Perhaps the most distinctive of all fishing spots in Singapore, Bedok Jetty was originally a military base that has since been converted into a recreational fishing spot off the side of East Coast Park. The longest fishing jetty off the coast of Singapore, Bedok Jetty is popular with anglers and non-anglers alike.
Jamie Ho: (driving) Alan, how to go to Bedok Jetty? I never go before.
Alan Chan: Errr…
JH: … ice cream. Never mind. (turns into Big Splash Carl’s Jr.’s drive-through for food)
(five minutes later…)
AC: (after phoning a friend) OK the nearest car park is F1.
JH: It’s after the big fishing pond there right?
AC: Yah, but the pond cannot fish already.
(another five minutes later…)
JH: We’re here!
AC: Most people come to Bedok Jetty to fish for tamban (herring), a small white bait fish that is easy to catch and useful as bait due to their distinctive smell. This also means that you should avoid handling the tamban directly unless you’re prepared to have your hands smell fishy for the rest of the day: their scales peel off readily when touched and can often stick invisibly to your hands.
JH: I heard that the reason why it’s so easy to catch tamban here is that they are attracted to the shelter the jetty provides. The shade cast by the jetty means that plants and algae are more likely to grow there, and plants and algae mean food for the fish.
AC: Yeah. To catch them we usually use something known as the sabiki rig. It’s basically a series of feathered lures – about seven of them – on a single line that you can just lower down into the water, jiggle the rod a bit and haul up a swarm of tamban: minimal skill involved.
JH: That’s why this place is usually full on the weekends, with fathers bringing their whole families. Catching the tamban is fun and easy for the children with the sabiki rig, and the fathers can use the fish they catch as bait for larger fishes.
AC: I thought you never come before? How you know crowded.
JH: People tell me one lah.
AC: It is always better to buy the sabiki rig from the ah laus (uncles) who hang around Bedok Jetty. Veteran anglers themselves, these uncles tie their own sabiki rigs and customise it to the location they are selling the rigs at.
JH: There’s one such uncle over there with a bicycle and a cowboy hat. Uncle!
AC: Hello uncle, what’s your name?
Cowboy: My name? Aiyah, most people just call me Cowboy.
JH: Cowboy, how much for the sabiki?
CB: $10 for six of them.
AC: You tied these rigs yourself?
CB: Yah… the tamban here, they like this colour. Different fish at different place like different type of lure, so we must change the colour of the feather and everything.
AC: If I wanted to tie my own rig, what size hooks should I use?
CB: Around 3 to 4.
JH: (pays Cowboy for the rigs)
OK thanks Cowboy!
(a very long walk down the jetty later, as they set up their tackle)
Lady: (overheard, in Mandarin) Wah! That man is holding such a big fake fish!
AC: Jamie, what the hell are you doing with that popper?
JH: I’m compensating.
JH: No lah, I thought I would take this opportunity to practice my popping. It’s been a while and I’m getting rusty. Anyway there’s not much point in the both of us catching tamban, not when each sabiki can net us three or more bait fishes.
AC: You know that popping won’t catch you anything here right?
JH: Duh. But it’s fun anyway.
(Alan begins tying a sabiki rig onto his main line)
AC: When unravelling the sabi ki from the packaging and the card it is wrapped around, be careful! It’s very easy to get yourself hooked or entangled because of the way it’s wrapped. There’s supposed to be a way where you just pull once and everything comes off nicely in one piece, but I have never figured it out.
JH: That’s because you suck.
AC: Shut up. Now, we usually attach some sort of attractor to the top of the rig as well. This is a fish-shaped piece of metal that, when lowered into the water, serves to draw the attention of the fishes to the rig. The jetty-side ah laus don’t usually sell them, so buy them at your local tackle shop instead and bring them along with you.
JH: Of all the spots along the jetty, why did you choose to fish here?
AC: If you look carefully at the water, you can see the small baby tamban swimming near the surface. This usually means that the adults will be swimming at a slightly lower depth, so that’s where I’m going to be aiming for. And, conveniently enough for the narrative, I’ve got a bite!
(Alan gets two tamban on the same sabiki)
AC: OK we have to act fast now if we want to use the fish as live bait; tamban are notoriously short-lived once landed. We now need to hook the tamban onto another rig – this time a dropper-loop rig – and quickly cast the fish back into the water again before it dies.
JH: I have the tackle all set up already. Do we need to jig the bait?
AC: No, you just leave it in the water near the other tamban and let it swim around on its own. Because it is still wounded from the hook stuck in its body, it will behave like a wounded fish and thus attract larger predatory fishes.
JH: Wouldn’t the large ball of tamban in the water protect our bait as well though?
AC: Yes, that’s why we put it near the bait ball, not inside the bait ball. Predators will be attracted by the swarm of bait fishes, swim near, spy our wounded tamban and go for the take… or so we hope. That’s the idea, anyway. Let’s see if it works.
(two hours and several tamban later…)
JH: Bo he ah!
AC: It’s because of you, Jamie. I know people who have caught queenfishes, stingrays and even golden travellies off the jetty before. Bedok Jetty is good fishing usually, it just so happens that we didn’t catch anything today. So… should we siew kang or what?
JH: What are we going to do with the tamban?
AC: Definitely not throw it away. That’s what some people do, and I think it’s really wasteful. If we’re not going to eat it, we should donate it to any other angler that wants it or release the fish when it’s still alive.
JH: Can we even eat the tamban?
AC: Can, but I don’t know how to cook.
JH: … damn ice cream.
Bedok Jetty Survival Guide
Wear sunscreen and make sure you have some form of portable shade, such as a hat, a giant umbrella or something similar. Bedok Jetty has only a few “bus stop”-style shelters and they tend to fill up very fast.
Bring water: lots of it. The jetty is surprisingly long and will take you approximately 10 minutes to get from one end of the jetty to the nearest vending machine (which is conveniently located right outside the toilets).
Always check behind you before you cast as there are many pedestrians, cyclists and all forms of passer-bys visiting the jetty at all hours. If someone is walking by, let them walk past you first!
As is the case for fishing off all on-shore platforms, Bring a gaff or some other form of fish retrieval device. On the off-chance that you should hit a fish larger than 2kg, there is no way that you can land the fish without some sort of gaff.
Be friendly! This should always go without saying, but some people need the reminder. Plus, if you should find yourself with a big fish but without a gaff, if you were friendly to the regulars around there, one of them would probably have a gaff that they would be willing to lend you.
Do not sit on the railings. This is starting to sound like a government propaganda piece, but this is a serious safety hazard! Despite the “bus stops”, Bedok Jetty is not your local bus interchange: the railings are a good distance away from the water, and you can seriously hurt yourself if you should fall off.