Omakase At Sea: The Making Of A Fishing Trip
In fine dining, omakase is a Japanese phrase meaning "I'll leave it up to you", and originates from the term makaseru, or "to entrust" (source: wikipedia). In an omakase meal, diners leave it to the chef to select the dishes to be served, which may vary according to seasonality as well as the guests' preferences.
While some of us may be all too familiar with the process of planning for and subsequently going on fishing trips both locally and abroad, few of us have seen the other side of the coin. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look how our crew ensures that everyone gets to enjoy a safe and exciting day of fishing!
Three Days Prior
Before every trip, an email will be sent to each angler who will be coming on board. The email is important as it contains detailed information on when and where to meet up, as well as a crew member's contact number and a list of recommended items to bring. It helps to prepare our anglers for their trip, and gives them an opportunity to clarify certain details or voice any concerns. These details will also be noted when we compile the passenger manifest, which will be considered before we sail.
I burn through expendables such as jigs, lures and terminal tackle at a pretty brisk pace, so I head for the tackle shops in Changi Village and Beach Road to stock up when I run low. I'll get a mixture of the less expensive stuff (for use in treacherous terrain) as well as the premium ones (it's hard to resist), and experiment with new products that hit the market. Given the chance, I will also try to test those designs that I've not used before in the relative tranquility of a nearby reservoir in order to get a better idea of how it behaves in the water as well as in the air on the cast.
The Day Before
The day before a trip can play out in one of two possible scenarios. In the first case, we will already be out at sea, in which case we will be aware of the conditions at sea as well as which fishing spots are more productive at the moment, which will help to decide the next day's itinerary. Otherwise, there is quite a bit of information to be retrieved in order to determine the plan for the day. Chief among these are forecasts for the weather, current, and wind (in roughly that order).
The weather is important because, all else equal, the vast majority of us usually prefer to avoid having it rain on a fishing trip, so if it is possible to avoid the areas where rain is expected then we will plan the route around those areas. Rain can also affect the salinity and temperature of the water in the sea, which in turn has an effect on the level of activity in the fish we target: when the water is exceptionally cold, the fish tend to become sluggish and feed more sporadically. On the bright side, the first warm day after a cold spell is generally quite good, as the fish resume feeding after their period of inactivity.
Besides the weather, the current also has an impact on the types of fishing which are available on any given day. The general guideline here is that the days with the strongest currents (which occur just after the full and new moons) are usually the best for targeting fast pelagic fish, while the days with the slowest currents (which occur around the half-moons) are more suitable for targeting slower-moving bottom fish. It is also normally the case that stronger currents correlate positively with the occurrence of fish feeding frenzies, which make for very memorable outings.
My explanation for the above is that stronger currents both demand a greater expenditure of energy from the fish in order to hold their position, and give them lesser time to inspect an angler's offering, making them more likely to throw caution to the wind and bite like crazy. When the current is slow or still the fish not only have less calories to replace, but are also able to inspect your bait at their leisure, making them much more discerning customers. But then again this is only a guess; you are free to come up with theories of your own, and please let me know if you find a more rigorous explanation!
One other interesting peculiarity of the waters in our Southern Islands is that, due to the underwater topography, the tidal flow gets split into different streams which are channeled in different directions. This gives the currents there a somewhat capricious quality, where the current at a given spot may flow much faster or slower than expected given the tides on that day, and also change unexpectedly (or not at all). Such is the occasionally frustrating, but more often delightful conundrum that is fishing: we learn to play the best we can with the hand we're dealt.
The third factor we'll look at is the wind. Strong winds cause choppy waters, which in turn increases the frequency of casualties to seasickness (as I've mentioned before: when in doubt, it's always safer to pop a Novomin). Wind acts on the cross-sectional surface area of the craft that is above the waterline, and affects the speed of the drift as well as the position of the vessel when it is anchored. For certain types of fishing that require the angler to cast, a tailwind is also invariably an advantage: the coral trout you see below was caught on an artificial lure that only reached its mark with the help of an encouraging wind.
