A look at Siargao’s International Game Fishing Tourament
For the longest time, the charming southern island of Siargao and its famed Cloud 9 spot has been synonymous with surfing, reknowned globally for the massive barreling waves, which have thrilled global surfers and spectators alike.
Unknown to many, the same Pacific coastline in the adjoining town of Pilar is also host to another world-class action sport—the Siargao International Game Fishing Tournament, the largest event of its kind in the archipelago.
Here, the world’s top anglers battle it out in a fun and friendly competition for supremacy in getting the biggest catch, and the bragging rights that go along with it, plus some cash prizes to boot.
Sport fishing haven
Siargao’s sport fishing areas around extend all along the reefs that border and protect the island’s east coast. Being at the edge of the world’s second deepest ocean trench makes it one of the most exciting sport fishing locations in Asia.
Its waters abound in sailfish, marlin, yellow-fin tuna, wahoo, giant trevally, dorado, and everything in between that make game fishing more fun and challenging.
Making Siargao more ideal is the proximity of the fishing grounds to the pier, which can be reached in about 20 minutes. Add to this the predictable weather the whole-year round, especially from April to October, which is conducive to longer vacations for anglers and their families.
To take advantage of these natural assets, the tournament event was hatched and presented by Filipino-American angler Bong Castillo to the Siargao District Congressional Office under then Rep. Francisco Matugas, the Surigao del Norte and Pilar local governments, and the Department of Tourism.
The Philippine Game Fishing Federation, Philippine Sports Fishing Club, and Silver Jack Fishing Club of Manila, who have been making the island a playground for more than four decades, were tapped in the birthing of the inaugural contest.
While many still consider it a sport for the elite, the first-ever sport fishing tournament sailed off in 2008 with flying colors, attracting 64 anglers from 10 countries.
To create economic opportunities, competitors are encouraged to hire local fishing boats, fishermen and guides to provide income for the community. Anglers and their entourage usually stay in “homestay” accommodations offered by the townsfolk.
According to Surigao del Norte governor Sol Matugas, the Provincial Government will continue to support the Siargao International Game Fishing Tournament to secure livelihood opportunities thru fishing and tourism, while promoting environmental preservation.
The House of Representatives through Siargao District Rep. Bingo Matugas has also earmarked PhP10 million in next year’s national budget to ensure a much bigger global event.
Pinoys top tourney
Filipino anglers showed their skill in game fishing in home waters as they scored a near shut-out in the this year’s three-day tilt.
Rico Gueco bested 72 other contestants from the Philippines, Japan, the United States, Canada, Singapore, Australia, France, South Africa, Norway, Hong Kong and Hungary to net the highest aggregate overall haul of 93.2 kilograms.
The bounty consisted of a 23.15-kg and 25.10-kg sailfish, a 17.50-kg and 10.85-kg tuna, a 6.2-kg and five-kg wahoo, and a 5.4-kg dorado. He also bagged a PhP30,000 cash prize.
First timer Elmer Causing, who is vacationing from his work in Angola, topped the main Sailfish category, with a seven-foot 31.95-kg catch and carted away with the champion’s trophy and a PhP60,000 cash prize. His boatman, Rico Elimano, won a separate prize of PhP30,000.
In the Giant Trevally (Talikitok) Category, Leo Yosalina and boatman Juan Bosito shone with his 6.2-kg catch.
General Santos City-based fishing magnate Marfenio Tan and his boatman Lanie Blacanda bagged top place in the Giant Tanguige division, with their 12.95-kg haul.
A tournament pioneer, Tan also ruled the Biggest Dorado Category, with a 12.3-kg catch; followed by Richard Sharpe of Canada with his 5.65-kg fish.
Meanwhile, Jeaza Gonzales emerged as winner in the Biggest Others category with his 17.9-kg catch, which excludes shark, stingray, popper fish, dolphin, lumba, turtles and other endangered species.
But in a gesture of generosity, the winners donated their prize money to local boatman Ederio Concilles who suffered serious hand injuries during the tournament.
Pilar Vice Mayor and tournament director Luis Gonzales, said that this year’s edition has been the biggest so far in terms of prizes, participation and attendance by national government officials.
Unlike other spectator sports, game fishing can be boring to watch as excitement only heightens when the day’s catch is brought in, scaled and the winners are announced.
Spicing up the tourney was the first-ever Liplipan Festival, a series of parallel events, which kept the guests and townsfolk occupied as they awaited the triumphal return of the anglers with their trophies from the water world.
The highlight of the festivity is the street dancing contest, which portrayed the fisher folk’s way of life and centered on the “liplipan” or the iconic sailfish that abound in the seas of Pilar.
Boatmen who were not tapped for the tourney, meanwhile, showed their paddling prowess in the Lumba sa Baroto, a mini-regatta of wooden outrigger boat held at the mangrove area.
Another fringe event was the flea market, which showcased the island’s agricultural produce, processed food, local delicacies and souvenirs.
Visitors also basked in the sun at the talcum-fine Magpupungko Beach in Pilar where Siargao’s iconic rock proudly stands. In the morning at low tide, the Magpupungko Tidal Flat and Lagoon forms a natural seawater pool – ideal for rock diving and snorkeling.
A new tourist spot slowly getting into the limelight is the Tayangban Cave Pool, deep turquoise pool, about 30 feet below the road. The spring-fed pool, which seems to be carved from the solid limestone wall, is a twin cenote or a deep natural well or sinkhole.
In the neighboring town of Del Carmen, guests can tour Sugba Lagoon – framed by limestone cliffs and mountains. On the way there, the boats cruise through 4,000-hectare mangrove forests—the country’s biggest, and habitat to a rare saltwater crocodile specie.
Guests can fly directly to Siargao via SkyJet, or from Cebu via Cebu Pacific. From the Sayak Airport in Del Carmen town, vans or motorcycles can be hired to Pilar where there are homestays accredited by the municipal government and the DOT Region 13.
Those opting for comfort can hike off to the Cloud 9 area in Gen. Luna where the trendy resorts are located.
Text and photos by BERNARD L. SUPETRAN