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Into the depths of Malaysia
  |  First Published: August 2014



Fishing can lead you to some amazing places to target a variety of extraordinary fish species. A recent invitation to visit Malaysia had my head spinning with thoughts of fishing in a new and exciting location. Few anglers are aware of the terrific fishing potential which Malaysia offers. Experiencing the culture, amazing food and locations were just a bonus, as I was about to find out.

After boarding a Malaysian Airlines flight and heading northwest, I was finally on my way to Kuala Lumpur where I boarded a connection flight to Miri. This city in northern Sarawak on the island of Borneo has a population of over 360,000. The major industry of the area is petroleum (first discovered in the 1960s), followed by palm oil, rubber plantations, timber, coffee and pepper.

However, more importantly for me and the other journalists on this trip, Miri is the gateway to Luconia Shoals, an exotic coral reef system extending hundreds of kilometres. This system lies around 100km (61 miles) off the coast of Miri with depths on top of the reef averaging 5-40m yet plummeting quickly into several hundreds of metres next to it. A bonus for anglers in the waters between Miri and Luconia are the huge number of oil rigs. These massive structures protrude eerily from the seabed and act as oversized FADs, attracting an array of pelagic and demersal species. This provides some amazing opportunities for fishers although you are not always allowed to fish around them and are regularly ushered away by the security boats.

Straight from the Miri airport we headed to check out an array of massive fish which had been captured during the 8th Miri City International Deep Sea Fishing Tournament. This year the event had attracted 102 anglers from ten countries including England, Germany, Singapore, Australia, Brunei, India, Italy, Hong Kong, Philippines, Netherlands and of course Sarawak. International anglers aware of the huge potential of the Luconia Shoals regularly visit for the tournament and are well catered for and welcomed with typical Malaysian hospitality.

We were stunned at the size of the goliaths on display which included grouper (pronounced gar-roop-a) to 58kg, GTs to 42kg as well as massive ruby snapper, amberjack and numerous other snappers and jobfish. Our shoulders were already aching at the thought of hauling in these massive fish but we were excited and keen to get amongst the action. After ten courses featuring local produce, including fish caught during the tournament, and a good night’s rest we had another amazing Meritz Hotel buffet breakfast and headed off to our first side trip: prawn fishing, which I will cover next month. After another night at the Meritz, with a sumptuous feast at a local seafood restaurant, we finally headed to Luconia.

THE ACTION STARTS

After several hours aboard Marine Harvest, a sub 70ft vessel, we stopped at an oil rig yet were sent on our way by security before we could drop a line into the cobalt blue water. The next rig allowed us to fish for a while so we deployed our jigs 80m to the bottom. Game on! Bananafish (rainbow runner), trevally and a few other species were caught, the best fish being a GT taken by Jamie who hailed from Perth, the only other Aussie on this trip. There were several bite-offs attributed to tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) and escolar (barracouta).

We moved on and stopped at a few other oil rigs and open water spots where depths varied from 80m to 200m and species including dorian (squirrelfish), various unidentified groupers and numerous snapper (colloquially called ping-pong due to their flat, round shape, just like a ping-pong paddle) were caught. None of the crew seemed concerned about the exact identification of any species, they just knew which were the best ones to eat, although nearly everything was kept regardless. The crew were a happy bunch, with Adni the deckie yelling ka-ba-boom (colloquially translates to having a good time) every time someone’s rod loaded up.

We fished well into the night, our appetites satisfied and our energy levels renewed thanks to the delightful fried chicken and fish pieces, curries, rice, noodles and local vegetables that cookie prepared in a standing room-only recess with a single burner, wok and a shelf. Five-star food under a million stars – it was a great way to end our first day at Luconia.

I barely remember going to bed yet was awoken early by new enthusiasm in a weary body (and my bladder) just after dawn. As I ventured up on deck, the edge of the main reef system was within casting distance so I rigged a Saltiga popping rod and fired out a muskie stickbait. A few casts in there was a boil and after more prospecting I finally hooked a solid GT, which ejected the hooks quickly.

We trolled for less than 30 minutes mid-morning with Jamie catching a wahoo around 8kg. Others caught during the day included aforementioned species as well as kawa kawa (mack tuna), bonito, yellowfin tuna and a new one for me, ujie rashid – a red fish with prominent fins and a large emerald eye. This was apparently named after a famous Malaysian singer from the 1980s with beautiful eyes.

