Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Taiwanese Mahseer Part II: Trophy Hunting

March 11, 2023

When I arrived in Taiwan in January, I contacted my friend Danny to see if he was available to fish.  He was preparing for a trip to New Zealand and wouldn't be available until the later part of my trip in Taiwan.  When he came back we set up a time to fish.  With my last trip with Cash a bust due to the cold weather, I was hoping for better weather and a better outing.  Days prior to our planned trip, we checked the weather and the forecasts called for rain but luckily as the date approached the front seemed to move and it looked as if we may get an ideal day.

On March 11, the plan was to meet Danny and his friend Jarro at the Haishan Station at 6:30am and from there we would drive the two hours east on the Pacific side of the island.   I woke up at 5am and got out of the house to make the 6:03am train.  I arrived at the Haishan by 6:27am and met Danny at Exit One.  After some pleasantries we walked to met Jarro at his car parked just outside the station.  Whenever I go abroad to fish with someone I bring a small gift.  For the Donny, Cash and Danny I gave them each a mini game changer kit and body wrap.  I didn't have anymore since I didn't intend on fishing with anyone else.  Luckily I brought a Simms hat (still with tags) with me and decided to give that to Jarro.  It seemed to work out as he was stoked about it since he was going to buy a new cap anyways.  

One the long drive we'd talk fishing of course and about Danny's NZ trip.  And when we reached Nan'ao we'd stop for breakfast at a local stand for the local take on the danbing which is an egg omelette pancake.  The difference here is its made with rice flour that gives a chewy texture to the batter.  To wash it down sweetened soymilk.  These are staple Taiwanese breakfast items.  After the meal we headed off back to car but not before Jarro picked up some fantuan (Taiwanese rice balls) to pack for lunch.  

We drove into the mountains.  We'd fish the same location I fished with Cash but this time we'd head further up the mountain.  The plan was for Jarro to drop us off a kilometer ahead of where he planned to park.  From there Danny and I will fish together while Jarro would be behind us and far enough that any fish we disturbed would have plenty of time to reset when he finally reach them.  And eventually since he could move faster as a solo angler he'd eventually meet up with us.  Once we hooked back up at the predetermined destination we'd get off the trail and onto the road and hike the hour or so back to the car.