The Night Before
This is usually when I prepare my drinks, my gear and myself for the next day's fishing. The choice of drinks depends on you: I'm partial to coconut water and herbal tea but quite a few people I know prefer beer. That said, the feeling of gulping down ice-cold mouthfuls of your favourite beverage in the middle of a hot sunny day at sea is hard to beat, so I like to chuck them drinks into the freezer just before I turn in, in order to let them freeze semi-solid. In the morning, transfer them to the ice-box and they'll stay cold and as refreshing as you please.
Gear-wise, the night before is the time where you want to tie your wind-on leaders, since you'd probably prefer to tackle those rather tedious knots in the comfort of your own home rather than on a rocking boat. It is also a good idea to tie a few hooks for the rigs you intend to use the next day, and to sharpen or replace the hooks on your jigs or lures. After you're done packing, go through everything you intend to take with you to make sure nothing is missed. I've had trips where I arrived at the fishing spot only to find that I'd forgotten my sunglasses (or better yet, my fishing reel). That wasn't very fun.
Sometimes you spend the whole day on the water, working hard and patiently waiting for that handful of hits. You never know when one of those may be the fish of a lifetime, but you certainly don't want to botch the chance because of a dull hook or a poorly-tied knot! There are already plenty of ways you can lose a big fish, and it never hurts to nudge the odds in your favour a little. Thorough preparation makes its own luck.
In The Morning
On the day itself, the crew will set off early to procure the necessary supplies for a day's fishing, before heading to the marina to get the yacht prepared for the trip. Early in the morning, few food stalls are open and even fewer sell food that is suitable to be kept for about five hours or more before being consumed on board. Given that duration as well as the constraints associated with having lunch on a gently swaying table, fare like soups and Nasi Lemak are probably better choices for breakfast, and you may want to skip the cucumber in your packed chicken rice.
If human food was tricky to obtain, fish food isn't much better. Live prawns for fishing are a scarce commodity before sunrise (bear in mind that they must be bagged with oxygen in order to make it to the live well on the yacht), and I am only aware of four locations on the island that can provide and package live prawns early in the morning. Of these four, exactly none of them are near Sentosa, so if you happen to know how to get live prawns to Sentosa before 8am please leave a shoutout and I will be eternally grateful!
Upon reaching the yacht, the crew will hose down the deck, switch on the air-conditioning and tidy the cabin, while the captain will give the hull and engine a once-over to make doubly sure that everything is shipshape and ready for the voyage. The live prawns will be loaded into the live well once it is started up and circulating fresh seawater, and the required number of rods will be retrieved from the rod locker and rigged appropriately for the first fishing spot. Once all those tasks are carried out, we wait to welcome our anglers aboard.
This is where Artemis I really comes into her own as a purpose-built sport-fishing vessel: did you know that the hatch built into the starboard corner of her stern is actually a tuna door?
Though we seldom have the occasion to require the use of that feature, the captain and crew consistently rely on the on-board navigational equipment as well as the echo sounder to pinpoint the location of schools of fish, and position the boat to effectively target them. This will usually be the time when you see crew members moving quickly to get lines in the water, and it's a good bet to jump in to get a piece of the action. If you're wondering what a school of fish looks like on the screen, have a look at the right half of the picture below
Meanwhile, the captain will be keeping an eye on the position of the vessel and the underwater terrain, as well as the well-being of everyone on board. While the planned route for the day would have already taken into account certain factors like the presence of very young or elderly passengers, the captain must also be prepared to make adjustments on the fly if someone on board suddenly succumbs to seasickness or the conditions at sea turn out to be rougher than expected. Safety is (and will always be) a top priority; the fish can wait.
Like an omakase meal, a fishing trip is a result of the marriage between the taste of the connoisseur and the bounty that nature serves up with each season. Like the chef, the captain is an artist who presides over the match by drawing on an intimate knowledge of the craft, in order to create a powerful experience that cannot quite be replicated.
I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into the inner workings of a fishing trip. Quite a fair bit takes place before the lines ever hit the water, so the next time you hop on aboard to head out to sea, rest assured that you're in good hands and enjoy the thrill of your next adventure!