package including land transport to and from Singapore, accommodation in a nice guesthouse 10 minutes’ drive from the jetty, meals in local eateries, soft drinks and lunch onboard, gear if required, and expert guiding for both fly and conventional light-tackle fishing. We fished from a 30-foot fiberglass skiff with a 150-horsepower four-stroke that got us to the first fishing grounds within 45 minutes. Seas around Rompin are generally calm. On each of the three days that I fished during peak season, we saw an average of about 10 other similar-sized sportfishing boats, but we were the only ones fly fishing. The others were mainly drifting live bait on conventional light tackle, mostly under balloons, or occasionally slow trolling live bait.
I fished with Dominic, a crack guide and great guy to fish with. We trolled hookless teasers rigged with bait strips until a sail was raised and then began the bait-and-switch routine, setting the stage for me to cast a fly to the lit-up sail. As an indicator of things to come, within about five seconds of deploying the first teaser on the first morning, a sail appeared in the spread.
I’ve fished many parts of the world, including Costa Rica, Baja, Thailand, and Guatemala, but I saw ten times more sails every day in Rompin than I’ve seen anywhere else. Different folks prioritize different things as indicators of how hot the fly fishing for sailfish is, but in three days’ fishing, we raised 178 sails, landed and released seven, and had one jump off and one break off. By my standards, that’s about as good as it gets. By Rompin standards, it’s an average day during peak season.
Fishzone is happy to accommodate conventional anglers whether for drifting bait or trolling lures. Apparently, most other local charter operators are not willing to spend an eight- to ninehour day trolling because of the fuel costs. We saw no other boats trolling during my visit.
Our typical fishing day was a good, full one, starting with an 8 am departure from the jetty and a return by around 5 pm. Since the fishery is fairly close, most of the day is spent fishing rather than running. Fortunately, Rompin sailfishing is all catch and release.
Malaysia may be a longer haul for most anglers than many other better known sailfish destinations, but if you really want to catch sails on the fly, I can’t think of a better spot. It’s also a great spot to catch lots of sails on conventional tackle.