Weather was warm and sunny, much better on this day than when I came with Cash.  In fact it was consistently warm and sunny for the few days prior.  So I hope high hopes things should be good.  When Danny and I reached the water I only made a few casts before I got my first rise.  Unfortunately I was unable to connect.  Despite missing the fish, the early rise gave us hope and Danny said it should be a good day if we are already getting a response.  Water temps were 20°C (60°F) in the morning.  According to Danny it needed to be warmer than that for lights out fishing.  I was fishing a black beetle size 12 that Jarro gave me on a 3x leader.  This combo is the most productive for mahseer in Taiwan.  I would eventually connect early with a fish in the 12 inch range.  I didn't even bother taking a picture as I've caught several of those before in past trips.  Danny's goal was to guide me on a fish in 50cm range (20 inch).  Throughout the morning I would miss several more fish including ones in the 40 and 50cm range.  I was getting frustrated.  I was having a hard time seeing my fly and so I was slow whenever the fish took.   Danny would call it out and even then I was slow to set the hook.  Most Taiwanese fly tyers I've notice do not add any indicator on their beetle flies.  Jarro's was the same.  Personally I don't know why they don't.  The fish is unlikely to see it and it makes the fly so much more visible.  I tie mine with a white calf tail wing for that purpose.  I didn't bring too many as I thought most of any fishing I'd be doing would most likely be subsurface as I was there late winter, early spring.  Not that it mattered anyways as I fished Jarro's fly the whole time.
Fishing wasn't as red hot as Danny had anticipated but it was good.  Danny is known for 100 fish days but on this day it was only a fraction of that.  According to both Cash and Danny water levels are extremely low compared to previous years.  This obviously had an effect on the fishing.  As the day got warmer so did the fishing.  We'd catch fish here and there.  Danny was waiting for it to really turn on but unfortunately it never really did.  There were enough fish here and there to make things interesting though.  We took a break around noon for a stream side lunch of fan tuan (a Taiwanese rice ball)  in the hopes the sun would warm up the water a bit more.
After lunch we came across a pair of conventional anglers, a father and son duo that were fishing for another species.  We hiked past them and starting fishing.  When they came across us again they warned us that above on the cliff of the far bank in the trees was a nest of Asian Giant Hornets.  As it was late winter early spring the colony was dormant.  These little rascals are not to be reckoning with.  I commented to Danny that I've never seen one.  His response was " YOU NEVER WANT TO MEET ONE!"  These vicious little things with mark you with a pheromone and colony will attack you and chase you for miles.  Once disturbed thy will indiscriminately attack anyone in their way.  Given the boulders and the tough terrain you wouldn't be able to out run them here.  Danny told me he was chased once and had to dive in the water and hide head to toe swimming away from them.
Eventually we would reach a spot where Danny usually starts his fishing adventures.  There was a big hole that he told me to take and told me there should be some big fish in there.  I casted into a pool were I thought they'd be and sure enough I managed a fish under 40cm. 
Fishing for Taiwan Mahseer is quite different than for fishing for trout.  Your mentality needs to change.  Spots that you are inclined to fish as a trout hunter is completely opposite when trying to catch a mahseer.  Slow dead water are your target particularly behind rocks or boulders.  Unlike fishing for rainbows swift currents or foam lines rarely produce.  It's best to take the mentality as if your fishing for cutthroats or big browns. These fish tend to like the lazier areas. 
Eventually Jarro caught up with us and let us know how he did.  Jarro, like Danny, is capable of 100 fish days but that would not be the case on this day.  Although he did do better than us.  Danny hypothesized that when he reached the early waters we fished the water temps were beginning to increase getting the fish more active.
Danny was still on the quest of getting me on a 50cm mahseer.  I had a few opportunites up until now but had failed to connect on those occasions.  It was getting late in the day and in a big slow pool on the far bank over a rather swift rapid, I launched my fly in that directions.  An explosion erupted almost immediately and I was on.  Danny screaming 50! 50! He finally guided me on the trophy.  In a rather precarious spot with little room to room and rapid at our feet I fought the fish trying to get him to avoid the rapids as best I could.  Danny grabbed the net off my pack and we waited for the fish to tire so that Danny could land the thing.
After landing the fish we fished a few more holes before it was time to start our hour long hike back to the car.  First we needed to get out of the canyon, bushwhacking through the jungle up the steep side of the mountain.  We'd get onto the road above an make the long walk back. 

Since my first fishing outing this trip I knew my boots were on borrowed time.  I've kept a pair of Korkers in a family residence since 2018.  I knew I would not want to lug wading boots every time I came here to visit. But since 2019 due to the worldwide lockdowns I was unable to return during those four years my boots have been in a closet in a home that is uninhabited and so it had degraded in the humid conditions.  From day on arriving I knew the glue keeping theses boots together was starting to delaminate.  It had always been on my mind every outing.  By this my third outing I knew I may be pushing my luck.  I keep a roll of gorilla tape on my pack and before fishing I taped the boot together.  This was only a stop gap but I hoped it would hold enough for the day.  As expected after constantly being in the water it began to fail.  I would redress the tape every so often until I ran out.  Keeping elastic shock cord in my pack as well, I wrapped that around my feet too.  This in combination with the tape seemed to work out well enough.  I had to made some readjustments every so often but it got me off the mountain that day. 
We logged about seven tough miles for the day and when we got into town we headed to a local seafood restaurant for various dishes.  Most interesting was something I never had, pufferfish fried then spiced.  Its a tasty fish but a very boney which probably wouldn't please too many westerners.  With the boot now done for, this would be my last fishing outing on this Taiwan trip.  My desire to catch a snakehead and an Indo-Pacific tarpon went unrealized.  I guess that will have to wait until next time to try cross those species off my list.

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