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A Night Fishing Trip on San
by Alfonso Bermejo Villamora,
Kaiba News and Features -
The "basnig" is a traditional way of catching fish in many
areas of Bicol. Camarines Norte in particular, is noted for
this type of fishing where many Tinambaqueños learned the
trade from places like Mercedes, Talisay and Daet during the
The idea with basnig is to lure fish with gas-powered lights
during the nightly fishing trips; the fish is then directed to
a point where a previously cast net is hauled in, along with
the captive fish. Boats used for basnig are normally big, much
bigger than the ones used in Tinambac. Thus, the locals termed
them as "semi or baby-basnigs".
In the late 60's, my father used to own a small baroto - about
a third of the size of a "semi-basnig". I was in my early
teens then when Papa introduced me to the trade. With a
Petromax for lighting (padaraw), we competed with the big
guys. The usual catch was mostly dilis. We also used the boat
for net fishing (panki) mostly during the day. Before we have
acquired a lawn mower-sized motor, we net-fished mostly by
rowboat using the sagwan (paddle) to reach locations between
Bagacay and Buenavista. A 4-horsepower Briggs & Stratton
engine enabled us to venture farther than Cagliliog.
Before engaging in panki, our only previous experience in
catching fish was with a hook, a line, and a can of earthworms
dug from our small piece of land by the beach.
One clear February evening, my father and I set sail for a
fishing ground on the fish-rich San Miguel Bay, east of Bicol,
facing the Pacific Ocean.
A night out aboard a fishing boat on a calm sea under a
multitude of stars is both a beautiful and a humbling
experience. The vast space reminds one of eternity and a
thousand fishermen's lights make a futile attempt to duplicate
the starry sky. Some of these lights come from 'invading' big
commercial fishing boats from Calabanga and Cabusao, Camarines
Sur powered by liquefied petroleum gas or kerosene. Others
emanate from smaller baroto, with a lone fisherman. If a
smaller sea craft attracts many fish, the lone fisherman
guides the boat to a bigger boat where the big nets are.
Many fishermen with light boats operate this way, and signal a
potential catch by blowing on a shell. The characteristic deep
sound emanating from these horns fashioned out of giant
seashells signals a mother boat to close in for a catch. That
night we set out without contacts from other fishermen and
without real experience with our net. In retrospect, such a
fishing venture was destined to go awry given our
inexperience. But we were a couple of determined fellas
masquerading as fisher folks and out to prove the world wrong.
Each member of a fishing crew assumes an important role in the
boat. That night, I was to be the fish-spotter and would cast
the net while my Papa was the timonil for our two-man fishing
crew! We arrived at an area where very few fishermen about. I
cast the net and turned on the gas-powered light. Then we sat
and waited for the fish to come. Few fishes came and went. I
also had problems with the net that would rise to the surface
frequently, largely due to the action of currents. I did not
realize then that the well lighted net, not gara-gara
(luminance) but light reflected from the Petromax was visible
to the fish. Professional fishermen knew what this meant: fish
aren't stupid enough to be attracted to a well-lighted net
snaking in the depths.
Papa was getting impatient, I could tell. To him my
inexperience was not an excuse. Net fishing is a simple task,
he said. I offered to be the timonil but he balked.
A light boat nearby sounded a signal: fish were practically
swimming into his boat. Dawn was upon us and we haven't caught
a single fish: we were desperate. I called out and asked to
bring the fish to our net. The light boat and the fish went
elsewhere and we were left to finish the job with our own
resources. Just as we were ready to haul up our anchor and
head for home, a school of squids chasing a break away group
of dilis came by and stayed. We were going to haul up the net
anyway and decided that it was worth the effort. When the net
came up, there was a pocketful of delicious-looking squids,
dilis enough to fill half of a balde, and a fish that inflated
and acted funny - a butete!
From the distance, smaller and faster motorized boats sped for
land, carrying boxes of fish from some big net fishing boat.
We felt embarrassed and somewhat cheated but otherwise felt a
day wiser. Our catch was minute compared to the heavy-hitters
but nevertheless, enough for a couple of meals.
The catch, however, was immaterial as far as I was concerned.
At such an early age, fishing for money was never really my
cup of tea. Forced upon by consequence, I had to do it -
grudgingly! Imagine having to spend the evening in the midst
of San Miguel Bay while my barkadas were gallivanting! But, it
was the opportunity to be with my Papa one-on-one. The times
between checking the nets for a catch were really what
mattered the most because those were premium times that
allowed me to get to know him better. At home, where I had to
compete with seven other siblings, finding quality time with
him was rather difficult. The only sure thing was when I did
something wrong, but it was a one-way conversation.
My Papa passed away many years ago, but the memories of that
February night fishing still linger to this day. I truly miss
Happy Fathers' Day!