November 11, 2016

2016 Asia - Komodo (Day 2)

Seeing the Yellow-tipped Threadfin Bream the night before, I wanted to give the morning dawn hours a try. Sometimes, fish feeds only for a couple of hours around dawn and dusk, and if you miss that prime feeding window, you're just not going to catch any.

My alarm sounded at 5am but it was still completely dark. I stayed in bed until 5:30am when there was just a little light to start fishing.

It was a huge surprise that I was bit on the first drop since I had no bite the night before. The first fish was right on target.

Yellow-tipped Threadfin Bream (Nemipterus nematopus) - Species #644

It took minutes to get another bite with a new species coming up.

Lattice Monocle Bream (Scolopsis taenioptera) - Species #645

I caught another Yellow-tipped Threadfin Bream until it became quiet. The sun was rising behind the hills and it was getting much brighter. It's interesting how narrow a window I had for this species as I experience the same over the next couple of days.

I decided to cast away from the boat to search for some kind of structure since it was mostly featureless right below the boat. There wasn't any structure all around the boat aside from the odd rock. However, I started to get some small bites and eventually caught a really cool species.

Giant Prawn-goby (Amblyeleotris fontanesii) - Species #646

A few cast later, I could catch another one. For a Goby, they were huge! Both of them were about 7" long!

I put the rod down to photograph the surrounding. Often I forget to take scenery pictures on fishing trips and I consciously made a point to take more photos this time.

Dawn at Rinca. Locals pronounce the name of the island as "Rin-cha".

While the Yellow-tipped Threadfin Bream disappeared, it was replaced by another species. Even so, this species was only around before the sun peaked over the hills and I caught two specimens quickly before they disappeared.

Fork-tailed Threadfin Bream (Nemipterus furcosus) - Species #647

By 7am, everyone, including my sister, was out of bed and having breakfast. After breakfast, we made a 10 minute move and docked at Loh Buaya on Rinca. Loh Buaya meant "Freshwater Crocodile Bay" and Komodo dragons are locally known as freshwater crocodile for their ability to swim.

I thought the hiking tours started at 8am and we were a little early. Later, I found that we could start as early as 7am. But on this morning, with the presumed extra time, I poked around the dock a bit and quickly found many of these little fish holding under the dock or under docked boats.

Orbiculate Cardinalfish (Sphaeramia orbicularis) - Species #648

There were so many species around it was difficult to put the rod down. However, Beni and the captain assured me that I'll have plenty of time to fish after the hike.

We walked up the dock to meet our park guide. The park guides not only served to teach visitors about the island and the wildlife. They also had the important job of ensuring that visitors are safe on the hike. Although Komodo dragon attacks are rare, guides still rely on their forked stick as a deterrent against aggressive attacks.

We were just 100m from the main ranger buildings when we spotted a trail.

Following the trail, it led us to a male Komodo dragon that was 8 feet long. Welcome to Komodo National Park!

These giant lizards are most active for a few hours in the morning and late afternoon. They needed the sun to warm their bodies in the early morning. However, by late morning, the sun is too hot and intense that these lizard need to seek shade. The high temperature can cause the food in their stomach to rot which can be lethal to the animal. Thus, well fed Komodo dragon usually seek shade during the day. This big male was very lethargic and he was likely still nursing food coma from a big meal. We still gave the male a healthy distance because their sluggishness can be deceiving. They are ambush predators after all.

There were other animal that needed shade including Timor rusa deer (Cervus timorensis) that sought shelter under the ranger station. These deer are the primary prey for adult dragons.

Many subadult dragons can be seen walking around. These subabults were more active. While subadults are often seen on the ground, most juveniles reside in the trees. The main predator for young Komodo dragon is another larger Komodo dragon. We were following a 4 feet subadult around until it decided to bedded down in the shade. They had almost no fear of humans.

We continued to the kitchen building and found six big dragons, three males and three females, drawn to the smell of food. Komodo dragons are solitary at all stages of their life. They usually only congregate when drawn by food or the need to breed. This really wasn't that great of a photo, but we were asked to stay at this angle to the dragons by the ranger.

