A few bare branches stick out from the dry earth, swaying with the ferocity of the breeze. The wind whips half-hearted waves and sends a spray onto the shores of the embankment of Pantabangan Dam where I stand. Loose earth crumbles beneath my feet and I walk back towards the gravel lined path near the center of the hill to admire the view.
Lake Pantabangan is said to be the largest man-made reservoir in the Philippines and one of the largest in Asia. On the horizon is one side of the Sierra Madre Mountains cradling the earth-filled embankment of the reservoir. Pantabangan Dam covers an area of 80,000 hectares. To put that in perspective, an international-sized rugby field is roughly one hectare, so the sheer size of the dam is daunting.
The picturesque lake was created by damming the Pampanga River. Now, its blue-green waters teem with largemouth bass, a species of black bass native to North America. Other species thrive in the lake including carp, snake murrel, and tilapia according to a loqal news report on the popularity of fishing in Pantabangan.
But it’s the bass that draw in fishing enthusiasts from different countries to come all the way to this otherwise sleepy town on the northern fringes of Nueva Ecija. Locals say that bass in Pantabangan Lake are particularly large, which has made it a favorite spot for foreign anglers to engage in sport fishing.
As I board one of the rickety wooden fishing boats, the sun casts its last rays on the landscape bathing everything in a dusky veil. Unfortunately, the bass don’t bite. It seems they’ve had their fill for the day. My boatman tells me that mornings are better for fishing. He used to live and work in Quezon City, but he prefers it in Pantabangan. He’s lived here for a little over a year now.
“Mas tahimik dito,” he says, as he casts the fishing line further into the water. “Ang daming bisyo at gastos sa Manila. Dito, simple lang ang buhay.” I can’t help but agree. He recounts a trip with some foreign clients just the week before as we circle the lake a few more times. I hope to still catch some lone fish despite the late hour, but our fishing expedition is in vain. Soon we’ll be boarding the bus towards our next destination, but for the moment everything is serene and still.
The clouds blaze into a slow fire as the sun sets. It’s not a bad way to spend the afternoon.