The Fly life

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Fish That Saved Fly Fishing... In Singapore

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It may seem like a big claim, but true nonetheless. Given the small land mass and non-existent management of both fresh and saltwater fisheries in Singapore, it comes to no surprise that many people end up catching nothing at all. And because fish are hard to come by, people end up keeping anything unfortunate enough to take the bait. The mindset of the typical singapore fisherperson is not a beautiful one and much can be attributed to the lives led by many of the early migrants of the country. Almost all of Singapore's chinese population originated from China; coming over in search of a better future in the 1800s after the place was colonized by the British. Many came to work as labourers at the strategically located sea-port. The hard life fostered a mentality of "grab all you can" and that apparantly, is still evident in the people today. But since this is a fishing blog, I shall leave the political economic rantings out.

Things started to change, albeit slowly, when fishermen started to release their catch. And not surprisingly, the individuals practicing catch-and-release were those fishing with artificial baits - lures and flies (but predominantly lures). Another characteristic of these fishermen was that they were young and better educated, and were influenced by the American and Australian fishing magazines they read. The past five years saw a huge increase of young people taking up the sport, and also choosing to fish with artificials. It was also during this time the fly fishing started to have new followers.

With the poor catch rates from the saltwater, people turned to the freshwater reservoirs to cure their fishing itch. The only catch however, is that fishing in most of the freshwater reservoirs is against the law as these reservoirs store water intended for drinking. The Singapore government has designated fishing areas in a few reservoirs, but they soon become overfished by the unethical bait fishermen.

The most common fish in the reservoirs that readily take flies and lures is by far, the Peacock Bass, and they are the most accessible proposition for the new lure/fly fisherman.

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The origins of the fish in Singapore is not known, but there's no denying that they are an introduced species. However, these peacocks are not the same species as their South American cousins and (unfortunately) don't grow as big. But other than that, they retained the aggressive native that these fish are well-known for. And not surprisingly, catching these fish on fly is alot of fun.

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In the beginning, people were catching them on surface flies like poppers, muddlers, gurglers and sliders. All it took was to cast and strip the fly back quickly and fish were racing against each other to take a bite at it. But the fish soon started to realise that these 'creatures' were not food and no longer fell for them. And when the surface flies stopped working, the creative fly fishermen switched to sub-surface flies. It did the trick, and the fish were lining up to gobble the offerings once more. As the fish got even smarter, they became alot more selective in the flies that they'd take.

The selectiveness of the fish prompted myself to try different things in order to tempt these (now fussy) critters to take a bite. What I did was to experiment in the following areas:


The general rule of thumb is to downsize the fly as the fish get smarter/fussier. The most widely used flies would be the clouser and the charlie.


Brighter colors would be first choice, and tending towards the more natural tones. An interesting observation made was that big peacocks would eat the small ones, and people have had success with flies tied to resemble the small fish.


Start with a faster retrieve because these fish are aggressive by nature. Too slow a strip and the fish will ignore the fly. Experiment until the fish start to follow the fly in - and maybe even have a go at it. That's when you know the speed of retrieve is right. Then it's time to think about whether the fly is at the right depth.


This is done in tandem with the sink rate of the flyline. The idea is to keep the fly at a certain depth for the speed of the strip that is used. Most flies fished on a standard floating line tend to move closer to the surface as the fly is stripped back. This moves the fly out of the feeding depth of the fish and reduces the chances of getting a strike. A right balance between the line and fly sink rate should be achieved. There are sinking poly-leaders that are available that can be attached to the front of a floating line to obtain a sink tip. Multi-tip lines are also available in the market and is a viable option as well.


The debate continues - monofilament line or flurocarbon line. Here's my logic: fish that can see a monofilament might not see a flurocarbon but fish that can see a flurocarbon will definitely see a monofilament. So I choose to use the fluro. The Berkley Vanish offers good value for money - buy the 250yd spool and not the 50m (leader) spool.

And as for line thickness, fish as light as the situation allows.


First and last light would be my preferred times of the day.


Year end is usually the spawning season for the fish and they tend to hang around closer to the bank. If you notice two fish hanging around one particular spot, they are usually a breeding pair. Repeated casts to agitate the fish will most likely solicit a strike. And if you hook one, please release it after having your fun.

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Seantbw said...

nice article. i lure too and i practice catch and release. am doing a project on fishing and came by this site. More should learn to practice C&R. Big tomans and peacock bass are very rare now. By the way, i have caught several Temensis. These are the biger species of Peacock bass. caught a 6kg, 4kg and several 3 kgs in singapore waters. happy hunting and tight lines!

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