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Fishing beyond the shore

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city is a little-known community of kayak anglers that is growing rapidly in our backyard. The Straits Times goes on an expedition with them to explore the idyllic coastline of Pasir Ris beach and Pulau Ubin.

Every weekend, the fresh salty air and therapeutic waves beckon, and Mr Mervin Low succumbs.

At daybreak, the 48-year-old business owner heads out from Pasir Ris beach in a specially designed kayak to fish - sometimes alone, sometimes with friends in their own kayaks.

Kayak fishing is a growing phenomenon fuelled by a love of nature and the ability to access productive fishing spots not available to shore anglers.

Its key advantage is that one can paddle almost silently into both deep and shallow waters without "spooking" the fish.

These days, one can see fishing kayaks being launched from the beaches at Sembawang, Pasir Ris, Changi, Sentosa and East Coast Park, as well as the jetties off Lim Chu Kang and Punggol.

These are not bare kayaks, but have been purpose-made for open- water fishing.

Many are stable, sit-on-top, self-bailing vessels which will not get flooded like a bathtub on rainy days or if, touch wood, they capsize.

FOLLOWING THEIR PASSION

We are anglers first and kayakers second. These kayaks are our vehicles on the seas. At the same time, we can bring home some fish for the family.

MR MERVIN LOW, who has been fishing from a kayak for about six years.

The best types of fishing kayaks are those with pedal assist systems that are easy to use, even for beginners. A responsive steering handle controls the direction of the kayak, and it frees the angler's hands to fish.

BOWLED OVER BY SIZE

People are amazed at how big they are. The largest fish I've caught is an 8kg grouper caught in the waters off Changi.

MR LOW

"We are anglers first and kayakers second. These kayaks are our vehicles on the seas. At the same time, we can bring home some fish for the family," said Mr Low, who enjoys getting away from the city's hustle and bustle.

According to him, there are a few hundred active kayak anglers in Singapore today.

It is a multiracial melting pot, with participants from all walks of life, ranging from a 11-year-old student to a 66-year-old retiree.

Everyone shares a common goal - to enjoy a day at sea and do the thing they love the most in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.

Mr Low has fished from a kayak for about six years.

The social sport was introduced to Singapore in 2009 by Mr Ian Pearl, a British expatriate who had become bored with fishing from the shore. After some research, he imported a regular inflatable kayak with paddles with which he could explore Singapore's coastline.

He posted his exploits in local fishing forums regularly, where they caught the attention of like-minded fishing enthusiasts such as Mr Low. And thus, kayak fishing in Singapore was born.

In Pasir Ris, in waters 6m to 21m deep, lie sunken kelongs and mangroves, which provide nurseries for the fish to breed in protected waters.

They are replete with fish, says Mr Low. "People are amazed at how big they are. The largest fish I've caught is an 8kg grouper caught in the waters off Changi," said Mr Low.

He lets go of the fish if "it is too small or if it is too big for the wok". He usually brings home at least one or two for his wife and two children.

The common types of fish found in Singapore waters all year round include the grouper, barramundi, snapper, giant herring and queenfish.

Many kayaks are mounted with fish finders - electronic devices which show the terrain of the seabed in 2D, much like a graph - which allow anglers to scan the seabed for fish-holding structures and drop-offs. The use of technology increases the probability of landing a catch.

While kayak anglers have been teased for being crazy to go out on little kayaks under the hot tropical sun, the intense joy for Mr Low when a fish bites is "beyond words".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Fishing beyond the shore'. Print Edition | Subscribe