Fishing for Mudfish in the Philippines
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Growing up in the Philippines, I was a mini-Tarzan. I spent a lot of my spare time in the jungle surrounding the missionary town where we lived. As a boarding student, I spent a lot of my time in solitary hunting and fishing endeavors. Nasuli was a couple hundred acre area where we had the headquarters for the southern branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators. The "town" was on the edge of the jungle with a river on one side and fields on the other with an airport at the top end where our Helio Couriers were kept. Over the years, the number of houses expanded to about 50 or 60. We lived in about three different sections of the town over the years as my parents were founding members going out in 1953. They were stationed there several times and out in the jungles others. I took most of my schooling up to 7th grade there be it living with my folks or in a boarding school we had.
I was fearless as a kid. I roamed an area up to about 15 miles in some directions and about five to ten miles in others. I had three particular passions. Growing a garden, collecting orchids and fishing! Fishing in Nasuli involved mostly trot line fishing. The budding Atherton Enterprises, grew stuff in the garden and sold the produce or went to the jungle and collected orchids which were then sold to the other missionary families for the centavos necessary to go to Bankod to buy hooks and line. Then, the fishing started. On occasion, I would fish in the small lake for which Nasuli was named. This was a five or ten acre lake with three deep 20-30 foot springs. The water was crystal clear, cold and drew us kids like magnets. I was in and out of that pool many times a day. I was also fishing it. There were three kinds of fish, minnows, mud fish and eels.
The eels were about five feet long and about five inches thick. We rarely saw these and the only time I was involved in catching one was with Uncle Seymore A. who shot it late one night with a spear. Pretty good meat! I fished for the minnows pretty regularly. These were 2 to about 4 inches long and we ate them too. I never developed a taste for them, but, they were fun to catch. I used a pretty small hook and a single piece of cooked rice on the end. Our fancy poles consisted of a six or seven foot bamboo cane cut for that purpose with my "bolo." My bolo was made from spring steel harvested from a derelict truck. Nice, heavy and pretty sharp. I could cut a large bamboo pole several inches thick in two or three whacks. Other bait for the minnows was bread spit balls. I hated fishing with Buzzy D because he always ate the bait. He would promise not to, then, all of a sudden, it would be gone. Man! You had to bake the bread back then, you could not just go get another loaf! What was baked never lasted long! I am still mad at you Buzzy. (not)
Mud fish was the other kind of fish in this lake. The Binokid or Visayan (I am not sure which language the name came from. The local language was Binokid, the trade language was Visayan.) term for this fish is pronounced "Hollow on." Thais call this fish Pla chon but it shows on the menus as Snake Head Fish. Looking through photos of fish from Thailand and the Philippines, I am pretty sure it is a variety of the snake head fish family. Anyway, it was alive and well in the waters at Nasuli. Occasionally, I caught them by throwing a line out with a minnow, worms or a live frog on it. Other times, I got impatient and snagged them. By far, the most common way I fished for these was on a trot line.
There was a lot of water in this area. A river flowed serenely by one side of our acreage. Actually, our lake flowed into it through a spillway and dam set up in the early days to establish a hydro electric system. I never did learn why that never worked. But, it made a great lake for us to play in so I am glad that was done. Off to one corner of the lake, there was a little slough which proved to be a fertile fishing place. I recall once bellying up to the water's edge to observe one of these fish that was about 18 inches long and three or four inches thick. They are built like a baseball bat. It was taking care of its tiny little babies which swirled around it but were so small you could barely distinguish one individually. I am sorry to say, the thought of the fish frying overwhelmed any thought of the fish fry and I jumped in and caught that puppy by hand and took it home. Probably severely reduced the number of fish for me to catch over the next few years. We also had a pond which had a lot of mud fish and tilapia which had been stocked by Dr. Monteymeyor from the Muswan Agricultural College about twenty miles away. I loved that man. He was such a humble and nice guy who really took a lonely kid under his wings. In my 18th or 19th year, while living with my uncle in Alabama, I learned he had passed away. It was a sad day for me. Anyway, this pond had the snake-head fish, tilapia and a big two foot plus long fish I stalked for years. I hardly ever saw it and only came close to getting once. I had a bow and arrow with a three prong tip. I saw the fish as it headed for a cave in the side of the bank, I let fly and that arrow was out in the water wiggling all over the place. By the time I grabbed it, Mr. Fish was history. I never saw it again! I did catch a lot more snake-headfish out of that pond. Again, sorry to say, I fished the tilapia out in a couple years.
My trot line poles consisted of a piece of bamboo about two feet, maybe three feet long. I would notch them about the middle of the stick and tie my line there. Finding a likely place, and I knew the likely places in the river, lake and pond, I would place my stake at a 45 degree angle into the bank almost up to the point where I had the line tied. I had split the top end of the bamboo down an inch or two. I would fold the line into that split so the bait would hang just at the surface of the water but the line could easily pull out to give the fish some play and time to get hooked. My favorite bait was live frogs. They would swim for hours (I still feel a pang of sorrow for the frogs' pain 40 or so years later!) and their movement was an attractant for the fish. Before leaving, I would flick my fingers in the water making a fairly large glug glug glug sound. This seemed to draw fish--or I had been told it would. I can not say definitely if it was that, the frog or luck, but, I caught fish pretty regularly!
So, not much else to say about fishing there. Most of my last three years in the Philippines were spent away at boarding school outside of Manila. I only got to visit the old fishing holes during summer or Christmas breaks. I still miss them but am afraid to go back. I am sure what seemed so huge and awe inspiring to me back then will look much smaller now and I choose to enjoy the memories of grandeur and hugeness.
I did learn as a kid a lesson about conservation from the tilapia issue. If we do not shepherd our resources, we loose them. So, don't consider me a "go back to before people were here so the animals can live like they used to" kind of guy, but, I sure do want us to do things to not only preserve the fun we can have, but even make it better. Our hunting and fishing licenses really play a big part in accomplishing that end!
One final PS that will not fit in another story. We had lots of iguana's in this area. Mostly, they were pretty small, but, there was one big fat one that used to hang out by the pond. I tried forever to get it with my sling shot. I was a pretty good shooter and could probably still make one by hand faster than today's kids can load a computer program. One day I was in our dining room (fancy word considering the house, one of the first two or three built in the early 50's) where we were living. It had a large window overlooking the pond down below and maybe 75 or 80 feet away. Now, this house was built almost entirely from bamboo except for the trees that formed the poles upon which it was built and the cogone grass which made the roof. The floors were split bamboo, the walls were yet another kind of thin walled bamboo split then flattened out and woven together. The grass roof was tied to bamboo slats running latterly along the bamboo pole rafters of the house. The window was a large opening in the wall which you could cover with a large piece of framed woven bamboo in a rainy time. BUT looking out of the window one day, I noticed my target of many hunting trips lying on a large limb of some jungle tree which grew out over the pond almost at eye level of where I stood. I got my sling shot out and three tries later, WHAM, I hit old lizard right in the gizzard. Down he went, but, the water revived him and he swam away. I bet he is still there saying "where is old David. He better hurry up!"
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Added: Mon Dec 07 2009
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