Tournament Fishing In East Timor

Brent Delaney’s monster dogtooth tuna from Jaco Island.

Early November 2011 saw the staging of the Com Fishing Festival off Timor-Leste (East Timor). (Watch this great YouTube clip now!) This is the second time in three years that the government of this fledgling nation, situated just 70 minutes flying time north-west of Darwin, has attempted to host such an ambitious undertaking. Their first effort in 2009 was beset by logistical problems, and some visiting competitors came away unimpressed. However, several Australian anglers who competed this time report a dramatic improvement in both the organisational side of things and the calibre of fishing. The latter was primarily due to the festival being relocated to deep, blue waters off the coastal village of Com, near the far eastern end of the island. Here the currents of two seas split around Jaco Island and the Timorese mainland, producing excellent conditions for both reef and game species, particularly dogtooth tuna, wahoo, mackerel, rainbow runner and giant trevally.

Unloading Brent’s dogtooth.

Well-known Darwin-based fishing and writing couple, Steve and Jo Starling, were amongst the 40-odd international anglers registered in the four-day tournament, and both gave glowing accounts of their experiences. “Timor-Leste is the most surprising place I’ve visited in 40 years as a travelling angler and writer,” Steve enthused. “While still burdened by poverty and the legacy of armed conflict, it’s a stunningly beautiful country. The people are also amongst the friendliest I’ve met. I was blown away by the experience, and pleased at how well Jo and I fished together as Team Shimano.”

The structure of the tournament is unique, consisting of two separate divisions. One caters primarily for international anglers and is fished in accordance with IGFA regulations. The second is intended for local Timorese subsistence fishers who ply their trade from outrigger canoes and other simple craft, typically fishing with heavy handlines. However, in keeping with the egalitarian spirit of this young country, entrants are permitted to nominate the category they wish to compete in, and this year saw several Timorese anglers mix it very successfully with the international visitors.

A colourful collection of local boats.

In the end, individual honours came down to the very last day, with all major categories still up for grabs until the final hours of competition. Steve Starling, who’d been champion international angler on day two and was running well ahead of the pack at that point, came back from a disastrous form slump on day three to secure third place overall. Meanwhile, Bayu Noer Rachman, co-host of Indonesian TV fishing show “Mancing Mania”, scored well on day four to seize the silver medal. But in the end, no one could hold off the consistent performance of local-entrant-turned-international-angler, Joao Jose Fernandez, who blitzed day four and seized the winner’s crown in the international division. The final tally was: Joao Jose Fernandez (Timor-Leste) 2,352 points, Bayu Noer Rachman (Indonesia) 1,794 points and Steve Starling (Australia) 1,775 points. (Steve’s wife Jo held on to sixth place overall, making her the highest-ranking female angler in the event.)

Jo’s beautiful long-nosed emperor, taken on a Squidgy.

Com angler, Vasco Suarez, took out big fish with a 135cm wahoo, but in the end it was veteran local handline maestro, Mateus Rodriguez, who won the local tournament from a field of 70-plus with a stunning total of 4,994 points, more than doubling the best of the international anglers’ tallies! It seems that local knowledge really is the key to fishing success, no matter where you cast a line.

Starlo with one of many GTs poppered from the reef edges.

“The 2011 Com Fishing Festival has been a great success,” concluded Festival Director, Sean Ferguson-Borrell, after the presentation ceremony, which saw more than US$25,000 in prize money handed out to the winners. “We’ve demonstrated how amazing the marine tourism potential of Timor-Leste is. The event was a great boost for the local economy of Com, and we have brought anglers from around the world, all of whom have been hooked on Timor-Leste as a destination. Timor-Leste truly is untouched, unexplored and unbelievable. It’s one of the last frontiers for great recreational angling.”

Not only that, but it’s serviced daily by flights from Darwin that take just over an hour to reach the capital city of Dili. With this fact in mind, perhaps it’s time you considered adding Timor-Leste to your own fishing travel wish list? To find out more, visit:

Also, be sure to watch Jo’s great YouTube clip of the event by clicking here!

Winners are grinners!