We left these big dragons and started to hike toward a known nesting site. Closer to the nest, we came upon a female dragon in the shade along the trail. These dragons are very well camouflaged in the shade and even our ranger was caught by surprise when he hadn't seen the 6 feet long female until he was 10 feet away! Usually, you want to stay at least 2 body lengths away from these dragons.

As sluggish as they appear, they can move quite fast. A younger female was moving away from the nest at a brisk gait.

Komodo dragon nests started as a Megapode nest. The Megapode bird digs its nest and builds a mount of dirt around the nest. When a pair of birds abandon their nest (or chased off by the dragon), the dragons scavenge and enlarge these nests for their own breeding purpose. This nest may have eggs inside as we saw the two females nearby.

I was hoping to see a water buffalo in the wild. There were many buffalo dung piles around but alas the animal remained elusive. Colourful beetles were drawn to buffalo dung though.

We took a rest stop about 30min into the hike. Even in the shade, the heat was intense and we had to drink water often. Day time temperature was 33C on average.

It was a little eerie that the rest stop was decorated with skulls.

We continued to hike in the forest habitats that were found in the valleys. Even off the trail, the forest was similarly sparse.

Another 15min later, we came out of the forested valley onto the hilly savannah.

While the savannah was mostly bare grasslands, there were scattered short trees and bushes around. In the early morning, adult dragons are often found basking in the savannah. Later in the morning, they move back into the forested valley. Since it was already 10am, we didn't see any dragons on the savannah.

At the boundary between the savannah and the forest, we saw any dragon nest. This one was not in use. Apparently, Megapode birds do not have a preference for shade or sun for their nests. However, like other reptiles, temperature will determine the sex of the brood for Komodo dragons.

Strangely, we didn't see any many dragons on the trail. But around the ranger complex, there were adults and juveniles about. Perhaps they were simply well camouflaged in the forest, or the cleared grounds of complex made the dragons more visible, or they were simply all drawn to the smell of human food. Here was another small three feet long Komodo dragon.

There was a large area devoid of any vegetation. Apparently, this is a flood plain. During very high tides, this area is covered by saltwater. During the rainy season, runoff would also flood this valley floor.

Goodbye Rinca!

We got back to the boat at 10:45am. We had plenty of time today and I was given the promised time to fish before lunch.

There were schools of baitfish around the boat. Occasionally, they were crashed by a predator. They were easy to catch using bread. Thank you to Habanero on for his help on the identification of this fish! I initially thought it was a juvenile Mullet.

Eendracht Land Silverside (Atherinomorus endrachtensis) - Species #649

I did try to fish a live juvenile mullet for the predators. While I was fishing on the dock away from the boat, my sister said I had a bite. She didn't know how to hook the fish and my mullet was taken off the hook without hooking the fish. Oh well. It was likely one of the juvenile Giant Trevally that I glimpsed.

Using bread, I was also able to catch this species of Damselfish. I caught three of these sharing the same characteristics...although I do hate to identify generic looking brown coloured Damselfish. This may need professional help as well. What I do remember very well is the black spot on the nape, a thin blue margin on the dorsal fin and s few blue spots on the back that was captured by another photograph.

Damselfish species - Species #650

There were a few Pufferfish around. They were not shy at all if shrimp was presented.

Milkspotted Puffer (Chelonodon patoca) - Species #651

The boxfish, however, were a pain. They were extremely wary and any little splash would scare them off. They also appeared to be very line shy since they would approach my bait but was turned off when they had a closer look.

There were some diamond-shaped silvery fish in the depths. They would not bite until I freelined a small chunk of shrimp. A small splitshot was sinking the bait too quickly to turn off the cautious fish so they would only bite if the bait was presented completely weightless.

Silver Moony (Monodactylus argenteus) - Species #652

I was trying for a tiny Damselfish species when something a little larger bit off my hook. I never was able to catch the Damelfish species since they were no bigger than 1.25" long at best. However I switched to 4lb fluoro with a #20 hook and quickly caught the fish that bite off my tanago hook. It was a juvenile triggerfish.

Yellowmargined Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus) - Species #653

Using the #20 hook and bread, I also caught a River Garfish species. I'm still trying to narrow down the species...but at least I'm just down to three species to consider.

Zenarchopteridae species - Species #654

Earlier, I was freelining a piece of shrimp when a pair of Pannant Coralfish passed by. One of them circled by bait and took a bite. I was a little too quick setting the hook and the hook was never set properly. The fish shook off after doing 3 circles.

