Since my arrival in Batam in January, I’ve been trying to put a fishing trip together. Having been an almost every day angler in the U.S., and battling such large fish as shark, kingfish, tarpon, redfish, jack, mackerel and snook, the sight of Indonesia’s island topography had me excited about the possibilities.
So finally, Sunday, we put together an Indonesian-style fishing trip. A newcomer to Smiling Hill, Chris, and a friend of his, Mitch, wanted to go fishing, so Hidayat hooked us up with a local fisherman, Umer, who would charge us 500,000 rupiah for the day (about $50). Umer would take us out in his 18-foot aluminum-hull, open boat. Our expectations were high.
In preparation, three days before we were to go, I went into town to the only fishing tackle shop I’ve seen here. Turned out to be well-stocked with good Daiwa gear and plenty of the right kind of end tackle (hooks, weights, lures). Bought a 6 1/2-foot graphic rod ($45) and some end tackle. The shop even stocks 6-foot casting nets, if I should ever need one.
Chris is staying at Smiling Hill, helping us find investors so that more houses can be bought and renovated. He has lived in Jakarta the past two years. Mitch lives in town and is a freelance sound engineer. He has been in Batam for two months, previously in Jakarta for a year. We met up at Goodies about 7 a.m. Sunday. I had a quick cup of coffee (kopi Sumatra), plunger style as we always do here, and ordered some toast, which I turned into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for later. Ever aware of my motion sickness problem, I did not eat.
We were a little late getting started and had to stop to pick Mitch up before we set off to the far side of the island. The trip took us through some rather dilapidated villages and residential areas, with roads fit for horses and ATVs only, but we somehow made it through in the company van. On the way, we stopped at a local store so the guys could get something to eat and a few more beers. We had filled a large cooler with ice, water, soft drinks and beer at Goodies before leaving.
Our departure point was a small fishing village, where we met Umer and unloaded our gear. It was here we were told there would be no cover on the boat, so we were going to be exposed to the Indonesian sun for the entire time on the boat. Not good but what are you going to do?
The docks here are made of old, falling-apart wood, and we had to literally “walk the plank” to get to our boat, as well as climb down a makeshift wooden ladder. Then we had to walk over one floating, wobbling boat to get to ours. Everyone made it without falling in the nasty-looking water.
Once on the water, we were treated to fresh breezes from the southeast, which softened the sun’s effects at least pertaining to the heat. We would be thoroughly burned by the time we returned. We rode for 15-20 minutes before finally anchoring at a local fish trap. Our anchor was a rope tied to one of the trap’s poles sticking out of the water.
I have to explain here that Indonesians aren’t into sport fishing. They fish to eat. Everything they catch is kept; size does not matter. And Umer ‘s plan was for us to fish Indonesian style – small hooks, pieces of shrimp, drop-down lines with weights. This was inevitably going to mean lots of very small fish, the kind I would use as bait in Florida.
I decided to disregard what the others were doing and tried throwing some metal lures, and then a jig, but there was no action. So I joined in the small fish crusade and promptly caught a 9-inch something or other, followed by a fish hardly bigger than my hook. That would be my last catch of the day, as I spent the rest of the time feeding the fish, one small bit of bait at a time.
After Mitch, Hidayat and Umer caught a few small ones, we moved to another location, at another fish trap, and repeated the process. Umer, by the way, was using a traditional hand line, and was outfishing us at this point.
At this spot, Hidayat caught an eel and while he was displaying it for pictures, lost his balance and fell backward into the water, his legs still clamped around the edge of the boat. Umer pulled him back in while Chris and I did what you’re supposed to do in that situation – take pictures.
While we were fishing here, Hidayat told us we were going to a local kampung (village) for lunch, where a wedding reception was being held. We would be eating at the reception. We thought this was a great idea, and a welcome, interesting break. As we fished some more, boats of local people, all decked out in their Sunday best, zipped past us headed for the reception.
Finally, we headed for the kampung, somewhat hesitant about barging in on someone’s wedding. We were assured it would be OK. When we landed and were taking some photos of our group, several local women in beautiful outfits were watching, so we invited them to take pictures with us. I joked that my friends back home would decide I had finally gone over to the other, Muslim side.
The village was typical, with houses on stilts lining the shoreline. There was a large, barren field in the middle, with a schoolhouse on one side, and a covered area set up next to it for guests and lunch. We could see inside several of the homes and they were very upscale, especially for an island kampung out in the middle of nowhere.
We were greeted warmly by the locals and invited to eat. There was a white and a yellow rice, some chicken padang (chicken cooked in a sauce, which, fortunately, was not too spicy for me), a crunchy meat or fish thing that was way too spicy, a meat and eggplant dish, and water. I had a little bit of rice and chicken, knowing I couldn’t eat much of the food and not wanting to leave food on my plate (bad manners).
When we were finished, the bride and groom arrived, decked out in silver and gold. There was an alcove created in the schoolhouse entrance, where they sat, with the parents on either side. It was very hot and their costumes could not have been comfortable, but they sat there receiving friends and families. Chris and I went through the receiving line to wish the bride and groom well. Before we left, we gave a donation/gift, which is put into a box decorated like a temple. There was live music blaring as we left.
The event was the highlight of the day and I’m sure was a highlight for those in attendance. It is unusual for a Westerner to see such an event in such a remote place and my photos are probably unique.
By this time, the beer had run out and we were pretty much whipped and burned to a crisp, but we soldiered on, trying one last fishing spot, tied up again to another fish trap. I finally abandoned the small fish tactic, hooked up some cut bait and heaved it into the middle of the channel. No luck. Final tally for the day was Hidayat 6 fish, Mitch 4, Chris 3, Ken 2. Umer, of course, probably caught the most. All were put in a large Styrofoam chest; Hidayat took them home. We had hoped to bring back fish to be cooked at Goodies but we wanted nothing to do with these fish. The locals will eat them, however.
Once back at the car, we thanked Umer, gave him 600,000 rupiah and headed on back, stopping first for cold beer and then a second time at an apotek (phamacy) for some ointment for Mitch, who was scorched. The ointment contained 10% cow placenta.
No real fish, but a good day nonetheless.