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Onto Malaysia Taman Negara

Onto a Borneo Disaster


Back on the road, up in the air and out on the water again, and with a big gulp and a one way ticket this time. First stop Malaysia for a bit of a breather on the beach after a few months of British mentalism, and then sliding neatly into the sweaty fishing groove on Tasik Temenggor - on the trail of the local fish hard-nut, the nasty (but nice) Toman, or Giant Snakehead to you and me...

Aside from actually piloting the plane, probably the easiest job in the world has to be an Air Asia Steward on the KL run. From what I could make out, all it seemed to entail was waking up once or twice in 13 hours to reapply the hair gel, deliver a few pre-ordered polystyrene trays of nasi goreng, and then half-heartedly drag the anything-but-budget duty free trolley up and down to see if anyone fancies going home smelling of Kylie. And who wouldn't after that video with the gold hot-pants?

Stanstead to Kuala Lumpur was my first long-haul budget airline flight. Not sure I'd do it again, up to 4 or 5 hours is ok, but half a day...? Though I suppose we'd better see how the finances stretch out before wholly committing to that statement. But the flight was mostly empty, so the lack of legroom wasn't a problem as everyone had 3 seats each in the end, it took off and landed on time, most of our luggage made it to Langkawi (all bar the end of my rod-tube and the landing net I'd stuffed in it), and anyway, "Budget Airline": the clue's in the name. So, on balance, all things considered, we had a result. After all, we could have done a whole lot worse - like Ryanair or something.

Arriving in a wet and windy late-night Langkawi, I filled in a lost luggage report about the bits of AWOL rod tube at the Air Asia customer service desk (suspecting I might as well have been talking to a coconut) then we got a cab into Pantai Cenang, the 'main drag' of the island, as it 


Still pushing the standards of independent budget travel ever lower of course.

were, ate some fried rice in the pouring rain, checked into the almost salubrious surroundings of the Malibest Resort, and then blacked out for 9 hours. Job done.

Before embarking on 'travel-proper', we'd decided to start the journey in Langkawi for two reasons: first and foremost, our ex-pat buddies, the legendary Rucks of Kuala Lumpur, were moving onto pastures new in China and having their leaving party weekend there, so we made our dates coincide nicely. Secondly, we needed a holiday after all the mentalism that ensues when you decide to work your job up, flog your house, sell most of your worldly goods on eBay and make plans to desert the not so very merry


                                                                                    A Langkawi Beach sunset and some light bulbs.

shores of Blighty on a long term jaunt.

So it made sense to kill these two particular birds with one stone: have a Ruckus with the Rucks, then work through the inevitable hangover at our own pace on the powder-white sandy beach, before heading off on a bus for fishing and a load more of SE Asia. And that, amigos, is the kind of military style precision planning that built an empire and once made Britain truly Great.

We spent a few days doing the "English loose on their holidays" thing - eating, drinking and partying,


during which I discovered that my bouncebackability just ain't quite what it used to be. Our Lynneth hung on in there through gritted teeth, Iain demonstrated a stylish new dance routine he'd been working on called the "Spack-off", which entertained everyone equally, both locals and tourists alike ("would the gentleman on the dance floor please put his shirt back on!"), and Lou spent most of her time either dancing on tables or falling off 'em. Great moments in life, and all part of growing up. And one day I just might.

The beach was nice and white enough - a few bottles, bits of plastic and jet skis aside - so we spent a few days lounging about recharging the batteries, while trying not to get an eyeful of the meandering Speedo Triads - holidaying Singaporeans in wrap round shades and barely wrapped round spandex. Hmmm, it's a look. Not a good one, but a look nonetheless. As the lovely Lynne tanned herself sensibly under a film of factor 20, yours truly wound back a creaking body clockspring and then  completed the Full English effect by roasting both feet into one of Heston's signature dishes, Confit de Blowtorched Crabstick. So a nice time was had by all.

In the name of seeing some more of the island, and interacting with some of the remote indigenous cultures of Langkawi(!) we rented an incredibly small and cheap car; a navy blue Proton Kancil with almost 600cc of raw power growling under the bonnet. 

"Spack Off!!!"

The Legendary Rucks of Kuala Lumpur, since moved on and giving the Chinese Government a full set of furrowed brows: "Oi! Mao! Get a dog up ya!" indeed.


A nice place to sit and enjoy a tropical sunset, if it wasn't for all the jet skis and parascending malarkey going on. Yeah, I know: Bah humbug...

Nice, once I'd Photoshopped out half a dozen jet skis and a couple of Coke tins.

Tick. View from the top of the Langkawi cable car.