A while later, I was casting a piece of shrimp under the docked boat with a splitshot rig. The water as too deep and shaded to see bottom. I was walking the bait on bottom hoping to find one of the Blackbelly Triggerfish that were really skittish in the shallow. However, I was pleasantly surprised with a fairly good tussel on the ultralight rod.

Pennant Coralfish (Heniochus acuminatus) - Species #655

I never did managed to catch the Blackbelly Triggerfish again. Most of the fish were extremely skittish in the shallow and around the dock. However, eventually, I was able to catch one of the fish with some persistance and stealth.

White-shouldered Whiptail (Pentapodus bifasciatus) - Species #656

By noon, it was time for lunch. Lunch break was nice as the heat was almost unbearable. While we were having lunch, the boat departed and the captain suggested another location on Rinca island to try for fishing. Since the deeper water appeared to yield very little, I requested to fish shallow reefs.

Once we arrived at the reef, the first few drops yielded a few interesting species.

Redbreast Wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus) - Species #657

Two familiar faces that had me excited for a split second...

Manybar Goatfish

Pinktail Triggerfish

However, we were soon surrounded by Orange-lined Triggerfish and Small-toothed Whiptail almost every drop. My sister had NEVER fished in her life, but somehow I got her to try with the rapid action. She was actually enjoying herself "working for our dinner".

It was a little bit of a mistake on my part to give her my I never got it back for over an hour. Luckily, she didn't steal any new species from me, hahaha! I had to set up my heavier 9' rod since the tide was now starting to change and we needed 2oz of weight to stay vertical in 10 feet of water. But eventually, I managed to find one more new species before the tide was too strong to fish.

Spottail Coris (Coris caudimacula) - Species #658

The water around Komodo National Park can be quite dangerous. It is one of the major channel where water passes between Sea of Flores and the Indian Ocean when the tide changes. Shallow reefs resemble river torrents when water rushed in or off the reef, and whirlpools are created around points, ledges and narrows. As such, divig, snorkeling and fishing are best scheduled around slack tide. Once the tide change was in full swing, we took the opportunity to move toward Palau Padar.

It took 1.5 hours to reach Palau Padar so it was time to set out the trolling rig again. Since the X-Rap Magnum didn't produce yesterday afternoon, I decided to try a 4" pink squid rigged on a 3/4oz bullet sinker. I was hoping for either Kawakawa or other Tuna species, Narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel or maybe even a Pacific Sailfish. I had the squid skipping occasionally out of the face of the boat wake. Maybe the current was too strong. In the picture below, you can see waves and whitewater. It wasn't due to wind. It was the strong current during the tide change.

Unfortunately, nothing wanted to play when we finally docked at Palau Padar at 3:30pm.

Palau Padar offers a great panoramic view of the area with only a short 30min hike. Just a little up the hill, we looked back at the tranquil bay where the boat was docked.


Finally, we reached the viewpoint and got what we came for.

Even at 4pm, it was still quite hot. We had to make a quick retreat to the boat since we had a 1.5 hour trip to our night anchor off Komodo Island. The captain prefer not to run the boat around dusk. Before we left the dock, we saw a school of Bluefin Trevally busting the baitfish next to the dock. However, the school came by quickly and left. And so we left too.

The long boat ride meant another trolling opportunity for me. Since the squid lure yield nothing close to the surface, I decided to use the X-Rap Magnum again to fish a little deeper. The boat was moving a little slower at around 5 knots as the captain navigated around shallow rocky points.

The area was looking so prime for some kind of Trevally or Mackerel species. I was actually hoping for a Giant Trevally. It was about 10 minutes into the troll when the boat passed through the narrow gap between Palau Padar and Palau Batubilah. As we started to move away from Batubilah, The water started to turn a darker shade of blue. I happened to look beside me and saw a larger white object underwater. Was it the belly of a Manta Ray or was it just a table-sized white plastic bag? Regardless, I was hoping my lure would not snag it. Just as my lure, set about 50 yards back, passed the location of that white object, my clicker screamed. I was hooked into something, but it came off after two shakes.

