A fresh bunch of ga-ut or ugapo ready for cooking … this picture was posted on Facebook group Bigkis-Pag-asa by a native of the place. – Picture courtesy of ALBERTO ‘YETBO’ ESPINOSA
By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
BROWSING Facebook recently, I chanced on a picture that hastily hurled me back to my boyhood days in Parang, Mambulao.
It was a close-up picture of a newly-caught fish which Alberto Yetbo Espinosa Jr, a native of Pag-asa, had posted on the Bigkis-Pag-asa group (thanks Padre for sharing).
Another poster, Ernie Lauron, also from Bunog Island, said the fish is called ga-ut, and because it looked so fresh and looking much alive, the picture drew excited comments from “masarap itong isigang” to a confused "di ba lapu-lapu ito?"
I’m not familiar with the name of the fish that Lauron had mentioned.
But I am very much familiar with the fish itself.
When I was just a kid, I used to catch this one with my fishing gear fashioned from a light, long and thin round bamboo pole and nylon fishing line tipped with a baited hook.
During those days in the 50s and 60s, fish was aplenty at Mambulao Bay because the water was crystal clear and the bay was not over-fished.
This is the start of a series of rocks along the Larap road just after the bend at the Adea property in Parang. - MWBuzzpic by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
And the ragged rocks half-submerged in the bay water that lined the edges of the Larap road after making a bend at the Don Ramon Adea property onwards to Malapayungan had become a haven for late afternoon-to-dusk anglers – mostly young adults who were either killing time or just desperate to have a nice sinigang sa kamias for dinner.
To our group of young line-fishers from my neighborhood in Parang, the fish is known as ugapo. A near-cousin of lapu-lapu, ugapo thrives mainly on reefs and corals and at the base of rock formations such as the ones found along the Larap road.
Ugapo is one very difficult to catch.
Although it loves to bite, you won’t be able to land it as easily as you could because it would normally wedge itself in a tight space between two rocks.
So it was always that you would snap your fishing line, and thus lose the fish.
That’s why we were always jealous of the man who would instead go spear-fishing among the rocks, and would go home with a long bundle of catch -- mostly ugapo.
In the 50s, 60s and 70s, this cluster of rocks just before Malapayungan was a favorite spot for late-afternoon pole-and-line fishers from Parang. - MWBuzzpic by ARNEL P HERNANDEZ
There were days when ugapo and other fish such as kiskisan, baga-ung, sapsap and dalagang-bukid would be very scarce, forcing us to hop from one rock to another until we were right at Malapayungan, where there were bigger rocks and bigger fish. And of course, more fishers perched on the rocks.
Ugapo and company were choosey ones: they won’t bite unless it was shrimp or squid; so we would give it to them.
Sometimes, just getting a big jerk on your line was more exciting than actually landing the fish itself.
Because when you got a big pull, your reaction was to give an equally big counter jerk, as you exclaimed: “tangna-mo, nadali rin kita …!”. But since your upward jerk was premature, off-timed, the fish would just simply get away.
But for us young boys, the holy grail of fish catch was the lapu-lapu (grouper).
This one was a fighter. It won’t budge from where it stayed at the bottom of the water despite the fact that your hook had firmly buried itself in the corner of its mouth.
If you didn’t know how to handle the situation, chances are it could go free with your hook still inside its mouth.
So, you would eat dinner with just pritong sapsap instead of a mouth-watering sinigang na lapu-lapu sa kamias.
I ACTUALLY got hooked, so to speak, on line fishing when I was just a five-year-old tot in Paracale, our young family’s first home in the early 50s just before migrating to Parang for good.
Houses in our neighborhood, including ours, stood above waters because that place was just along the banks of the so-called Paracale river, which begins from the bay, circles the whole town and ends on the other side of the bay.
At high tide, the whole place is flooded. At low tide, the whole place is pure mud.
The cluster of many houses was connected to each other by narrow wooden foot bridges that were accessed from the road.
One morning -- I remember around 9 -- I was already out on the foot bridge (the landing of our five-step stair was immediately connected to the bridge), still in my pajama, armed with a meter-long bamboo stick fitted with a thick crocheting thread for a fishing line. At its tip was a baited hook.
It was high tide, so the sea-water was all over the neighborhood and fish was crazily swishing and swooshing in the water in big schools.
I had my fishing line set in the water while a school of fish was swarming around my hook. Anyway, I had no intention of landing one; I was just thrilled to see such a million fish right in front of me.
Suddenly, one of them gave a bite and on instinct, I jerked up my pole. And to my great amazement, I got it hooked!
And just to think that it was the very first fish ever that I had landed on my own.
The fish still flicking and jolting mightily at the end of the fishing line, I darted along the foot bridge towards the road, announcing to the whole world while running like mad: "Nakakawil ako ng isda … nakakawil ako ng isda …!” to the great amusement and surprise of our neighbors who were doing their early morning chores by the roadside.
Mom was not pleased, though.
She had told me time and again not to go out, much less, run around in the neighborhood in my pajama.
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