There were so many dents and bits hanging off it I didn't know where to start when we filled out the forms - you know, the bit where you have to mark all the damage on a drawing of the vehicle:
"Shall I just ring the whole car?" I asked the nice lady, pointing at the drawing with my biro.
"Oh no worry about that, we know about all this car problem" she replied. So we zipped off into the sunshine, about as fast as a hairdryer taped to a roller skate could carry us, safe in the knowledge that we could ram the 

"Erm... bins?"

thing straight through the railings out front of the hotel (if it didn't just bounce off) and we'd be immune from any kind of prosecution. To my mind, anyway.

Once I'd come to terms with the fact that she was never going to go above 70ks, it was nice to have a set of wheels to investigate one or two of the quieter back roads and beaches about the place. And I even managed to join the couple of thousand other tourists up the top of the Langkawi cable car without being grumpy. But after a few days the need to go and see stuff and do stuff and...well... just stuff ... was creeping up on us. I could feel the rods start a bit of twitching in their tube: time to head over to the mainland for a revisit to the huge Tasik Temenggor and go try and tamper with it's stocks of toman.

Once we set off for the mainland, the journey was pretty easy to negotiate, give or take the odd spot of cultural and religious confusion. Like, well, our Lynne is undoubtedly the brains of our particular outfit, but then she still manages the odd little moment. Thousands of hotel rooms in this neck of the woods have a green 'kiblat' arrow on the ceiling, giving a nod towards Mecca, thereby indicating the right way to go orientate your prayer mat,

OFF. That works then.

Banding Lakeside Inn - brand spanking new flagship of the White Elephant Resorts Group.

should one be that way inclined. 

As the ferry splashed it's way across the waves, a little flash of consternation crinkled her face as she focused on the green arrow, the one right above the emergency exit just in front of us:  
"Erm... That kiblat arrow, right? Well how's that work... surely it depends which way the boat's going doesn't it?"
I considered sticking another spanner in her works by telling her that's why they stuck another one by the exit over on the other side of the boat, so one's right on the way out and the other's right on the way in. But in the end it seemed easiest to leave it at that. Bless her.

Determined not to be left out, mind, I had a dumbbell moment of my own later that day, trying to find out where the bloke from the tiket kaunter (ticket counter, for those not fluent in Bahasa) had gone running off to at Alor Setar Bus Station. I asked a few people, but nobody seemed to know. Finally, one bloke smiled, "Ah...", he said, nodding his head enthusiastically, "he... he..." and started flapping both hands about above his head like he was warming up for a Rory Delap long throw in.
"Eh? Football? Yeah?  Erm... Throw on?" I nodded back. He shook his head:
"No. He mosque. Pray. Back soon". Yup; knob.  

Tasik Temenggor at last, and supercool Amri slips into his shades and right into gear. Smoooooth...

Anyway, we'd alighted the boat at Kuah Jeti (jetty) and got a teksi (taxi) to the aforementioned Alor Setar, contemplated where the little Chinese fella in front of us had managed to get hold of his Russell Watson World Tour 2009 T-shirt, then got a connecting bus to a town called Baling. 

In the absence of any buses going from Baling and stopping at Banding Island over at Temengorr, it was necessary to get a taxi across country to the lake. Lynne nipped off to the ladies, while I went to the taxi rank. I'd like to say I negotiated the price down to a realistic level with great tact and diplomacy, but I'd be lying. 

Instead, as I explained where we wanted to go to the members of Baling Taxi Driver's Union (read "cartel") they all just stretched out even further on their plastic deck chairs, drew even deeper on their minging Garam clove flavoured fags, shook their heads, pointed to the board on the wall behind them and muttered "fiks prise, fiks prise...". 120 Ringnuts seemed like a lot of money to me, and I kept looking over my shoulder, feeling sure someone was back there pulling my pants down. But when it became clear that only one junior member of the cartel was even willing to do the run, I surrendered to defeat and grudgingly accepted "fiks prise" or bust. Taxi drivers the world over: I still swear there's a dicky gene, and every one of em seems to have it.

Overnight the jungle began reclaiming the hotel. This thing was outside the door making noises like a Black & Decker jig saw. Thank heavens for brush strip I reckon.

Below: Dragging another explosion of plastic across the planet. And for what? To confirm yet again that in tests, 9 out of 10 fish still prefer meat.


Our taxi man was called Nahim, and he's worth a mention - mainly because he was mental. After Lynne had come back from the ladies, he brought his motor round to where our stuff was piled up. It was painted in the standard yellow and red livery, but that's about where any similarity to "normal" taxis ended.

The stainless 4 inch exhaust of his Proton Wira 1.5SE gurgled ominously as it idled on the spot. We opened the trunk to load up, only to find a huge, 4ft wide 200 watt mega bass woofer system sat there.
"Jesus. What the foggin' hell is that?" 
"Liking music yeah? You lah?" he giggled. We just about squeezed Lynne's pack in with the sounds, but the rest of the gear and my rod tube was wedged between the seats and crammed into the interior. Lynne folded herself up neatly in the ashtray and we tanked off - at great velocity. Well, as great as a Wira 1.5SE can tank, anyway.

