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A Night Fishing Trip on San Miguel Bay

by Alfonso Bermejo Villamora,

Kaiba News and Features - Canaman


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 60's.


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 him.


Happy Fathers' Day!






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KAIBA News & Features, P.O. Box 6126, Naga City 4400.  email:  Tel No. 0917 8122107 Copyright © 1999  KAIBA News & Features. All rights reserved.  Revised: August 15, 2002