Reeling in the Big One
Joey Villar (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In 2007, Bong Castillo, a Filipino-American angler from Cebu, presented Francisco “Lalo” Matugas, then a congressman, an idea to make Siargao, particularly the small quaint town of Pilar, a venue for a game fishing tournament.

A sports enthusiast, Matugas gamely accepted the idea.

He convened three of the nation’s top sports fishing clubs – the Philippine Game Fishing Foundation, the Philippine Sports Fishing Club and the Silver Jack Fishing Club of Manila – and along with then Pilar mayor Lucio Gonzales, they organized and turned the simple concept into a big event.

It was so big that no less than then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attended the inaugural staging of the tournament.

That started it all for the Siargao International Game Fishing Tournament.

For exactly a decade, Siargao has successfully staged the event year after year, drawing not just the country’s best and brightest anglers and boatmen but also some of the world’s finest.

Because of this, Siargao has built a reputation as the country’s game fishing mecca, aside from being popularly known as the country’s surfing capital.

This year, more than 70 participants, including representatives from Norway, South Africa, Angola, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, United States, Hungary and Canada, traveled to this paradise island from April 6 to 9. The Department of Tourism has injected P10 million to help Pilar, under Mayor Maria Liza Resurreccion and Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas, stage the tournament. 

This time, a Davao City native who works in Angola bested the crack field.

Angler Elmer Causing and his boatman Rico Elimanco caught a seven-foot, 31.950-kilogram sailfish, locally known as lip-lipan, on the final day of the three-day event to emerge with the biggest catch in the 10th edition of the annual meet. 

The pair accomplished the feat just before noon and checked in about an hour before the 4 p.m. deadline to make the win official. When it was announced that it was the heaviest, Causing hoped nobody would surpass it. When the buzzer signaling the end of the event sounded, Causing finally whooped it up with his Hakuna Matata team, composed of fellow workers in Angola, including Filipinos and foreigners. 

Interestingly, it came a day after Causing turned 57.

“I’m happy because I wished for this for my 57th birthday. It was a nice birthday gift for myself,” said Causing, a first-time participant who was on a brief vacation.

Causing, who also caught a pair of seven-kilo wahoos, said he would have caught a bigger one had his nylon line held.

“At 8:45 a.m., I caught something bigger. I saw it and I was just slowly pulling it in but I sensed something wrong with the line before it eventually snapped,” said Causing. “Thankfully, at 11:30 a.m., I caught this one.”

The win was worth P60,000 for Causing and P30,000 for Elimanco.

Causing said it was more the satisfaction of conquering nature than the money. In fact, he donated his winnings to another boatman who cut his fingers after his line snapped in the heat of catching a wahoo.

“We’re also doing this in Angola. In fact, my Hakuna Matata team caught a 14-foot, 355-kilo blue marlin in a world tournament there. We always donate the money to charity and the boatmen. This is more for personal satisfaction,” he said.

Ryan Damaso and Jose Sapuras wound up second with a 30.30-kg catch to pocket P40,000 and P20,000, respectively, while Emil Santos and Edgar Aparante ended up third with prizes of P20,000 and P10,000.

Other winners were Leo Yosalina and Juan Bosito (trevally or talakitok), Marfin Tan and Lanie Blancada (tanigue and donado), Jease Gonzales and Jocan Elimanco (others) and Rico Gueco (total overall catch).

This early, organizers are looking forward to next year’s 11th staging of the fast-growing sport that has found a home in this ideal destination rich in biodiversity and natural beauty.

The annual meet also paid tribute to the pioneers – tournament director and Pilar Vice Mayor Lucio Gonzales, Francisco Matugas, Bong Castillo, Gordon Uy and Zeny Pallugna.

In fact, the first ever staging was so memorable that Matugas, one of the co-founders, preserved the first-ever catch – a 30.5-kg sailfish – in his office in Brgy. Dapa, just an hour by land from Pilar.

“It was a tribute not just to the winner but also to the sport itself. We want it to be a remembrance that game fishing is here to stay for a very, very long time,” he said.

Game fishing in Siargao has been in existence since the 1970s when anglers from the North would come for the challenge since the currents and winds are stronger here.

Not only that, fishing areas in Siargao extend all along the reefs that border and protect the eastern part of the island. 

Siargao is also situated on the edge of the second deepest ocean trench in the world and faces the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It is considered at par with similarly exciting fishing destinations in Santa Ana and San Vicente in Cagayan Valley up North. The difference is that the weather in Siargao is more predictable throughout the year and therefore more suited for the sport from April to October.

The waters in the eastern part of Siargao are bountiful with fish, including marlin, yellow fin tuna, wahoo and dorado. It is the reason the Philippine Game Fishing Federation has used Siargao as their Pacific coast fishing center for almost four decades now. And why anglers from all parts of the world take the long trip for the once-a-year game fishing experience.

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