32kg Malabar Grouper
So it happened in the first day of 2-day island stay trip to Aguni Island with 23 anglers from Hong Kong. They came to Okinawa and I organized the fishing trip as a field guide with 3 local captains.
I caught this 32kg Malabar Grouper, Epinephelus malabaricus.
Rod. Slow Jerker 603-3
Reel. Ocea Jigger 2000NR-HG
Line. Super Fireline PE2.0
Leader. Seaguar FXR #12
Jig. SFC Rector 210g
Okinawa Fishing Charter with Totos →
It was toward the end of the day. We were at the bottom of the tide, the current was loose and the fish was slow. People were not catching much at this time and I had nothing much to do as a field guide. All day I had been helping anglers and ike-jime closing their catch. Well, I might as well give it a shot with my slow pitch jigging now.
Luckily, right away I caught this 5kg Chinamanfish, Symphorus nematophorus
This cheered up the group. Yes, that’s what I wanted. Nothing keeps you going more than someone else’s good catch.
Another hour had passed. Nothing much happened. I continued my jigging. At 17:50, captain announced that it would be our last drift of the day. We were only 5 minutes away from the island port. 60m deep.
In the earlier drift, we drifted over a drop off. It was 60m dropping down to 100m just in about 20 horizontal meters. It was very steep. I didn’t know beforehand. As I played several touchdowns, I noticed that the bottom was dropping. And it was very interesting. There are certain depths that the water was making turbulence and there are certain depths where the water is still and it felt very light. And there are bites between those layers. I was focusing in my sensuous world, trying to dance my jig to get those short bites, but no hook-up.
I confirmed with the captain that we would drift the same point for our last drift.
The initial drop down was on top of the underwater cliff, and I played several touchdowns still on top. Just when the bottom started dropping, it dropped a few meters since my last touchdown, I got snagged.
“Sure. It must be jaggy down there.” Pretty soon I got it off the snag. I lifted couples of cranks and dropped the jig right back down. I was hoping to get something around that bottom structure that snagged me.
Then I got snagged again. I gently shook the line up and down, let the jig drop on its own weight to come off the snag. With a sigh of relief, I lifted 2 cranks, and I felt a sensation like something was holding down my jig.
“??? A rock again?”
Puzzled, I held up my rod still to see if there’s anything more happening. Then it felt moving. I was not sure. Maybe it was the boat rocking on waves. “The hell with it.” I took my chance to strike! I can come off the snag easily if I don’t strike, but if I strike a snag, it could be very hard to come off. That is the risk. But also it often happens that fish bites right after you get off the snag. All the shaking to come off the snag can often attract curious predators.
But still nothing. I started lifting. Very heavy. Just heavy. But I was lifting. It wasn’t a snag. Just nothing lively. Still unsure what it was, I kept lifting slowly, steadily. It still took several more seconds until I felt the head shake for the first time.
“Holy cow! It’s a fish!”
I tried to speed up the lift. A lot of times, big fish take their time to fight back fully after a bite. Very often it determines winning or losing how much you can lift up off the bottom in these silent seconds. But it was very heavy. If I just turned the handle, the drag wouldn’t let the spool turn. I needed to pump with thumbing. I pointed down the rod, leaned toward the water as I reeled 1 or 1/2 cranks, and lifted up the reel (not the rod tip) as I held down the spool with my thumb. And I leaned down as I reeled. It’s better to pump like this, gaining as little as 50cm each time, but trying to pump repeatedly as many as possible. It’s faster to lift than pumping in big swings. With this pump, I was gaining. I was collecting line little by little. I was still not sure if it’s a big fish or I just hooked a fish on the body or something. But I was sure that I needed to peel this fish off the bottom as soon as possible now.
Then came the first run.
It was such a phenomenal force. Not like accelerating force of an amberjack, but it was like Dempsey Roll of a heavy-weigh champion. It went down top-speed in one instant with unstoppable, violent force. I couldn’t do anything but just watching my line go out like crazy. “OK, this is not hooked in the body.”
I had maybe a couple of meters of yellow mark on my spool when this first run came. Now yellow was gone. Blue was gone. I lost about 12 meters just in 5 or 6 seconds. It happened so fast. Now the line color turned Orange. I knew I was in Orange when I touched down the last time. But was it at the beginning of Orange? At the end of Orange? I didn’t remember. That can be 10 meter difference. “Damn, I don’t remember.”
But I thought I should take my chances to stop this now. I tightened my drag 2 notches and pressed down on the spool with my thumb. I was sitting down on my heels, pointing down. It slowed down, but I was still losing. Now Orange was all gone. “Oh, no… The bottom should be really close.” I tightened the drag one more notch. And waited.
After maybe 10 more seconds of losing slowly, it stopped. Now I was halfway into the next color Green. But it stopped. It felt heavy. Did the fish reach the hide?
