Guide to Traditional Fishing on the Abra River

Fishing on the Abra River

The Abra River is the sixth largest river system in the Philippines in terms of watershed size. It has an estimated drainage area of 5,125 square kilometers and a length of 178 kilometers from its source in the vicinity of Mount Data in the Benguet province.  At a point near the municipality of Dolores, it is joined by the Tineg River, which originates in the uplands of Abra. – Wikipedia

I have been to many towns and villages along the Abra River and its tributaries, and one of the main occupations of the people is fishing. The fishermen still use the same practices their ancestors used one hundred and more years ago. In fact time seems to have stood still.
The same style traps are made from local materials such as bamboo and rattan that are easily found along the river bank or up in the mountains. Most of the fishing activity takes place at the end of the rainy season when the swollen murky rivers recede and are back to a safe flow.

Fishermen learn the skills needed to fish from a very young age by joining their parents and neighbours on fishing trips. Different techniques are used for fishing on the Abra River depending on where you fish. I have documented a few below. There are more ways of fishing and will update when i have collected the information needed.

Learning to Fish 

Children from a very young age accompany their parents or siblings to the rivers and streams to paddle and play, and quickly become excellent swimmers. They also watch the adults fish and learn that certain fish hide beneath large rocks; and oftentimes a whole troop of naked youngsters may be seen going up stream, carefully feeling under the stones, and occasionally shouting with glee, as a slippery trophy is drawn out with the bare hands.

They also gather shell fish and shrimps, and their catch often adds variety to the family meal.

Young boy helps collect the carp. Fishing on the Abra River

Fishing on the Abra River

The Common Trap  

The entrance is made of sharp bamboo splints, which converge toward a small hole opening into the trap proper. The device is then placed in the water in such a way that fish coming downstream will be diverted into the opening.

The current and the natural inclination of the fish to go into a dark hiding-place causes them to force their way into the trap, and once in they cannot emerge. The water escapes through the bamboo slits, but the fish can only be released by opening the small end of the trap.

Many of the fishermen carry baskets attached to the belt at the hip. The tops of these baskets have funnel-shaped openings, and are immediately available for use as traps, if a good catch is in prospect These are usually employed for shrimps and minnows.

Eels are caught in long, round traps of rattan and bamboo. A frog is fastened in the far end of the tube, usually with a fish-hook. This is attached to a rattan spring, which is connected with the door of the trap. The eel enters and seizes the frog, but as it starts to back out, it releases the bent rattan, and the door is pulled shut.

hip basket for holding fish. Fishing on the Abra River
Fish trap demo and explanation. Fishing on the Abra River

Small hand nets, spread apart by means of sticks held in the hands, are used by women in scooping up small fish. Ordinarily, it is scooped away from the body, but if a fish takes refuge under a rock, the net is placed under the opposite side, and the stone is turned over with the foot.

checking the hand net while Fishing on the Abra River

The Throw Net

The most effective fishing-device is a large throw net made cornucopia shape. The large net is open and weighted with many sinkers of lead. The man throws the net with a full arm sweeping motion, so that it spreads to its full extent, and all the sinkers strike the water at the same time. The splash causes all the fish inside the circle to dart inward, and as it sinks, the net settles over them. The fisherman draws in the cord attached to the small end, causing the sinkers to drag along to the bottom until directly beneath him, when their weight closes the net. It requires much skill and practice to throw this net properly, but once the art is mastered, the fisherman is very successful.

Throw Net with weights used for Fishing on the Abra River

Blanket Fishing on the Abra River

Quantities of leaf branches are sunk into a still pool, and are left for a few days until the fish have come to use them as a hiding-place. A number of men make a close fence of bamboo sticks about them, then go inside, throw out the branches, and catch the fish with their hands or with the nets.
Streams are often diverted from their course, for a time, and then returned, leaving the fish in the artificial channels or pools stranded.

Blanket Fishing on the Abra River

Two Man Nets

These long nets with weights along the bottom edge, are spread out across the river, one end near the bank, while the other end stretches outwards to the middle of the river, before being looped back to the bank and creating a trap. The fishermen then hand fold the net and any fish caught are taken and put in their hip baskets for safe keeping.

Fishing on the Abra River using a long net

Bamboo Filter Traps 

Asar an open nipa hut-like fish trap, is one of the indigenous traps built for volume fishing on the Abra River. Its origin, according to fishermen i talked to, was passed down to them by their ancestors. It started as an experiment when farmers thought of replicating the way they filter dirt and other undesirable elements, like stones, rocks and other large objects, from entering their rice fields with the water.

This practice is called ASAR ( also pronounced ASAL, depending on where you come from)  or ‘to filter’. Hence, they replicated the same technique for their fish traps and retained the name ‘asar’.
This fish trap is designed to take advantage of the high waters during the rainy season.

The ASAL catches several kinds of fish but what is more interesting about this kind of fish trap is not only its traditional and intricate structure but more importantly, its convenience that allows the fishermen to just wait for fish to arrive and be handpicked.

The fish trapped in the ASAR are Kampa, Kiwet,, Igat (eel), Tilapia, Palileng,
Tibek, Udang (freshwater prawn), and Tamtampi.

Bamboo filter trap on abra river
hand net to hip basket. Fishing on the Abra River
fisherman checks his net. Fishing on the Abra River
essential tools for Fishing on the Abra River
Tilapia bbq on Abra River
Discover Abra Traditional Fishing on the Abra River, Philippines

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