Life in TransitA Digital Nomad in Asia

Sultan Shoal, Singapore

Uncle holds up his catch of the day at Sultan Shoal: a nice sized Grouper.

Sultan Shoal is a little island off the south-west coast of Singapore. When I was a little child, I visited this mysterious island, a 45 minute boat ride away, isolated in the middle of the sea. I recall catching my first fish on the wooden jetty. My grandmother was so proud of my catch, she fried the fish. I was too afraid to eat it.

Since then, Singapore has grown to almost touch Sultan Shoal. Jurong Island, with its oil refineries sitting on reclaimed land, looked close enough to risk swimming to if not for the huge supply vessels anchored in the area, while others attempt to get to and from the port. According to my uncle, his friend awoke one morning to find that one such vessel decided to be a good neighbour and pay a visit to the island, taking out the entire jetty.

Being surrounded by large steel neighbours, some bigger than the island itself, did nothing to spoil our family get away.

Arriving just before noon on Tuesday, we quickly assembled our gear and headed out to the jetty. Once made of wooden boards, we now had a concrete jetty on which we could attempt to haul “the big one” out of the water.

I quickly found out that we were not alone on the island. Several other fishermen had also rented the chalet next to ours and had their sights set on the big fish.

Even though I had not gone fishing in years, I felt at ease casting my hook and sinker into the water. Not more than five minutes later, I had my first catch. A small fish maybe four inches long. I wondered if it was edible. My uncle, who has fished at the location every chance he had for almost 20 years, said it was better used as bait.

Trade up the little fish for the big ones. I liked the idea.

After I hauled five fishes out of the sea, my uncle noticed a school of fish hangout out under our jetty. They were curious little critters, easily baited by my hooks jiggling in the water. Each time I pulled out my line, I had two to five of the fish stuck on my hooks.

Part of my catch was a cute little mudskipper which was brown with blue dots on its side. I kept it in a bucket of water and was planning to give it to my little cousins as a pet. However it started changing colour and we thought it was in the best interest of the fish to toss it back into the water.

By late afternoon, I had caught over 25 fish, including the little ones we split between using as bait and having for dinner.

If your idea of fine dining includes snails, you would have enjoyed our healthy serving of top shell snails in addition to the fish. While the men were out fishing, the aunts had climbed around on the rocks, harvesting the second part of our dinner. I tried one and decided one was enough. The rest of the family had a whole bucket of the snails for dinner.

While I sat with my ukulele enjoying the breeze, I did not realize my uncle had gone back out with his rod. This time, the target was “sotong”, the local word for squid. It was a lot more fun constantly reeling the fake prawn in than simply casting a hook in the water and waiting for a bite.

But what a mess these little cephalopods cause when captured. It stained the freezer and ground black with its inky secretions. Strong cleaning agents are something to consider in your gear if hunting squid is in your itinerary.

The best catch of the getaway came the next day.

The other fishermen had tried in vain to get their prize. They decided to take over the jetty on our side to try their luck their. My uncle decided to hunt for top shell snails anyway, so he gave up the jetty to them. Another uncle, still into fishing, decided to bring his reel over to other jetty and try his luck there.

As he lowered his line from his reel (he fishes with just the reel, not a rod), an aunt came by to tell him that his wife needed help. Instead of leaving, he decided he would stay until he had used up his bait.

My aunt then made her way back to the chalet. She barely made it off the jetty when my uncle began feverishly pulling in his line. On the other end was a nice sized grouper that any restaurant would be glad to have on their menu. It made for a great dinner that night.

The other fishermen, with their pro gear, also managed to get a grouper as their best catch. There were bigger fish in the sea though, as both them and my uncle had their lines snapped.

Sadly, while the lighthouse will continue to act as a beacon to ships since it was built in 1895, I will never get a chance to return. The company that owns the chalets has decided the cost of maintenance was too great to bear and will no longer take vacationers after June. The lighthouse and military radar will continue to function. I am grateful for the one chance to revisit my past and leave it with great memories.

Have you been to Sultan Shoal? Share your experience with our readers!

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