With a strong press on the spool, I got up on my feet to lift. I reeled in as I leaned down. Pressed the spool and leaned back up. Pumping repeatedly. Little by little. Praying that the fish was still in mid-water. On the rocking bow of the boat, it was hard to know, but it felt like I was gaining. Then I felt the head shakes. Yes, the fish didn’t reach the bottom. I was gaining. I got back into Orange.
The second run started. Of course!
It was as strong and sudden as the first run. This time I trusted my hand feeling knew how much tension my line system could hold. I let the fish run and drag out my line for about 5 seconds, and when I saw all Orange was gone and almost all Green was gone, I pressed down my thumbing as hard as the last time. It stopped shortly. I was still in Green, at the end of it. That means I was at least 10 meters, possibly 20 meters, in debt to the touchdown depth. But I was also thinking that we had drifted to deeper water by now. Maybe I should just hold the line still and let us drift away from the fish’s home ground.
There were occasional head shakes and it was refusing to come up. But I was gaining slowly into Orange… I felt the head turned down for the third run, but it wasn’t strong like the last 2 runs. I was able to control it and turn the head up right away.
As we drifted away from the cliff, the fish head must be going blank, I thought. Hanging in mid-water, the seafloor should be way far down now. Nowhere to hide. No way to go. “What happened? Where am I?” All of the sudden this powerful mighty creature was left alone over the drop-off, unprotected and exposed. The fish must have lost its confidence, not fighting back any longer.
I was winning…
In about 10 minutes, the fish was floating belly up on the surface. It was fast for this size of fish on PE2.0. Probably as I suspected, the fish must have just given up with no target to swim to over the drop off.
It happened like this. This was probably once in a lifetime opportunity for me. And I’m happy I was able to complete it. It weighted 32kg (after draining blood). And according to the captain, unlike its close relative Epinephelus coioides, this species, Epinephelus malabaricus, is much harder to catch because they are much more cautious, only live in and only hunt from where they can hide, so that once hooked, they run for cover quickly for dear life.
I’m never really interested in the size or the number of my catch. I enjoy preparing, fishing, cooking, and eating in every steps. I don’t really care about the size. But I am happy with this achievement. Because everytime I lose fish to the rocks or broken knots, I always feel very bad. And because when it comes to groupers, the bigger the tastier.
I’m also happy with this catch because I could refresh this realization once again.
It’s not just the jig, not just the reel, or not just the rod that catches good fish. It’s mostly a series of so many tiny little factors that you don’t have control over. The wind, current, time of the day, location, topography, captains decisions and skills, your positioning on the boat. Sometimes they all just happen accidentally and simultaneously in favor for you.
One of the coincidents was that the tops and bottoms of the tide chart, where the fish is slow, is actually the feeding time for the big ambushing groupers, and that day, it happened to be at the end of the day, and the anglers were not catching much, and that allowed me to grab my own gear.
I could not have caught it if the drift was to the other directions, not to the drop off. I think that was a big factor.
I would probably not have been so calm during the fight if I didn’t know we were over the drop off, or it was the first drift over the location.
Maybe the way my Rector 210g was hooked in its mouth had worked in favor for me. The tail hooks were hooked inside lower jaw, head hooks inside upper jaw. The jig was so stuck in the mouth vertically on both jaws that the fish could not close its mouth and clench. I’ve never seen my jig stuck in the mouth like that. It kept my line clean and it may have bothered the fish to strain its muscles.
Sometimes all these things happen in favor for you. Some happen only once a day. Some happen once in a month. Some are once in a whole year. Some happen once in a lifetime.
You never know when that happens. All you can do is to be at 100% of you, always. Gear conditions. Knots. Mentally too. You have to be calm and aware in order to be 100%. You have to be ready. Most of the time, your catch average may be 1kg, or 2 or 3. And you are still enjoying it. But all of a sudden, you can be contacted by something this massive on the same light tackle. And you can deliver it if you are ready. That’s the game of jigging. It seems like it will never happen. But you should be ready, 100%, all the time. No compromise. There have to be so many things you can’t control for this to happen, and this is the least you can do.
If I just posted a picture of the fish and my tackle info, I wouldn’t be able to express this side of the coin. Fish like this one is so big and powerful. I could never catch such a fish alone. There’s so little I can do about it. And I am very happy that I’ve done that little part of mine and I was ready for the chance given.
I asked my friend restaurant to help me dismantle the fish. It couldn’t fit my cooler box.
The scales are buried into the skin. It needs to be skinned with a knife.
The bones are knife crasher. The sander does the job. It really smelled like a dentist.
The half-body fillets weighted 7kg. This is a lot of meat. I tasted a slice.. It was packed with flavors and sweetness. It was so good.
The restaurant has air-tight sealer. We packed it with Kombu. Kombu helped with Umami, and keeps the meat in shape. It lasts a week in the fridge. And it doesn’t lose much quality in freezing too.