Action Zone: Pond Fishing for Groupers in Sabah
By: Amirul Irfan Bin Ahmad Rafee
Photos: Amirul Irfan, Altaff Asmar
Back in 2019, I went on a Black Bass trip to Sri Ganda, Sabah with my good friend Altaff Asmar. During the trip, we had bad weather and after two days of fishing, only one small Black Bass and a few groupers were landed. Our heavy gears were not given the battles they deserved so we decided to visit one battleground for big fish immediately after we left Sri Ganda. It is a pay pond but it meets the purpose, right?
Ko-Nelayan Mini Aquaculture Park
We found ourselves in Ko-Nelayan Mini Aquaculture Park in Tuaran, Sabah after a night’s rest in Kota Kinabalu. It was a gloomy morning with signs of incoming rain. After a quick registration and purchasing frozen sardines for bait, it was fishing time! We were the only anglers present at the time and our assumption was fishing would be easy. An hour went by with our baits being nipped halfway by the big groupers. The frozen sardines were slowly retrieved on the pond bottom as if they were lures in hopes of triggering a bite but we were unlucky. Better bites came as our technique was changed. Instead of slowly dragging the frozen sardines we cast them out and allowed them to slowly sink near structures. Every cast had a take from barramundi and groupers. The fun has finally begun.
Fishing platforms at the Ko-Nelayan Mini Aquaculture Park.
[ We began hooking up to more hybrid groupers and barramundi of better sizes. Our reels were taking punishment from high drag settings needed to control the brutes we hooked. ]
My first fish was a solid hybrid grouper just under 10 kilograms. The fish was relaxed until it reached my feet. At first sight of the platform I fished from, the grouper attempted to dash in but the PE2-4 Abu Garcia Tournament Trophy rod steadily controlled the situation. On a nearly locked drag, the fish managed to peel a bit of my 40lb Berkley X5 braid before being scooped with a large net. After a quick photo and release, Altaff was on with a brute that kept trying to go under the jetty. His PE1-3 Beast Smasher rod took a little dip has the fish wrapped up around the jetty’s pillars. It was a short tug of war as his 60lb fluorocarbon leader finally gave. With our technique of letting our baits sink slowly working well, our mission was to look for larger fish. This pond is well stocked with a mix of hybrid groupers weighing up to 18 kilograms, Queensland groupers up to 40 kilograms, Barramundi up to 8 kilograms, and Black bass among others.
Apart from the abundance of large fish, I liked the concrete structures placed around the pond. These structures provided hiding places for the groupers and nightmares for anglers. We began hooking up to more hybrid groupers and barramundi of better sizes. Our reels were taking punishment from high drag settings needed to control the brutes we hooked. Altaff’s Revo Beast did not sweat but my Abu Garcia SaltyStage Concept Free struggled slightly. The Concept Free is a compact reel with 7 kilograms of drag pressure but with all our catches going over 10 kilograms, it took a punishing. Despite the torture, the reel did not show any damage. The Dura Metal aluminium frame felt solid with no flexing and cranking was still smooth after some locked drag action with groupers going for concrete structures.
These hybrid groupers gave quite a fight.
Pond staffs were around to advise us as we fished because we were the only anglers around. The larger fish will come out if it is feeding time so we took some of our baits and threw them out. It was tempting to watch large hybrid and Queensland groupers coming out to the surface to inhale the slowly sinking meals we gave. In between the free meals, our hooked baits came in like secret agents infiltrating behind enemy lines. We caught fish after fish with all of them weighing more than 10 kilograms. After landing 2-3 fishes, the bites slowed down and throwing more free meals brought the action back again. Our arms were sore from forcing groupers out of their holes with a locked drag but we kept going. Heavy rain came as more of our free meals slowly sank in the pond. Altaff’s bait was gulped and he was on for a fight as I patiently scanned for larger specimens to cast at.
Altaff fighting a brute. The closer the fish got to the platform, the harder it fought.
One of the pond staff beside me pointed right in front of me and told me to cast. There it was – one of the few 40kg Queensland Groupers available in the pond. As soon as my bait entered the water, the surface erupted with the monster inhaling my bait and shooting off back to his lair. My 4 piece Tournament Trophy rod was fully loaded but the monster had no trouble of going back to his favourite structure just 40 meters away. My Concept Free reel’s drag was fully locked and I had to thumb the spool tightly to slow the beast down. However, it forced line out of the reel and the fight ended with my 60lb fluorocarbon leader bursting after some rubbing with structure followed by some giggles from pond staff. Our time was almost up and we made the best of it by landing a few more large hybrid groupers. We used single hooks (pond rules) but almost every bite resulted in good hookups. Before leaving, I checked my Concept Free reel’s spool and spool shaft for damage but they were fine. The casting was still great and I think the reel exceeded my expectations from the torture.
One of Altaff’s many hybrid groupers on the PE1-3 Beast Smasher baitcasting rod.
Overall, fishing at this pond provided us with hours of fun and hard battles. The strong groupers and concrete structures provided a great challenge and opportunity for me and Altaff to push our equipment to the limit. Both of us achieved our target of going into tough fights with our gears. Returning one day is definitely in our bucket list thanks to the overall experience of fishing this pond. Facilities such as spacious platforms, benches, huts and fishing equipment rental make Ko-Nelayan Mini Aquaculture Park a great place to visit with friends and family for relaxing while fishing for big groupers.
Scarface the barramundi – groupers were plentiful but some sizeable barramundis were also in the mix.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pond rules & regulations have changed. Please refer to their Facebook page for latest updates and information:
Thank you for reading!