We mainly fished knife jigs, slow jigs and numerous baits. The other Aussie, the two kiwis, two Japanese anglers and I had high quality spin and overhead outfits between PE4 and PE10 yet many of the Singaporean and Malaysian anglers had brought electric reels, which made the task of extracting fish out of 200m a lot easier. For us, it was hard work at times yet very rewarding with plenty of fish coming over the gunnels periodically, although we had to keep moving to find action. No goliaths had been caught at that stage, with most fish being sub 10kg, yet this was about to change.

Awaking next morning, I stumbled on deck just in time to see a grouper around 20kg coming over the transom. Several more quality fish also hit the deck over the next hour with more anglers joining the fray as they awoke from their slumber. Masiy from Tokyo hooked a good fish and played it hard and smooth to coerce it so the surface. The call of ‘gar-roop-a’ was made as plumes of expelled air then a massive brown shape materialised from the depths. This fish was close to 45kg and a personal milestone for Masiy, taken on a 360g Reals slow jig. This remained the largest fish for the trip although plenty of other beauties were taken including highly-prized ruby snapper to 14kg.

In the late afternoon we headed back towards Miri, stopping at various oil rigs. The massive lights and vertical supports of these rigs attract huge masses of baitfish which in turn attract hordes of big-eye trevally to 5kg as well as GTs, tenggiri, escolar, mahi-mahi and others. My 8” Z-Man Streakz and 6oz jighead accounted for numerous big-eyes and seemed more successful than most other offerings around the oil rigs.

The next day was our last and as I made it on deck I realised we had travelled during the night and were now adjacent to an oil rig. I grabbed my soft plastic outfit and had a drop. As soon as it hit the bottom I started working it. Hop, hop, hop, whack, hop, CRUNCH. I was being stretched severely by a solid, rampaging fish on PE4 and had to apply extra pressure by grabbing the spool then walking towards the transom to pry the fish away from the heavy structure. The eventual result was a solid GT of around 20kg.

At another structure later in the day a similar plastic and jighead combination produced an almaco jack, a cousin of the amberjack and a new species for my growing list. For now, however, we were catching bananafish, escolar and big-eye trevally on lures and various snappers on baits. The action wasn’t hot but it was frequent enough to keep us trying. We tried a few other spots as we zigged and zagged our way through the South China Sea en route back to Miri. It was sad that our adventure was drawing to a close, yet we still had smiles on our faces due to the fish we had captured, new international friends, experience gained and the thought of a hot shower back at the Meritz.

After a sumptuous Asian feast that night we wearily crawled into bed. The next morning we headed as a group back to Kuala Lumpur with most catching connecting flights back to their country of origin. I had another night in KL and was taken on a tour of this massive city. Michael my guide was a wealth of information and pointed out the historically significant sights and buildings. The array of fried, smoked and barbecued foods available from the street-side stalls required further taste testing and I would have loved to spend more time there. A side trip for a day to the stocked ponds an hour from the city is yet another line on my bucket list.

MORE TO DISCOVER

Thank you to Malaysian Tourism and Malaysian Airlines who were instrumental in my experience within their multi-cultural country. With so much on offer in Malaysia, I hope to soon return and experience more of the amazing hospitality, culture-rich places, friendly locals and of course the amazing fishing opportunities that Malaysia offers, including Rompin sailfishing and the rare snakehead fishery. We only just scratched the surface of Malaysia’s piscatorial possibilities and I can’t wait to sample more. Ka-ba-boom!

Facts

VISITING MALAYSIA

Malaysia offers lots of hidden gems for the angler or seasoned traveller. Tourism Malaysia can help with every detail in planning your next trip to their country, no matter whether you want to experience the fishing opportunities or just want to check out the sights, food, culture and rich history that this area offers. The Miri City International Deep Sea Fishing Tournament is a great time to visit for keen anglers however Tourism Malaysia can point you in the right direction no matter where you want to go or what you wish to target.

This is a big year for Malaysia with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 – the largest celebration of all things Malaysian. For more details on this event and other facets of Malaysia, or more information to plan your trip, check out www.tourismmalaysia.com.au. I can confidently say that no-one knows Malaysia better than Tourism Malaysia.

The award-winning Malaysian Airlines operate 81 services weekly from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Auckland direct to Malaysia with convenient connections to over 60 destinations around the world. Recently the airline celebrated their one-year anniversary as a full member of the award-winning Oneworld Alliance which offers special privileges and rewards for frequent flyers. Personally I found their service, staff and aircraft excellent and look forward to my next flight with them.

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