Komang Ludra put a 15-HP boat engine to his shoulder. The father of two children was walking to a small wooden boat anchored by the shore of Teluk Jemeluk, Amed, Bali, when the wave splashed to the beach, echoing a nostalgic sound that would make every aquaphile remember moments they had spent on the ocean. Under the early a.m. darkness, he installed the engine at the stern. He obviously didn’t want to take risk of using conventional sail which he had folded neatly at port – the wind was not as predictable as before.


It was hard to distinguish him from regular fishermen; years of sailing had toughened his body and complexion. For Komang, the owner of a cafe and bungalow, fishing was a hobby. Almost every morning – or afternoons if his cafe was vacant – he would put out to sea. Regarding how much fish he could bring back home, he didn’t really care.


That morning, accompanied by Syukron and I, he looked vigorous. Finishing the necessary preparation, he told us to hop in to the boat. Thereafter, the boat sailed steady to the sea. The white boat itself was not really big, despite the fact that it could contain three passengers. Syukron sat in the front while I managed to find a seat in the middle. Next to the stern, Komang controlled the pancer (helm).


Although orange light had started casting from the eastern sky, the sun hadn’t yet come out. Komang pointed to the eastern horizon on which thin, grey clouds were still hanging. “When the sun rises, lombok will be seen right there,” he exclaimed. Really close, yet I couldn’t swim to get there.


I couldn’t believe I was about to experience another different things today. A year ago, I was stunned by the picturesque panorama of Mount Agung seen from Gili Trawangan – the most inhabited island among the three Gilis, floating several miles from Senggigi coastline. Within minutes, I would gaze them back from the opposite.


Perhaps I had to start learning to hide my expression because, seeing this, Komang shot another interesting fact: “Well, we are going to see some dolphins too.”


I couldn’t respon, I could only smile.

The engine launched the ship to open water. Along the way, thousands of planktons disguised themselves as foams formed by the motion of the boat. The shoreline of Jemeluk started fading. Then, all that was left was flickers of lights emanating from houses that twinkled like stars in the sky.

photo by Syukron

“Back then when there were only few lamps at the village, we were guided by stars to get home,” Komang Ludra recollected his past, as well as that of his ancestors who had passed years ago. “Now it becomes much easier, all we have to do is paying attention to those dots.”


As we voyaged further and further away from the land, the scenery got even more splendid. Now, all that seemed blur at shore became clear.


Mountains looked as if they were barricading Amed. In the south Mount Lempuyang spread, whereas in the north Mount Agung, the tallest peak of Bali, towered. Today the latter was not perched by clouds at tall, making it looked even more powerful. Then, peeking from the shoulder of Mount Agung, Mount Abang stood awkwardly as if trying his best to guard Lake Kintamani at which I had spent a night camping last week.


Beside our boat, there were also a number of other boats trying their luck the same morning, making me feel like I was among a band of sea gypsy trying to find a new area to settle. Every once in a while we passed rumpon – a bamboo structure tied at the bottom of the ocean where people could fish the big ones such as mahi-mahi (a big-headed fish), tuna, and rainbow fish (sulir or suleh in local language). Komang said the construction of a rumpon could take days and consume up to four sets of rope – the depth of the ocean floor touched 70-100 meters.


The uncanned mackerels

After hovering in the ocean for ten minutes, Komang Ludra slowed the boat down. He then started preparing his fishing gear. Fishermen of these villages – Amed, Jemeluk, and Bunutan, used special ropes to fish at the area reknown for its amazing underwater world.


“It is called bebulu,” said Komang while gripping a special line whose hook was armed with hairs of animal. Those hairs would be a good camouflage to fool small fish like mackerel. In a single line, there are dozens of hooks tied to the main line. Since mackerels swim in schools, there will be a lot of them snared in one drag. Komang had brought two other bigger lines to catch bigger fish like mahi-mahi. But instead of having many hooks, it only had one which was also equipped with hairs.


Bebulu mixed with goat’s hair is the best,” Komang stated. “They will look flat when they’re pulled, like the real shrimps.”


After the line was fully drawn out, Komang gave it to me. Retrieving the line, I heard him saying, “Feel the slightest jolt.”


While Komang was busy steering the boat, I utilized all my senses to feel any jolt. Soon the line became tight. After I told Komang, he overtook the nylon and started pulling. “We got it!” He shouted.

photo by Syukron

A form started appearing from the blue sea. Thereon, the surface sprayed to give way to a silvery fish whose body was shuddering, as if desperately trying to defend itself from being taken to the world of mankind.

