February 13, 2023
After a month in Taiwan I was able to finally go out and fish with my friend Donny Wang. Donny was one of the first fly anglers I befriended in Taiwan and he's been kind enough to take out several times. On this trip I wanted cross off a couple new species off my list. For a long time, after discovering them I wanted to catch a barbel. In Japan they are referred to as nigoi. When I learned about them I emailed my friend Koji to ask about fishing for them. He responded in Japan you can't really target them and catches are more of a chance encounter. So when I learned that Taiwan had a healthy population of them and were regularly caught and targeted on a the fly I asked Donny if he could take me out. He gladly responded in the affirmative and we set a time and date. From there he'd take me on his scooter down the road to fish.
The date was set for February 13 and I would met him in the southern part of Taipei. He couldn't pick me up since his car was being used by his son. That meant that I would need to get a taxi to get down there. The problem was hailing a taxi at 5:40am would not be easy. So the night before I tried contacting the taxi company to schedule an early pick up. After three attempts and being put on hold and then disconnected I gave up. I then downloaded the taxi companies app and would try to use it the next morning. When morning came the first attempt at the app was fail as the hailed cab ended up having engine problems and told me to rehail another cab. That one worked fine and in no time a cab was in front of the building. After a 20 minute drive I met Donny at 7-11. The cab fare was a $240NTD roughly $8USD.
Donny took me on his scooter down the road and we parked and off loaded our gear to make our walk down to the river. Once there we wadered up, rigged our lines with dry flies and made our way down to his favorite fishing point. Once there we began fishing. I was told to fish the slow edges and not to bother with the faster current. We stood far from the banks made our casts into the water. Donny was the first to be on with a Barbel.
The night before Donny recommended a three or four weight for these fish. I had both rods with me in Taiwan, a nine foot four weight that I keep in country and 7'9" three weight I brought in case I was able to fly over to Japan and fish for yamame. But since he mentioned that we could possibly run into carp I opted to fish my 5 weight. Tilapia and barbels would be most of the fish we'd run into. While I've only tried for Tilapia once here stateside at Mission Viejo Lake, it was a half-hearted attempt and I failed to get one. My first fish of the day was a tilapia, a fish smuggled into the country from Singapore back in 1946. This was my first tilapia I've ever landed but not the first I caught. On one of my previous trips to Taiwan I managed to catch a large fat platter sized tilapia and got it to my feet before it popped off. This time I'd actually land a few but none as big as the one I lost.
I would manage several more before I could actually get a barbel to bite. Initially I'd either lost or broke off on every barbel I'd hook. It took several attempts to finally land my first but not before adding new tippet to my leader. I'm not quite sure why I kept breaking off. I think the leader I was using was past due. I was about to change the leader completely when Donny told me not to and he just added some new tippet. It seemed to hold from then on out and didn't have a break off from then on out. Barbel typically were slightly further from shore than the tilapia. So you'd have to cast past the tilapia to reach our desired target. We stood far off the banks and the drifting angle would often times drift into the tilapia zones. After some adjusting I'd start landing some barbels.
These are a weird fish. First they're spooky but not at the same time. Donny said not to let them see you as they wouldn't bite if they did but at the same time you could line them and they wouldn't care. On several occasions the fly would stab the body and they didn't seem to care. Of course I wasn't doing this intentionally but they were podded up so densely it was almost impossible not to. These barbels look like a freshwater bonefish but they are far from bonefish at least from a gamefish standpoint. They have very little fight in them They will give a very weak initial run and then quit. They just become dead weight afterwards. I landed my first and after taking pics I let him go. It swam two feet from me and just stood still. Perplexed I tried to scare him off but he wasn't moving. I'd never seen such a thing. I soon realized that the fish was still hooked as I didn't remove the fly and I was standing on the the leader. I dragged him back and released him properly. After a while fishing the slow edges of the current I started seeing fish rise in the swifter parts of the river. As my fly would drift into the zone barbels would rise and cloop like a carp but would miss almost every time. Even after missing the fish would chase the fly down the river clooping along the way trying to slurp the fly. It looked like pac-man eating dots trying to get to the power pellets. I never did get get one of these fish to actually eat my fly this way. I think they just gave up after a foot or so. This behavior I hypothesized is because the fish can't actually see the fly. These barbels are bottom feeders and their mouths are located on the bottom of their heads. When they rise for a fly I don't believe they actually see it and they probably use some judgement and other senses to estimate the location. If they fail they just continue gulping until they reach the intended target. At least that's the story I'm going with.
I'd get a mix bag of both species after landing my first few barbels. Donny would get frustrated when hooking onto tilapia but I didn't mind as they were actually more fun to fish and fought harder. Barbels, at least in this water, would pod up in large groups maybe 20 or more and stay in the same location. They didn't move much from there even when spooked or when fish were caught. They're an oddball fish. Now that I've crossed them off the list of species I doubt I'd ever return to fishing them or I should say they won't be a priority species for me anytime soon. If one wants to target this fish in Taipei, Donny tells me the "season" is December to March. After that the fish don't take flies. Donny isn't sure why but that's been his experience. We fish all dry flies from size 20-10 with colors ranging from white, yellow to dark. I don't think they are very picky. My leader was a nine foot 5x.
To Be Continued...
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