Home Catch Report Paloh: Estuary Casting for Barra and MJ

Paloh: Estuary Casting for Barra and MJ

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A lot has happened since my last visit to Sungai Paloh (see story on ‘Sungai Paloh – Where Mangrove Jacks Roam) in 2012. For one, lure casting has taken off by leaps and bounds, with many local anglers turning from bait fishing to lure casting. Even local commercial fishermen have begun trolling up and down Sungai Paloh with lures after seeing the impressive results from lure anglers.

Ferry crossing at PalohFerry crossing at Sambas

Frankly speaking, Yu Hock and I were still unsure what our fishing plans were the moment we touched down at Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Our initial plan was to try light jigging off the coast but freaky weather leading up to the trip forced us to prepare for other options. As such, we brought along both light jigging gear and lure fishing outfits to match prevailing weather conditions.

Barramundi MJ Casting Paloh 3Our good friend Wijaya who hails from the town of Singkawang.

It was good to see Wijaya again. His ever-cheerful smile cushioned the impact of bad news: heading out to sea will be out of the question due to 3-4 metre waves. The alternative plan would be to head for Sambas, approximately 7 hours’ drive away. Having experienced the Mangrove Jack action there about a year ago, I was pretty keen to have another go fishing the mangroves. With Kedi on the wheel, we headed straight for Kampung Sebubus, Sambas.

On the road to Kampung SebubusOn the road towards Sungai Paloh. The road conditions were much better now.

Paloh’s New Generation of Lure Anglers
On my previous trip, I was introduced to Arif Bulek, a young police officer attached to the Sambas district. At that time, Arif was still not into the lure fishing game. I remember passing him a Storm Thunderstick Madflash lure as a parting gift on the last day of our fishing. Fast-forward a year later, Arif is now an accomplished lure angler with many good estuary fish species under his belt. Seeing his success, many of Paloh’s young anglers accustomed to bait fishing also turned to lure fishing. Thus, was the birth of Paloh’s new generation of lure anglers.

Barramundi MJ Casting Paloh 11Arif Bulek displays a nice MJ plucked from the shelter of the mangroves behind. 

Arif was gracious indeed to host Yu Hock, Wijaya, Kedi and myself at his family home in Kampung Sebubus. After unloading all our luggage and equipment, we set off for the Sungai Paloh estuary system.

Double hookup of MJDouble happiness! Size doesn’t matter. It’s the fun that counts!

New Moon = Challenging Estuary Fishing
Our fishing dates were planned to coincide with the new moon period, perfect for jigging pelagic fish. Unfortunately jigging was not going to be on our agenda this time around and fishing the mangrove systems on a new moon was going to be rather challenging due to faster currents and poor water visibility. Well, beggars can’t be choosers and we just had to do our best to catch some good fish.

MJ on Rapala Taildancer DeepAs always, the Rapala Deep Tail Dancers produced the goods when the fishing was tough.

The main Paloh river was slighty stained on the outgoing tide. However that didn’t stop us from catching a few nice Mangrove Jacks at the mangrove edges.  Rapala Deep Taildancers and Storm Deep Thunderstick Madflash were the most effective lures. Somehow the MJs preferred minnow profiles to the shads. Fishing was still as good as I remembered, with the obvious snags producing some nice fish. No monsters, but still some nice ones that would take some line out on a fairly decent drag setting. The fondly remembered ‘Kampung MJ’ was equally still as productive. We pulled out MJs one after another from this spot for a good twenty minutes before the bites tapered off.

MJ on Rapala Jigging RapIt’s not uncommon to get Mangrove Jacks on Rapala Jigging Rap!
Cast them out, let them sink to the bottom then twitch-twitch-pause.

We rendezvoused with another boat at the intersection of two rivers. The lone angler on the other boat was seen casting a lure repeatedly at a spot where the two rivers met. Wijaya introduced us to Pak Long, a simple fisherman who turned lure-caster just about a year back. He used to catch fish with traditional methods until he discovered the effectiveness of lures in catching Mangrove Jacks, Barramundi and Grouper from around the estuaries. Together with his expansive knowledge of the river system and the fish holding spots, his catch record ballooned by leaps and bounds! According to Wijaya, he was so successful catching fish with lures that he has never looked back to the traditional methods! That said, we were assured he only takes what is needed from the river.

Storm Smash Shad catches MJStorm lures in UV patterns such as this Smash Shad are very popular and work very well in Paloh. 

Evening Strike
We experienced plenty of Mangrove Jack strikes throughout the day despite the fast current and slightly discoloured water. There was this particular spot where an old hut had collapsed by the water edge. Timber logs strewn all over had MJ and Grouper marked all over. We made some good casts into the snags but failed to raise any interest. Wijaya assured us that things will change as the sun set.

Rapala Deep Tail Dancer TDD07 with Mangrove JackWhen it comes to mangrove fishing, the sexy tail kick of the balsa wood Rapala Deep Tail Dancer (TDD07) is truly unbeatable.

True to his word, we returned to the very same spot just about sunset and instantly we had multiple savage strikes. Mangrove Jacks and Groupers slammed our Storm Thundercrank and Rapala Taildancers with no mercy! The change of tide coinciding with the fading light signalled the feeding frenzy! We literally had to leave the fish biting as it was about an hour’s boat ride back to the village and navigating the estuaries in the dark was not such a good idea.

MJ on Storm ThunderCrank  Evening was the prime hunting time!

Grouper on Storm Thunder Crank
An estuary grouper chomps down on a Storm Thunder Crank

Waiting it Out At The Rivermouth
The next day, we decided to have a go at the Paloh rivermouth. The run-off tide made fishing unfavourable as most rivers within the estuary had become discoloured. This rivermouth was memorable for me as I remembered tucking into freshly smoked Mangrove Jack over a fire the last time I visited.

