My first trip to Panta last November, although absolutely fun, was disappointing in terms of catching Bass using a T-rig. I was humbled by a lot of missed strikes and missed hook-sets. At that time, I managed to catch 1 fish in 2 days. It was actually the first and only Large Mouth Bass I have caught using this method and I was not really confident that I learned anything. I still think that I cannot feel the sinker hitting the bottom, I cannot feel the faint thumps of the sinker when it hits a rock or log, and most importantly, I cannot really feel subtle bites of the fish. I was stumped on what was causing this problem. I asked my Mikko to try my gear on a couple of occasions. He also noticed that he was unable to feel anything. Our conclusion, it could be the stiff and heavy rod. I was using the Majorcraft Basspara BPC-662MH, 12-20lbs 2pc rod and a Majorcraft Slicer 12-25lb rod mounted on reels with 50lb braid.
Like me, Jike was also dreaming of catching Bass using T-rigs. He is also struggling to learn the art of t-rigs. It's a good thing our mentor Mikko, is determined to teach us this method. If we still cannot catch Bass by the time the trip is done, he swore that he will jump into the water butt naked. Although I don't want to scare off the fishes, the prospect of seeing him freeze his butt off in the cold would have been hilarious. Believe it or not, Mikko and I even had a training session in Lake Caliraya a week before this trip. But the bad weather and uncooperative bass left us with zero fish in T-rigs. Instead we caught a few small ones using eging gears on jerkbaits.
At around 12 midnight last Saturday, Miko, RC, and Jike picked me up using the Bass Van (Mikko's MB100 fitted for fishing trips -- rod racks and all). We arrived at Pantabangan at around 4am but we had some permit issues with one of the guards that was posted on the last gate that provides access to the dam's shore. After about half an hour of long negotiation, we were finally let inside. We hurriedly started rigging. It was absolutely freezing in Panta. It could have been 6 degrees Centigrade on my estimate. Rigging was a pain when your fingers are aching from the cold.
For this trip, I decided to tone down my rig. I brought with me my trusted Shimano Clarus 6ft 8-17lb Medium rod. I also brought my Daiwa Sol with 20lb braid (thanks to Ito). I also brought with me a drop shot gear (Daiwa 1500 spinning reel mounted on an Eging rod) in case the BC setup still fails me. As soon as we were done rigging, we boarded the bankas and immediately started fishing. Mikko and I on one boat and Jike and RC on the other. Our boatman took us to a nearby reliable spot. On his first cast, without even twitching the bait, Mikko was on a fish. It was a big fish.
I casted to the same area where Mikko caught the fish. As soon as the sinker hits the water, I immediately knew I was using was the right gear for this purpose. I felt the sinker bumped when It reached the bottom. I hopped the worm and felt every wiggle and thump the sinker did when it hits the bead. From that moment on, I knew, the rig I am on was going to make a whole lot of difference. It was an amazing feeling. I made a couple of twitch and then it happened. I felt the thump (tsug-tsug as veteran Filipino bass anglers would describe it). I reeled-in the slack then set the hook. It's was orgasmic --- setting the hook and feeling that I connected to a fish. My first real fish on t-rig. It was small but it was the start of something absolutely fun. Mikko, who was also excited as I was, immediately took a picture for documentation purposes. I am sure, the prospect of swimming this freezing water while butt naked was not something he wants to experience.
So there I was, I caught my first bass on t-rig but I was still unconvinced that I was able to crack the code. So after I released the fish, I casted once more just to know if I really felt what I felt. I made a few hops and again it happed. I felt every brack and bump the sinker and the bead made. I also felt a fish grabbing the worm. Not a regular thump but a subtle hold on the worm. I reeled the slack and then set the hook. It was fish on. A bit bigger than the first. Mikko asked me if I was already confident on my t-rig skill. I said, I was still unconvinced. Perhaps after a few more fish. After every fish I landed, Mikko would ask if I was able to get the idea. I said maybe after a few more. Mikko stopped asking questions. He was also busy fishing. By 7am, the bites died down and we got back to our hut for breakfast. RC caught a lot of lunkers while Mikko and I caught a few more.
