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Subscriber Thomas Gorman checked in with a report on a trip to the east coast of Malaysia in search of sailfish in November 2011. He raised 176 sails on that trip, you’ll recall, all on a fly, bringing seven to the boat for safe release. Well, he has now returned to that same spot and booked another trip with the same outfitter, Fishzone Sportfishing (www.fishzone.com.sg). He writes:
“I went back to Malaysia during the first week of October 2012, which is considered peak season for sailfish in the area. Among the things that had not changed were the presence of incredible numbers of sailfish on the surface and the high quality of the guiding, including good coordination between boat man, teaser man, cleanup man, and fly fisherman. Unfortunately, perhaps due to huge schools of anchovies and other bait in the water, the sailfish were nowhere near as aggressive or hungry as they were last time. As a result, we raised only 78 sailfish in three days, 18 of which we got within fly-casting range. We brought four of those to the boat for release. While guide Dominic Pereira was apologetic about what was, by his standards, a very slow few days, I was still a very happy angler.
“As sometimes happens when you book a fishing trip, the fishing trend line was on the upswing each day I fished, and it broke wide open a few days after I left. I guess that’s what makes fly fishing such an addictive blend of fun, frustration, science, mystery, and good old-fashioned luck. “The Rompin area, where I based both of my trips, is a well-known sailfish destination among Australian and Japanese anglers, and among pockets of Europeans and South Africans. I met anglers this time from Japan, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Singapore, and mainland China, but none from North America. High airfares, the state of the U.S. economy, and the long distances involved probably all played a role in the near-absence of Americans in this area. All considered, I think this is an extraordinary fishery that deserves to be on the bucket list of anyone who is intent on catching sails on the fly. In terms of average numbers of sailfish raised and opportunities to cast a fly to them, I doubt there is a better spot on the planet.
“Although Rompin excels in numbers of sailfish on the surface, in comparison to other sailfishing destinations such as Costa Rica and Guatemala, it is has a relatively limited range of other species that can be targeted on the fly. An occasional marlin is caught, and there are skipjack tuna, Spanish mackerel, dorado, and cobia in the area. The main fishing grounds around Rompin are located within an hour’s run from the fishing dock. Typical sea conditions from spring to fall involve a light chop and moderate swells. The water where the sails tend to congregate is not deep, averaging around 60 feet, nor is it particularly blue.
“The conventional wisdom on Rompin’s spring-to-fall sailfishing season has been that spring months tend to be slower than the fall months. Peak season occurs in September and October, just before the winter monsoon arrives, which marks the end of the season. In 2012, however, the sailfish were plentiful and aggressive in the spring months, as well as in July and August. In booking next year’s trip, I am giving serious thought to visiting earlier in the season.
“Learning from my first visit and based on advice from expert sailfish fly fishing guide Dominic Pereira, I tied a dozen Rompin-style sailfish flies for this trip, averaging 10 inches in length, in a variety of colors. Tied tube-style, I fished them with a large popper head on a Rio Tropical Outbound Short WF12 F/I line, which made it fairly easy to cast even such a whopper of a popper. The main challenge of tying these flies nowadays is finding a decent supply of good quality, extra-long saltwater hackle feathers. It seems the fashionistas have cornered the supply market. Synthetic substitutes look great in the water, but some of the thinner diameter materials tend to snag on the sail’s raspy bill, creating false hook-ups and badly balled-up flies.
“During my three days of fishing, I was part of a small minority of anglers departing the Rompin dock each morning with fly fishing gear. The majority of anglers here drift live bait below balloons, or they fish large surface poppers with spinning gear. The bait guys were averaging ten or more sails a day to the boat. Fishzone will fish fly, bait, or spin, but they are really the only expert game in town for fly fishermen. I’m looking forward to fishing with them again next year!”