November 10, 2016

2016 Asia - Komodo (Day 1)

This adventure started as a trip back to Hong Kong to attend my cousin's wedding. When my sister suggested that we should take another brother-sister trip, we started looking at destination options. We were hoping to visit Angkor Wat in 2010, but ultimately canceled that plan when there was political unrest in Bangkok, our important transfer point to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was thus high on our list. My sister wanted to visit Bali, but I knew it would be much too touristy. Komodo National Park was not too far from Bali and surprisingly my sister was interested in the rugged and wild islands within the park. Thus, an itinerary was born.

Fishing in Komodo National Park isn't unexplored. There are plenty of reports, pictures and videos on Giant Trevally from the area. However, from a species standpoint, it appears as if no one has any idea what the Komodo area has to offer. People are so focused on big game fishing most of the time they miss out on all the other smaller species. The Sea of Flores is the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on Earth. Thus, there is a huge potential for species fishing and lifelisters. So it is an understatement that I was really anticipating this trip and quite anxious about the outcome of it.

It took almost a full day to travel from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur to Bali on AirAsia. We woke up early on Dec 10 to catch a flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo. We were excited to be traveling again. 4am wake up call isn't going to dampen our spirits!

We happily arrived on time with all our luggage. It would have been a disaster if they had lost our luggage, as we were departing on a 4-day boat tour immediately upon arrival.

When we were looking for tour options to visit Komodo National Park, we could either base ourselves in Labuan Bajo and partake on various day trips to different islands, or entertain the idea of a multi-day liveaboard boat cruise that takes us to different islands.

Let me trip vs. liveaboard boat? The decision was very easy for me! After doing some digging, I found a company that offers customized private tour. We chose a basic boat (without A/C and no luxury) to limit cost, but had the freedom to decide what to do, when to do it, and how we want to do it. Otherwise, the other option is to join existing tours (mostly diving tours) with groups of people that would limit where we would visit and what we can do. Most importantly, to me at least, others would dictate how much fishing is possible, if any.

We boarded the wooden boat and quickly settled in. Our sleeping quarters were basic but adequate. I took the upper bunk.

Our first stop was Bididari Island, just 30 minutes from the port of Labuan Bajo. We started with an early lunch before taking to the water for some snorkeling. Note the bananas on the top right corner! We had bananas on the boat for the entire duration of the trip, yet I caught some of my most wanted targets plus 4 great unexpected trolling catches!!! I don't think bananas mattered at all.

The water was decent at Bidibari with lots of coral and fish, but we were promised even better at a later part of the trip. I decided to keep the GoPro on the boat and simply enjoy the snorkeling without any documentation.

When I made the itinerary, I wanted to use our snorkeling session as reconnaissance for fishing opportunities. It's quite reasonable, right? Thus, after each snorkeling session, I planned a little fishing in the area. I was informed very clearly that we are not allowed to fish immediately at the diving/snorkeling site, if other divers and snorkelers were in the area. Usually, it only required a little move away from the dive site until I was allowed to fish.

On this day, we were far away from other snorkeler that I could drop a line close to our snorkeling spot. It took little time to start adding species.

Golden Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon aureus) - Species #635

Small-toothed Whiptail (Pentapodus caninus) - Species #636

These Small-toothed Whiptail were very common. Our tour guide Beni wanted to keep a bunch of these so the crew can make fish soup for their breakfast. We were happy to provide.

Cheeklined Wrasse (Oxycheilinus digramma) - Species #637

Chocolate Hind (Cephalopholis boenak) - Species #638

I only had an hour to fish before we made a move to Kanawa Island. It was a short 15min move until we got into the water for more snorkeling. Kanawa Island is surrounded by a healthy and colourful shallow reef. They number of fish species that were present had my eye popping. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to fish on the shallow reef :(

After another hour of snorkeling, it was time to add some of the species I've seen. The boat was anchored in deeper water and the fishing was much less productive than I had hoped. Still, some fish were cooperative.

Moon Wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) - Species #639

Orange-lined Triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) - Species #640

These Orange-lined Triggerfish were so plentiful. It was the most common species of Triggerfish I encountered. They get annoying sometimes when I was trying to find other species.

When I was only catching Orange-lined Triggerfish, Beni suggested that I should fish off the back of the boat toward the reef drop off. On my first cast, my dropper loop was bit as soon as it hit bottom and a better fish was on the line. In fact, it was a double header of two nicer fish!

Bluespotted Hind (Cephalopholis cyanostigma) - Species #641

Longfin Emperor (Lethrinus erythropterus) - Species #642

I managed another species of Triggerfish...

Halfmoon Triggerfish (Sufflamen chrysopterum) - Species #643

...before the Orange-lined Triggerfish plagued me again.

Orange-lined Triggerfish

On our original itinerary, we were supposed to anchor at Kanawa Island overnight. However, since we were at least 2 hours ahead of schedule, the captain suggested that we could visit a small island off Rinca Island to watch Flying Fox leave their mangrove roosts to feed at dusk.

The journey from Kanawa Island to Rinca Island required 2 hours. It was time for me to set up the one trolling rod I took on this trip to see if there were any pelagic species to be found. Our wooden boat was basic enough that there was only a 2 feet by 5 feet wooden deck at the back of the boat. There was no rod holder that could be installed. I was also informed that the boat didn't have a gaff or a net should any fish required to be brought on board. It wasn't ideal at all, but the opportunity for some trolling was there, so I took advantage of it just the same.

Well, on this day, the fish didn't want my X-Rap Magnum lure so all the aforementioned deficiencies didn't matter, haha! My arms and legs were a little stiff standing and bracing against the back wall and holding the rod for 2 hours while trolling at 7 knots. That's how I trolled for the rest of the trip since there wasn't even a space for a chair to sit while trolling.

We finally arrived at Kalong Island and the captain had a little trouble setting the anchor as the tide changed.

I fished for a bit while waiting for the sun to set, but the area was devoid of fish. It was a huge surprise since the water was deep. Over the next few days, I would learn that any water over 20 feet basically meant there were very few fish to be caught.

The Flying Fox were too fast, and the light intensity too low, to capture as photographs. Here's a short video of them.

The sunset was wonderful.

Thousands of Flying Fox filled the air and continued to leave their roost while we had dinner. Food was basic but adequate for my sister and I. We are not picky eaters at all.

We made a move after dinner to our night anchor spot. Our night spot was over deep water again, probably in 35 feet of water, and the fishing was almost non-existent except for one Yellow-tipped Threadfin Bream that Beni caught. I gave up after 1.5 hours and celled it a night at 10pm to end the first day.

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