“Hold the head,” instructed Komang. I did what he ordered. When I clutched its head, the fish became calm so I could loose the hook easily. “This is mackerel,” declared Komang.

That wasn’t the only fish that was hooked. Tens of other mackerels were also fooled by bebulu. One by one we unhooked them. It was not too long until the stern was full of fish. That was the first time I saw mackerel which hadn’t been inside of a can – fresh and intact.

When the nature bestowed him, he could catch around 200-250 mackerels. “But there are many other fishermen who can catch more than I do,” said Komang humbly.

He could make a good deal of money from mackerel fishing. In a bad season, the price of a single mackerel could hit Rp 1500-2000 (1 USD is currently Rp 13.000). “If there are too many mackerels, the price could slump down to Rp 500,” he explained to us, grinning.

Finishing the first spot, we moved to the second. There was no exact way to figure out whether a spot was good enough to fish mackerel since fishermen only relied on their senses. If they found a school of fish in one place, they would assume the next location was somewhere not too far from the previous.

“Look! That’s dolphin!” Komang suddenly pointed to the bow. Then I swept my eyes to the horizon. After concentrating for some time, I finally caught a glimpse of the sea mammal. At first, I only spotted one of them. Then more of them emerged, swimming and jumping elegantly countless times as if cheering the morning. I had met dolphin several times when traveling, yet everytime I watched them swim I couldn’t help smiling – mother nature has her own way to tickle me.

Dolphins and fishermen of Amed had involved in a love-hate relationship for years. It is true they often help fishermen to find a good location to fish but they, in contrast, can’t control themselves not to impudently eat mackerels which are being taken to fisehermen’s boat. “If we are careless, the mackerels would be perish,” said Komang.

We harvested more on the second spot, so was on several other sites. The stern where Komang stored the fish was getting more and more occupied. I lost count of how many mackerels we had towed.

Fighting a big fish

Something fluttered from a rumpon not far from our scene, where a fisherman was struggling to win a fight against a mahi-mahi. They looked as if two people playing tug-of-war but instead of using a big rope they used a small line. Sometimes the water spattered and a big mahi-mahi leaped out of the ocean. After few minutes fighting, the fish eventually won and dove back into the deep.

Trying his luck, Komang drove the boat closer to the rumpon. “We should try catching bigger fish,” he said. “I hope you guys bring luck.”

He started stretching a bigger line. As the bait, he put a wobbling mackerel. The preparation was finished. After throwing the bait as far as he could, he passed it to me. “No need to pull the line because we use a living bait,” he said.

I grabbed the line. At first I didn’t feel anything. But suddenly the line came across something. “Something is pulling the line, Bli!” I told him. Bli means brother in Balinese language.

He ordered me to unfasten my grip. But it was too late because the fish had already fled.

Komang explained that when the fish are eating the bait, one needs to slacken the line to give the fish time to swallow it. Once the hook has been stabbed inside its mouth, there will be no way for the fish to escape.

The second attempt also ended with failure.

“This one will work,” said Komang confidently before tossing the line once more.

His words looked as if having been heard by God because soon after he threw the line a mahi-mahi ate it. This time he put all of his knowledge and strenght to conquer the sea creature. He pulled and slackened the line skillfully until the fish was close enough to katir (leeboard) to be grabbed with a stick. I tried all my best maintaining my balance. Eventually, a long golden fish started appearing from the ocean.

Komang asked Syukron to pick a stick which was decorated with a big hook. “Stick it to the fish!”

Since I sat closer to Komang than Syukron did, I was the one who had to use my hands. I tried swinging, stabbing the grapnel to the fish, but I panicked. I guessed I was not agile enough to do this task. Before I was able to pin the fish, Komang had already pulled it from the ocean and chucked it in to the boat. It was a quite heavy fish though – 3 kg. For about one minute, I was stupefied as I saw it fluttered and kept changing colors – from gold to silver, back to gold.

“The color will be more beautiful underwater,” Komang said.

Perhaps he was right, that the fish would be more beautiful when swimming underwater. Seeing certain colors, motives, or shapes might impress somebody. But for me beautiful is more than colors, motives, or shapes. It is also subjective in that each people has its own standard of something called beautiful, depending on many things having been experienced.

The big old sun had risen and illuminated the ocean. One by one the fishermen headed back to the beach. We hauled pretty good number of fish today. After failing two more attempts of fishing mahi-mahi, we sailed back to Amed.


Fuji Adriza
Fuji Adriza
“Jika tidak sedang berkeliaran, ia menyanyi diiringi petikan ukulele.”