Multifaceted Asia Part II: Taiwan, Harbor Critters

It had been a rough few weeks in Taiwan. Although the fishing had started off with a bang with a plethora of awesome species caught in the estuaries of Central Taiwan, temperatures had continued to plummet as weather further deteriorated. Although a hardcore fisho probably would have continued to fish through these conditions, I chose to use this time of abhorrent weather to take company with family and friends in the area. As the rain continued to fall and the rivers swelled, estuaries muddied and brackish water mangroves were flushed out. My intel indicated that one of my chief targets, the Indo-pacific Tarpon had completely disappeared from their usual haunts, and the Taiwan Mahseer were not active in their rain swollen rivers. Penghu Island, home to a variety of tropical species of fish, was being bombarded with immensely high winds and swells that prevented ferries from traveling there. Fishing charters out of the northern port of Keelung were unable to depart on trips hunting bonito, cutlassfish, mackerel, tunas, and other pelagic fish. Slowly but surely, my fishing options were becoming more and more limited.

Meanwhile, I was having a wonderful time simply enjoying the company and culture of Taiwan. The richness of experiences that the small island offered even within the confines of it’s capital never ceases to amaze me. I was somewhat apprehensive as my days in Taiwan slowly counted down while I failed to find venues that would produce fish, but theres more to life than fishing, right?

A few days before I was scheduled to leave Taiwan, the weather finally managed to calm down enough to allow for a family outing. Although the wind was still howling away and the clouds were still angrily hovering over the landscape, my family decided to take a short trip to the northern rock cliffs of Taiwan. Here, it was a cliff fisher’s dream: steep craggy shorelines overlooking deep drop offs over the ocean. It’s no wonder that many shore jiggers in Taiwan often hookup with Amberjack, Barred Spanish Mackerel, and Seerfish while casting lures from the these locations. However, with the rough weather and cold temperatures, these pelagic species would likely be found far away from the shorelines.

I watched as a few diehard anglers sought to ply the rough waters for a catch, carefully avoiding the surge as the water angrily sprayed around them. These were ISO anglers who used long 15 ft+ carbon rods to float fish using algae in hopes of catching some of the herbivorous species of fish similar to our opaleye, or luderick found in Australia. As my family explored the alien rock formations around us, I sat and watched as the anglers continued drift after drift with no fish. There are those that say there is a thin line between fishing and standing there like an idiot… personally I will gladly stand there like an idiot for as long as it takes to catch a fish!

With the wind picking up, my family decided to venture down the road to see whether they could find a place to grab some food. Soon we found ourselves at a seaside port where the wind and waves were significantly decreased. While my family busied themselves with having some dinner, I walked along the harbor walls and found a father and son ISO fishing. With their consistent chumming, I made out some small shadows of fish darting through the green harbor waters and I decided to pull out my ultra light outfit to give harbor fishing a shot. Part of the inspiration was also spotting a bait shop conveniently located across the street. Buying a small pack of krill for bait, a few #10 hooks, and a couple of 15g torpedo sinkers, I sprinted back to the harbor to see what I catch before the sun set, and more importantly before my family finished their dinner!

Asking the father and son angling pair whether they minded if I fished a few feet down from them, they motioned that it was fine. Quickly tying together a single dropper loop, I baited my hook and slipped my hook into the water. The tide must have been strong at this point because I watched my line steadily swing sideways. I felt a nibble on my hook and struck but found the sinker was already snagged. Breaking off, I quickly tied another dropper loop together and this time worked to bounce my sinker on the bottom, following the drift. Within seconds, I had my first knocks as something picked at my bait. I waited for a good pull, struck, and found a little fish at the end of my line absolutely bristling with spines. This was a White Spotted Rabbitfish, a highly common fish in the harbors of Asia.

Slipping the fish back into the water, I rebaited and casted my line back out. Again a few seconds went by before I began to feel the pecks on my bait. This time I managed to time a hookset with one of the small pecks and a frenzied little silver fish was pulled out from the green water. Looking more closely at the fish, I noticed it was absolutely beautiful with blue edges on it’s fins with trailing streamers, and an elborate pattern on it’s tiny scales. I would later identify it as a Yellow-axil Chromis, my first damselfish species from Asia!

So the action continued, steady and quick. A few more rabbitfish came up and were quickly released before I got a hard strike that pulled my rod tip down. Reeling up, I was pleased to see a small violet brown mottled bulky fish at the end of my line. It was one of the infamous “reticulated grouper species,” consisting of 9 shallow water groupers found throughout the Indo Pacific with confusingly similar color patterns. I was hoping this would be a new species for me, having caught a very similar looking fish in Thailand. Later at home, I would be pleased to learn this was a Longfin Grouper, differing in some minute differences from the Honeycomb Grouper that I had caught in Thailand.

After sending the grouper back down to it’s snaggy home, I noticed the father and son watching me. We struck up a conversation and they mentioned that I must be a very good angler, steadily picking up fish while they went fishless. Although it was nice to hear, I was simply picking off the babies while they were targeting the big guys. They invited me back to fish with them in the future, telling me that the harbors become really great for fishing around spring to summer when pelagic fish would sometimes enter the harbor and provide for some hot action.

While chatting, I sent my rig back down and this time there was no peck, as something simply engulfed my krill bait and immediately dashed for the bottom. I was hoping for another grouper, because I simply love how they look, but instead I pulled up a snapper species. Unfortunately, this would not be a new species for me, having caught the relatively common Brown-striped Red Snapper in Thailand. Nonetheless, the species variety was simply astounding!

The sun had steadily slipped over the horizon at this point, and with the warm glow of the sunset, the pecks on my bait had begun to cease as the diurnal species of fish began to slip into their nighttime haunts. Instead, the nocturnal species of fish began to emerge and within a few minutes I had hooked one of the more common species of nocturnal fish found in the harbors of Asia. Looking similar to our California Scorpionfish, the Marbled Rockfish was a favorite target of LRF anglers of Japan (as I would later find out).

As quickly as that, my time was up. The sun had set and my family was leaving the restaurant, ready to head home. Although I was sure that given a longer period of time and better weather I probably could have easily doubled the number of species caught, I was more than pleased with 5 species over the last 45 minutes in relatively effortless fishing. More importantly, I had been able to finally get some fishing in after an agonizing wait for the weather to clear. Although my time in Taiwan was nearly up, I would find that there might still be one or two places left for me to wet a line at.

[i]To be continued…[/i]

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