Estuary rivermouth lure castingWaiting for the tide to rise

Mangrove Jack on Rapala Shad Rap
The only Mangrove Jack that morning.

Mangrove Jack on Rapala Shad Rap
She’s a beauty!

The water had receded to its lowest level by the time we reached the rivermouth. Apart from a small Mangrove Jack taken on Rapala Shad Rap, everything was quiet. This was to be expected in estuary fishing. It’s a rare occurrence that the fishing would be hot the entire day. Even then, being anglers, a lure in the water is always an additional chance of getting something hooked up.

Bream on Rapala Shad RapSurprise catch! A bream that attacked a Rapala Shad Rap! Size sure wasn’t an issue! 

Sungai Paloh estuaryWhat a scene! Check out the extremely clear water when the tide came up!

I could see Arif and Wijaya becoming more alert when the tidal stream switched directions. Their casts became more intentional and lures were placed accurately in specific areas that appeared to be obvious ambush points. Interestingly, the incoming tide also brought in much clearer water and before long, the once muddy water transformed into a waterway with very clear water! The entire landscape somehow changed in an instant! I suddenly felt as if I was in some remote coast off Australia’s Northern Territory!

Barramundi casting with Storm ThunderstickBarramundi! Woohoo!

Rising Tide Actions
From a distance, I saw Arif postured in a fish-fighting stance. He was on! Clambering over with casting outfit in one hand and a clunky DSLR in another, I arrived just in time to see him lip the white-bodied fish. Barramundi! His faithful Storm Thunderstick Madflash retrieved slowly with the occasional wrist work did the trick!

Storm Mojo in action

The fish were biting! Time for action! I barely had a chance to make a cast before the ‘Incredible Hock’ locked horns with something serious. The Rapala Taildancer was happily ‘knocking’ the rocks at the drop-off from the edge when it was selfishly grabbed with full force. Sensing something amiss, the fish began swimming downstream against the current! Being landbased was, in a sense, a disadvantage as the fish could just dash for the nearest rock and cut you off in an instant. As if on cue, the fish dived for a large boulder several feet away.

Queensland Grouper (Bumble bee) on Rapala Tail Dancer Deep

Without hesitation, Wijaya undressed and jumped into the water to dislodge the fish. Thinking that a larger predator had appeared, the fish dashed out, enabling Yu Hock to continue the fight before subsequently landing the prized “Bumble Bee”! It was a beautifully Queensland Grouper! This was a very special catch that made everyone extremely jubilant! Of course, we released the beautiful Bumble Bee thereafter!

Queensland Grouper Bumble Bee on Rapala Tail Dancer DeepThere’s a reason why he’s called the Incredible Hock!

Releasing Queensland GrouperTime for revival and release!

Rivermouth Barra!
Wijaya brought out a prototype Storm lure that resembled the Storm Thunder Barra. It was the new Storm Thunder Barra Deep. This was a deep-diving version of the proven Barra lure in these parts in bright chartreuse. He seemed confident that this was going to latch on to the mouth of a nice, big Barra. As before, I barely managed five casts when Wijaya was suddenly engaged in a tussle.

Storm Mojo vs Barramundi

A silvery fish broke the surface with vigorous headshakes and gills flaring. Another Barramundi! We watched in awe as the fish repeated the headshaking feats before Wijaya had it under his control. It was a stubborn fellow, refusing to be landed. The brightly coloured Storm Mojo rod was nicely arched, contrasting nicely with the surroundings for great photos!

Barramundi Jumping Shot

Wijaya was not in a hurry. We had plenty of time anyway. There’s no guessing whose smile was the broadest when the Barra entered the net. It was a good fish! Like all other fish before, this one was also duly released.

Barramundi on Storm Thunder Barra DeepWijaya hoists a wild Barramundi from Paloh’s rivermouth on the prototype Storm Thunder Barra Deep 

Storm Thunder Barra DeepSecurely hooked.

Putting on another Deep Thunder Barra prototype, Wijaya quickly resumed casting position. Almost instantly, he had two strikes that failed to hookup. Taking a closer look at the lure, he discovered that he had forgotten to remove the clear plastic hook sleeves in his haste. We had a good laugh and encouraged him to go for more casts. The lure didn’t get to swim long enough in the water before being engulfed by another Barra! I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Storm Mojo 6-12lbWijaya hopping from rock to rock as the fish swam upriver!

Storm Thunder Barra DeepThe magnificent saltwater Barramundi of Paloh that whacked the Storm Thunder Barra Deep lure.

Wijaya and Barramundi (Storm Thunder Barra Deep)Happiness is… a Barramundi in hand!

Release Barramundi
Like all the other fish, this lucky Barra was released.

Goodbye Paloh
We wrapped up our session by noon as we had to set-off for our 7-hour drive back to Pontianak. Even though it was a very short visit to Paloh for Yu Hock and I, we were truly blessed with reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

How does it feel?“How does it feel after releasing a big fish?”

I was personally encouraged that lure fishing was making such inroads in Paloh and that many have begun exercising catch and release too. I do hope this awareness will be propagated from here to the other neighbouring villages and beyond so that the good catches they are currently enjoying now will continue to be enjoyed by many more in the future.

Sunset over Sungai Paloh

Get your Storm lures at 2fishtackle.com!



Daniel Wan has been fishing since the age of 12 and has a deep passion for fishing with artificial lures – especially light-tackle jigging. Previously working for two multinational IT companies, Daniel left the IT industry to follow his passion for fishing, photography and writing.