Fishing Lines: When the heat was on I became a killer

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The Independent Online

Threat or blessing? At the time, I assumed the remark by the tiny woman at the MRT ticket office was another example of that meaningless American expression. Now I'm not so sure. Perhaps she had gazed into the tea leaves and seen my future. Because it really did turn into a lice day.

I'm in Singapore. This is supposed to be a business trip, but gaps in the schedule allow me some fishing leeway. That's where Tony should have come in. He runs a fishing boat here. For more than a year, we've corresponded. Or rather, he sends me pictures of whacking great tuna and huge sailfish that his boat has caught, saying: "When are you coming?" I just say: "Soon as I can."

As soon as I'd checked into my Chinatown hotel, I phoned. Wouldn't you know it? "This is monsoon season," Tony replied apologetically. "It's too windy to fish. We won't put the boat back into the sea until March."

One of my meetings told me that locals fished off Bedok Pier. I went, but the fish were infrequent and tiny. The prawns in the hotel foyer were bigger.

Then I recalled a visit here some years ago. I had fished a pond packed with bass, barramundi, catfish, snappers. It meant a train ride to the very end of the highly efficient MRT east/west line, through Tanah Merah (wonder if they play Mexican music at No 1?) to Pasir Ris, and what looked like a kiddy boating lake, every few yards with rod holders and chairs. But UK anglers in Singapore in February can't be picky. I paid S$20 (£7) to fish and another S$8 for bait, 200 grams of giant live prawns.

Singapore is hot. You break into a sweat just looking outside. It never falls much below 80F; in the direct sun, it edges nearer the ton. No wonder the local fishers, hiding under umbrellas in the shade, looked at me in wonder. Mynah birds started to sing Noel Coward. I kept a watch for mad dogs.

My giant prawns were less amused. They dashed agitatedly around their plastic prison - and it wasn't hungry barramundi that upset them so. Within 10 minutes, they were ex-prawns. I had cooked them to death. And where were all the great fish of my previous visit? One stroller told me glumly: "New management very mean. Don't spend money on fish." No wonder he complained. A year's ticket here costs S$550 (£194).

Even though my poor prawns had expired, the pond's murky depth obviously had a protein shortage. The float jagged, jerked, bobbed, but never sank. When I wound in, only an exoskeleton remained. After a while, I realised the fish were too small to scoff a whole prawn. I cut one in half. The same thing happened. I quartered another murder victim. Still no luck. In the end, I used a tiny hook and prawn slivers.

The culprits were ravenous tilapia about 5in long. The local fishers looked on even more puzzled. I was an alien species, happy to catch fish smaller than the bait. Walking back to the station, I discovered another pond where for a mere S$50, I could catch prawn-sized barramundi. That night, I shunned the chilli prawns and went vegetarian. It was the least a murderer could do.

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