Features

Man & Fish

30 Apr 2009 by intern22

Like playing golf, big game fishing is considered serious business and can be factored into your travels. In fact, interest in the sport could go a long way to help seal the deal, says Chris Pritchard


Don’t dare tell anyone at head office. The sign on the hotel room door says: “Do not disturb”, but “Gone fishing” is closer to the truth.

Many business travellers craftily tack a day or two onto business trips to mess about in boats. Excuses? “I’ll be in a rural area and probably out of cell phone range”, coupled with “I won’t have time to check emails”.

Only New Zealand, among the Asia-Pacific nations, convinces itself – particularly in Auckland – that fishing is part of business. For the rest of us, it’s leisure. Auckland styles itself “city of sails”, boasting that many residents own boats. Some are purely for sailing, while others are unashamedly for fishing. According to local lore, people talk business while bobbing on the ocean waves. Being afloat serves the same role as golf in Asia. A colleague based in the Philippines was scolded by his boss: “You won’t get anywhere in this company unless you play golf.” Similarly, a New Zealand business analyst warned me: “If a local associate fails to invite you out on a boat, perhaps to fish, be seriously worried that the contract won’t be signed.”

Deep-sea fishing has fanatical aficionados everywhere in our region – but it’s bigger in some places than others. Tip: browse Hongkong-based www.sportfishingasia.com which exists “for the enjoyment of all types of sport-fishing men and women all over Asia”. Forums teem with tales of ones that got away – or didn’t – throughout the Asia-Pacific. They discuss where to fish in, say, Taiwan or Malaysia and whether you’re likely to hook tuna, wahoo or something different. The Philippines’ beautiful Boracay, for instance, isn’t known as a prime fishing spot but experts contend success comes to those heading further out to sea.

Angling for a fishing break? “Don’t fall hook, line and sinker for the first sales pitch,” advises James Neilson, business development manager at Phuket’s Wahoo Big Game Fishing (Thailand). The company is poised to open branches in Bali and Boracay.

“Do your homework. Most places demand a boat be insured for chartering; if it isn’t, don’t board,” he cautions. “Ask if they have insurance and check your own travel insurance covers maritime mishaps. When you arrive, ask around. See who’s heard of the operator and what do they say.”

Other experts speak highly of asking the hotel concierge for recommendations. Otherwise, button-hole a business associate. If the associate doesn’t know a fishing rod from a golf club, chances are he or she will know someone to ask.

Neilson reveals business people intent on deep-sea fishing come in two categories: pre-planners and others. Of the former, 90 percent scour the internet and magazines, contacting operators by email. “The majority organise after arriving. Operators work with hotels and travel agents. So, asking at a hotel almost always means getting pointed to a known operator.”

The Wahoo executive urges inspecting a vessel before a fishing trip, if possible. “If the boat looks unsafe, it generally is! Ask to see life jackets, radio, GPS and so on.” He agrees the industry includes some cowboys. “We’ve had funny ones. One operator decided to compete with imported boats and booked a deep-sea fishing group to travel 160km to the Similan Islands – no GPS, no radio, no satellite phone and a skipper straight out of a Carry On comedy. The boat was found eight days later drifting off Malaysia – 320km the wrong way!”

Pirates aren’t a concern; they do not target leisure fishing craft. Rather, safety is a bigger worry.

“Trawl the net if it’s a good operator,” says Neilson. “Type into a search engine the captain’s or company’s name – nine times out of 10, there’ll be something written about them, good or bad.

“If nothing positive is written, don’t panic – it may just be that customers got what they expected so they didn’t write.

“But if large numbers of bad reports appear about going out in bad weather or refusing to make refunds, don’t send a deposit. Find another boat.

“All this is common sense, perhaps, but many people don’t take time to check – and it ruins their experience. Once home, they tell others and people, then associate a destination with Mickey Mouse operators.”

Operators welcome novices. Often, two or three enthusiasts bring along a novice who’s helped by companions and crew. Unlike golf or tennis, deep-sea fishing is usually learned “on the job”. Equipment is provided, except for specialised fly-fishing rods because these are expensive, fragile and often modified by users. “Mostly, you just turn up and fish,” adds Neilson.

Costs vary widely. Around the Asia-Pacific you’re looking at prices starting from US$425 to hire a boat with skipper and crewman for a day or more. Just joining a boat for a day’s fishing is cheaper: from under US$60 including lunch, typically with eight passengers or fewer in groups assembled by operators.

Fish caught in Asia include sailfish, marlin, trevally, dorado (mahi-mahi), king mackerel and tuna. “Main targets everywhere are the strongest fighting fish with the right tackle,” explains Neilson. “A 2kg tuna can be a good fight for a novice with appropriate tackle. If line and rod are too heavy, it’s heavyweight versus featherweight.”

In Australia, says Melbourne-based David Harris, general manager of Fishnet.com.au, catches include southern bluefin tuna (Victoria and Western Australia), gummy sharks and snapper (Victoria), marlin (New South Wales and Queensland) and barramundi (Northern Territory). White-fleshed barramundi are lauded as Australia’s best eating fish. Found in the tropical north in mangrove-lined estuaries and nearby sea, they are not strictly a deep-sea variety but feistiness makes them a game-fishing quarry. “People come from Asia and beyond to fish for barramundi,” says Alex Julius, who runs the Northern Territory’s Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge and fishing trips.

What of visitors with no local contacts? Harris advises contacting an operator elsewhere. “Fishing people are generally helpful. They’ll recommend someone to contact at your destination, or they’ll find out if they don’t know.”

Hooking Up

Numerous operators compete in the deep-sea fishing niche. Among those also able to provide advice about areas other than their own are:

• Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge
www.barralodge.com.au

• Fishnet
www.fishnet.com.au

• Wahoo Big Game Fishing (Thailand)
www.wahoo.ws

• Sportfishing Bali
www.sportfishingbali.com

• Boracay Sun
www.boracaysun.com

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