BALI: Balinese Offshore Fishing

Discovering Bali gamefishing - Balinese Offshore Fishing

BALI: Balinese Offshore Fishing

Have you ever holidayed in Bali and thought of a sports fishing trip whilst you were there?

John Cahill has spent the last year living there and has sussed out the local scene – read on to learn all about discovering Bali gamefishing.

When it was suggested to me I take a year off work and relocate to Bali I thought well why not. Diving into the Internet to see what Bali had to offer from a sportsfishing perspective and finding useful or encouraging information was like the proverbial hunt for a needle in a haystack, my numerous fishing industry contacts couldn’t help me and it really seemed like a limited destination. Fishing buddies wished me luck but thought I was delusional and the prospect of finding good fishing in Bali was next to no chance they said, ‘but enjoy the Bintang’! With many thinking I had lost the plot I was sucked in, “lets do it” I said I will find good fishing I’m sure of it!

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Now for certain Bali is not on everyone’s lips as a go to sports fishing destination however it offers way more than enough, it’s just that most don’t have the knowledge of where to go and when, I was living proof of that when I arrived and was sucked in by a few unscrupulous operators. Bali has two main fishing problems that can both be overcome; the first and most serious of the issues is enormous fishing pressure close to the mainland of Bali. 

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The many islands of the Indonesian archipelago straddle the equator and A drive around to some of the fishing villages will reveal just how many Jukung (traditional fishing canoes) there are and they are put to good use. The locals fish for a food and a living and with 3,000,000 visitors a year to the island there is much demand for seafood in the uncountable restaurants and warungs. The second issue is locating a reputable and knowledgeable operators to get you on the fish, the island seems to be plagued by tourist style charters who lack the knowledge equipment and ethics to be a serious threat to the fish but be heartened there is some talent there you just need to seek it out. It took me a little while to iron that issue out but did in the end, more on that later!as such are tropical waters and attract the usual suspects associated with that temperature range. A short distance from land in southern Bali out from the popular tourist destination of Nusa Dua you will find some interesting water that indicates the area’s potential. Strong currents, deep water canyons and cobalt currents are everywhere in the south, it’s pretty wild terrain. As the coast line is circumnavigated, Bali diversifies significantly and the strong currents give way. In a general overview, the waters close to mainland Bali offers many points where top water fishing for giant trevally or jigging for a host of deeper water dwellers is a possibility as well as good runs of yellowfin tuna, sailfish and small black marlin to the north.

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A BIT ABOUT BALI

The many islands of the Indonesian archipelago straddle the equator and as such are tropical waters and attract the usual suspects associated with that temperature range. A short distance from land in southern Bali out from the popular tourist destination of Nusa Dua you will find some interesting water that indicates the area’s potential. Strong currents, deep water canyons and cobalt currents are everywhere in the south, it’s pretty wild terrain. As the coast line is circumnavigated, Bali diversifies significantly and the strong currents give way. In a general overview, the waters close to mainland Bali offers many points where top water fishing for giant trevally or jigging for a host of deeper water dwellers is a possibility as well as good runs of yellowfin tuna, sailfish and small black marlin to the north.

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These mainland options are limited by the first two highlighted problems, fishing pressure in the south, and access to good operators and boats especially when you leave the southern populated environs, in the north finding a good operator is near on impossible and you are stuck with making a deal with a local fisherman to take you out in Jukung, an interesting experience in itself but not sports fishing platform by any stretch of the imagination which is a shame – the north has much to offer. In my search for Bali sports fishing information I stumbled upon a mad keen GT popping aficionado who has lived in Indonesia for a long time, Mark Harris has become a good friend and he is an incredibly astute observer pointed out that you must head east, away from the population hubs of Bali to find good fishing and it was fairly sage advice.

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East of Bali lies three islands relatively close at about an hour by water crossing the Badung Strait. Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Cenigan and Nusa Penida are among some of the most spectacular and rugged islands I have had the pleasure of visiting anywhere especially the southern and eastern sides of Nusa Penida. The waters around these islands are typified by very strong currents, prehistoric cliffs and rock formations that extend well into the water creating plenty of structure and upwelling’s and as a result plenty of desirable sports fish. This is where Bali fishing starts to get really good with GT’s abounding in this region and they tend to be on the larger size and seem very hardy with their ability to withstand pressure from the islands fisherman, the waters also start to become a little bit of a hazard for jukung which is a good thing. Prominent charter operator Adhek Amerta has been running an impromptu tagging program at this site with hundreds of fish tagged over the last few years with only a couple of fish ever recovered; there are clearly plenty of them. No doubt the deep water that surrounds these islands seems to assure a consistent supply of big fish at least at the right times on the fishing calendar.

The larger tides common to this area are approximately three metres or so and help provide for the water movement needed to fire up the big fish to head towards shallow water to hunt. Some pretty amazing underwater geography is the major factor for this being a fishing hot spot. Batu Abah on Nusa Penida is at the very westernmost point of the narrowest point of the Lombok Strait – notable as a deep water channel and as one of the main passages for the Indonesian through flow that exchanges water between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Many people will have heard of this stretch of water as the Wallace Line runs straight down the middle – it is effectively the dividing point between Asian and Australasian flora and fauna. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Line and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombok_Strait for more information.