Jike was not lucky as we were. He was not able to hook onto a bass. Mikko decided that it was Jike's turn to join him in the boat for first hand lessons in t-rigs. After breakfast, we went to a spot located on the opposite side of the dam. RC and I on a leaky and a bit unstable boat (short outriggers and shallow water line), Jike and Mikko on the other. The area we went to looked promising but when we arrived, a lot of locals and other anglers were already there. Immediately, we were able to catch fish but then the wind started to pick up, we had to abandon the spot. We didn't have an anchor or drift sock, so we had to leave the area and take cover at the back of island. Other local fishermen joined us in taking cover. At around 4pm, the bites picked up on the very spot where we were sheltered. RC caught a big one, probably a 2kg fish. Other locals were also catching bass. Jike also broke his dry spell and was able to crack the T-rig code and managed to land them including some lunkers.
The hot meal was like a mana for anglers. By the time we were done eating, we were back on our boat and fishing for bass despite of the cold and the wind. Amazingly, the locals probably did the same --made fire, cooked and ate their catch. Out of nowhere, they joined us and congregated again at the back of the island. At first we, including the locals were able to catch a few, but immediately after it started, the bites died down.
At around 10pm, the wind slowed down a bit and we decided to take a chance and cross the dam to the other side. Everyone secured their belongings and donned their life vests. The better boat of the two (Mikko and Jike's boat) took lead. But because it was really dark and they were running fast and without light, we lost track of where they went. Our boat man, who is a newbie in this affair, was not familiar on where to go in the dark. It was really scary. We lost our way while crossing big swells. Wet and disorientated, it was really frustrating. Fortunately, we saw the familiar red light from Jike's lamp from afar. We followed it and made it back with nothing more than wet clothes and soaked gears.
Disappointed, wet, and cold, RC and the boatman dozed off while I tried to fish, paddle, and bail the leaking boat. By 4am, we called it quits and went back to the camp and slept through the freezing cold.
The following morning at around 7am, the cold was more intense than the previous day. I actually think my foot froze when I slept without any blanket or socks. Reluctantly, we went back to fish after having cup noodles and coffee. We did not catch any from t-rigs that morning but I managed to catch a couple using my drop shot gear. At around 9am, we were back on shore packing up our gear.
Just before 10am, we were on the road. We stopped by Rizal town to try out the famous Jiro's liempo, liempo sisig (crispy grilled pork bellies), and a hot bowl of lomi (noodles). After that sumptous meal, we drove back to Manila. It was an awesome trip. Thanks to Mikko (and RC) for coaching us on t-rig fishing and for organizing the trip (food, snacks, and the ride) and to JP and Pao for the accomodation and boats/boatmen. It was tiring but it was one of the best fishing trips that I have ever had. Lot's of learnings, excellent spot, and excellent company.
Three things I learned from this bass fishing trip. The first is the importance of the correct rod for worming specially for its rod sensitivity. When using t-rigs or even drop shot rigs, a sensitive rod allowed me to detect all the subtle movements of the baits, sinkers, and a bite of the fish. With that, I am saving some cash and selling a few rods to so I can invest on a nice 1pc bass rod designed for soft plastics specifically for worms. Perhaps a St. Croix, not to expensive but with high quality. The second, is to buy only tried and tested worms in recommended colors, good quality worm hooks, and the correct sinkers for t-rig and dropshot. Having the correct baits and terminal tackle really makes a difference. Lastly, even if it is not your boat, bring a good anchor and drift sock. They can really help keep your boat in the hot spot longer and lessen the effort to search for bites.
On our next bass trip, I will again try to re-learn the art of the t-rig and dropshotting. This time, in the comfort of a kayak.