Thinking it was maybe a giant plastic bag after all, I reeled in the lure to make sure the hooks are not obstructed or the lure was not wrapped on the wire leader. To my surprise, and disappointment, I found a couple of deep teeth marks on the lure. Darn! It was a fish. Perhaps it was a Barracuda since it appeared the fish struck the lure broadside but just missing the two hooks.

With the first trolling hit over the two days of trolling, it gave me a bit more confidence that, perhaps, there were fish to be caught on the troll here in the Komodo. I sent out the X-Rap Magnum again and made sure it was swimming properly at the 6 knots that we were now traveling, and that the drag was not set too tight.

It wasn't even 5 minutes before my clicker screamed off again! This time, the fish stayed on and it was quickly into my braid backing. I was using a 40lb mono topshot and 65lb braid backing, so my drag was kept a little lighter. I probably only had 10lb of drag at max initially. I yelled to Beni that I had a fish on the line and Beni relayed the message to the captain. The boat was slowed to about 2 knots but still moving forward. In hindsight, it was probably best as the fish was swimming toward the boat after the initial run and I had to work to keep the line tight. The fish seemed to have tired after the first run and I was just cranking it in. I still haven't had deep colour yet, so I was assuming it was just a small fish. Eventually, I saw a long silvery shape in the water.

What was that?

The fish was still too deep, and the boat wake too broken, to get a good look. Eventually, the captain came to the back for a look and he decided to put the boat into neutral. It was then I got the fish closer to the surface and saw the black tiger stripes. It was a Wahoo!!!

You see, I've been trying for a Wahoo since the summer of 2000 on Nevis Island where I had my first taste for deep sea trolling. At the time, we were sold on the idea by the boat captain that there were a lot of Wahoo around Nevis that it was worthwhile to leave the biting Giant Barracuda to find Wahoo. We never did see a Wahoo that trip. Since then, I had tried to troll for Wahoo with Todd in Hawaii whenever I visited. We probably had a couple dozen days on the water. I've caught Tuna and Mahimahi with Todd, and even seen a few Blue Marlin. But the Wahoo had remained largely a dream.

Thus, here I was in the Komodo Island, doing everything on my own from knowledge I've learned from Todd and other friends, using my own gear, on a liveaboard boat that was not really ideal for fishing...and hooked into my first Wahoo without a gaff or net available to bring it in.

I asked my sister to take some pictures of the fish in case it should shake off or pull off the hook when we tried to lift it in. All I got was the photo above LOL.

It was at this point that the Wahoo got a second burst of energy and made a blazing run into the depths. Luckily, my drag was light enough to handle this surge. I brought the fish up to the surface and it made yet another dive. The second dive gave me a heart attack as the fish ran under the boat and I fears the line would tangle with the prop. But I managed to guide the fish back out to the side and brought it to the surface one last time.

Without a gaff, it was a handful landing the Wahoo. The deck was a couple feet over the water. But luckily, the hook was well seated and the captain flipped the fish into the boat in one smooth motion. The captain was a fisherman before he started to run tourist trips and he had done this many times before.

MY FIRST WAHOO!!! I was grinning ear to ear and you couldn't wipe it off my face!

Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) - Species #659!

It wasn't just me who was too excited. Even the captain and Beni were super happy about the catch.

This was the winning lure - the green/gold mackerel X-Rap Magnum 15

It only took a Wahoo to trash it. Wahoo has serious set of teeth!

After a number of photos, we got underway again and I sent out the X-Rap again. Another 1 hour later, I was still hopeful for another bite...

But it never came. We finally docked at Komodo Village to resupply and get some more ice for the Wahoo.

It took a little more time to resupply so I started to drop some baits and found some new species.

Saw-jawed Monocle Bream (Scolopsis ciliata) - Species #660

Cardinal species - Species #661 (yet to have a confirmed ID)

Spotted-gill Cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus chrysopomus) - Species #662

We left the dock and anchored in a quiet bay off Kalong Island with 6 other boats. It was quiet alright...with one boat blasting music until 12am...

I requested some fresh Wahoo for dinner and we had pan-fried Wahoo.

To be honest, I don't prefer Wahoo. I find it much too firm and bland (same as Mahimahi). Maybe it would have been great as sashimi?

I tried to fish for a bit after dinner, but like the night before, it was just dead. There were fish busting bait in the mangroves, but that was way out of reach.

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