At Batu Abah the Strait is at its narrowest, only 18km wide and the sheer mass of water that rushes through there creates some remarkable currents. Throw into the mix some wind and a new or full moon phase and the water can be especially dramatic – the kind of conditions that big GTs seem to love, at least here they do! Mark Harris is strongly held opinion is that the bigger GTs there are far more likely to be feeding at the surface when the current is running hard, and at other times they stay much deeper on the adjacent reefs. My experience of fishing with him and Adhek Amerta pretty much confirm this theory, so trips to these sites must coincide with moon phases for the best chances. The most productive waters at Batu Abah are 5 metres to 25 metres deep, then the drop off shoots down to 100 and then 200 metres very quickly. 

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GTs can be caught there when it is dead calm but it is very hard work and they tend be smaller sub-20kg fish, when the water is fast however the fish size goes up and up to an amazing location record of 63 kilograms aboard Adhek vessel GT1. The deeper water out from Batu Abah abound with deepwater jigging opportunities and many a trophy dogtooth lurks if you can find them and the conditions are right to present a jig to them, they seem to vary from season to season in number and size much more than the GTs.

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Across further over the Lombok Strait to Lombok itself the sportsfishing options change again. The crossing is surprisingly short from Bali’s main Benoa Harbour – about 90 minutes at 20 knots to the best fishing points on Lombok’s southwest coast. Most of the known sites here involve top water fishing with GTs again being the main targets. There is plenty of by-catch to be had though with Spanish mackerel, wahoo, red bass, dolphinfish and lesser trevallies, amongst others. There are no doubt also prime jigging spots on Lombok’s south coast waiting to be discovered!

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The nature of popping for GTs is a little different from Bali across in Lombok. The deserted coastline created a true Jurassic Park-like backdrop and there are endless offshore bommies and headlands to cast at. Good GT fishing is far less condition-dependent than it is Bali and there are just moré fish as Lombok has suffered less from the pressures of small scale commercial fishing. This basically makes Lombok a more sure fire location basically. It is certainly feasible to fish Lombok on a day trip from Bali, but to get a true feel for the nature of the fishing it one or two night stay in the Lombok side is advisable. There is tourist accommodation at Kuta Lombok which is the most easterly point of Lombok’s south coast you would probably want to venture to. Mark’s done this trip numerous times and counts it amongst his favourite angling experiences anywhere in the world, now that is saying something!

WHEN TO FISH

The many islands of the Indonesian archipelago straddle the equator and as such are tropical waters and attract the usual suspects associated with that temperature range. A short distance from land in southern Bali out from the popular tourist destination of Nusa Dua you will find some interesting water that indicates the area’s potential. Strong currents, deep water canyons and cobalt currents are everywhere in the south, it’s pretty wild terrain. As the coast line is circumnavigated, Bali diversifies significantly and the strong currents give way. In a general overview, the waters close to mainland Bali offers many points where top water fishing for giant trevally or jigging for a host of deeper water dwellers is a possibility as well as good runs of yellowfin tuna, sailfish and small black marlin to the north.

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PRIME TIMES AND SPECIES​

Giant Trevally – available all year but best from October through until May when the water temperature and currents are optimum. If you the best chance of a really big one at Batu Abah, look for periods just after new moon or dark moon in the October to February period. Having said that, in August this year, basically off-season, Adhek found a 50kg fish for clients – so you just never know!

Dogtooth tuna – increasingly difficult to catch but can be targeted all year round. Until recently the world record spearfished dogtooth was taken off Nusa Penida in Bali. For some reason they seem to be pups or really big fish here!

Amberjack and Almaco jack – best from October through to May but pockets can turn up at any time.

Ruby Snapper – a bit unpredictable, but March and April seem to be as good a time as any. It’s fun but hard work dragging these up from 200 meters down!

GOOD OPERATORS AND LOCAL LEGENDS

Bali is not blessed with loads of good charter operators but the good ones are very good. Charters such as Kaiser, Xplore and Adhek Sport Fishing are all first class and specialize in top water fishing and to a slightly lesser extent jigging. There are many other tourist operators on Bali that pretty much exclusively troll heavy tackle for small mackeral tuna – beware these guys!
I have done the vast majority of my Bali fishing with Adhek Amerta. He is a very interesting case and he is hardly known in Australia (except for his top water lures) but is a celebrity in Japan. Adhek first introduced top water techniques to Bali some 19 years ago after being shown the ropes by Yoichi Mogi and has never looked back.

GOOD OPERATORS AND LOCAL LEGENDS

Whilst there are many who now do practice topwater GT fishing in these waters, it’s as a result of Adhek’s early work. The popping and jigging sites that are visited on his charters whilst not always secrets, most have certainly been discovered by him in the first place and the hard yards of when to fish them worked out by him. As an exclusively catch and release operator, Adhek demonstrates the ethics that Indonesian charter operators are sadly lacking unfortunately. Adhek is an extremely alert operator and many a time he will call a fish rising to a popper before the angler has a clue. Adheks trips can extend well beyond Bali and Lombok to Eastern Indonesia, a trip I can’t wait to make one day! His hand made timber top water lures, poppers, stick baits and pencils under the brand Adhek Bali dare world renowned for both quality and fish catching ability; indeed my first really big GT came on an Adhek Pom Pom 160 gram popper.

Bali offers so much for the Australian tourist with great exchange rates and good times to be had for singles, couples and families alike, planning a fishing trip, especially top water fishing for big GT’s may well be the extra incentive you need to get over there. Planning two or three days popping into a holiday is a great way to keep everyone in the family happy! Having learnt so much about fishing these waters this year, and having overcome early frustrations I am planning my next assault for 2013 this time though as a tourist!

Author and photography: John Cahill