A few minutes in, I managed to get my nails out of the plastic door panel long enough to reach for the seatbelt. Nahim saw me fiddling with it:
"No need my friend! Malaysia different England. Seatbelt no need!" he laughed. If I ever ended up with his services again, this is a point I'd dispute with him long and hard. I glanced in the back see to see Lynne stuck between the bags looking like she was sizing up the jump out the back door.

Right: Kev the toman makes a schoolboy error and we're on the scoreboard.

Below: Amri grapples another up for a snapshot.



Above: A fry ball forming.

Left: A fry ball swimming under the boat.

Below: Casting into a fry b... Oh. Not quite the hook-up I was looking for.

Nahim decided to settle our nerves with some soothing music. His stereo system consisted of a 7 inch touchscreen interface in his 'cockpit', and he proudly scrolled down his extensive and eclectic bootleg MP3 collection, explaining it was "very well cool", cos he could also watch DVDs and music videos while he drove. 

As you'd have guessed, he drove everywhere properly flat out. At one point he was tailgating a Toyota, at 120km/h plus, in a 70km/h zone, ciggy stuck in his gob, steering with his knee, texting his mate with one hand and scrolling down his touchscreen with the other, all at the same time. I shit you not. He explained to us how dangerous the roads were in this area and that you needed to be a good driver to stay safe - and then did a kind of extreme overtaking demo on some double centre line hairpin bends. A soundtrack of random tunes as diverse as Indo/Malay power ballads (and these boys love a power ballad and a spiky über-mullet), some weird gothic racket, a bit of Phantom of the Opera and a splash of Lady Ga Ga blasted in from the boot to counter the row vibrating through the chassis from his fat-boy exhaust.







"You explain me what Bad Romance is?" he shouted, but I hadn't a clue where to start.

As we screeched and thudded our way toward Banding Island, a polis (police) car homed into view ahead of one of the extra-acute hairpin bends, and this was the only time he eased his foot off the gas in the whole journey. 

It seemed there had been a bit of a snarl up between two pick-up trucks, as one was upside down in the nearside verge, and the other was crumpled head first in the other. Obviously neither wanted to back down. An ambulance, polis and tow trucks were in attendance. Now, in that film Men in Black, there's a bit where Tommy Lee Jones is driving his car and says to Will Smith "whatever you do, don't touch the red button" (not that I'm an aficionado, I just saw it on the telly a week or two later, and it reminded me of this particular episode...). Nahim had a red button too, but his was on his steering wheel, and had been installed special, just for these such occasions. 

As he rubber-necked the incident, he giggled again. "Oooh, dangerous this road. Like I tell you!", then just burst out laughing, which was weird enough in itself. But when he got level with the last cop car, he hit his red button, which made his motor backfire like a gunshot... The cops spun round like someone had just set up a drive-by, while Nahim floored the gas and shot us off at full speed, Banding bound again, giving his red button another couple of smacks for good measure. Bloody mental.

When we finally screeched to a halt at the Banding Jetty to ask directions to the Banding Lakeside Inn, the car had had enough and staged some kind of personal protest  by


Three days restrained within a darkened vault, secreted deep within the air conditioned bowels of the hotel; surrounded merely by tubes of Pringles; occupied only by autobiographical literature concerned of the self-obsessed twitterings from gobshite recovering smackheads, it was time for Lynne to brave the light, walk towards it, and thereby experience... "The Outside".



          Snakehead with Knobhead: A Study.

packing in and refusing to start again - the temperature gauge stuck well into the red. Luckily I had a number for the hotel, and someone promised to come and pick us up. We paid Nahim his fee, and I hope he spent it on a few sessions laid on a couch talking to a stranger about his childhood. He tried the sympathy vote to wring a few more Ringnuts out of us, whining "awww but car is break", but we bailed out at the jetty, and left him scratching his bewildered head with a face that looked not too unlike a catfish swallowing a bin lid. 

On a previous jaunt, I'd stayed at the Banding Island Hotel, but this had closed down, replaced by the 5 star Royal Belum Lodge and priced right out of the scabby backpacker league. Thanks to the kindness of Wai Loong, a fishing nut, friend and contact in KL I had the number of a fishing houseboat at the lake, and though we couldn't afford to use the houseboat itself (shame), the nice lady I spoke to there, Noraini, had managed to set aside a guide and boat for a few days Toman fishing. She also advised that the Banding Lakeside Inn was a more economic boarding option, at half the price of the Belum.

Actually... it's only fair to point out here that the Banding Lakeside Inn was a brand new place, barely opened at the time of our visit, so any observations expressed hereafter were noted before we knew what the heck was going on there! Anyway...


We checked in to find out that we were the only people occupying any of the hotel's sparkly new air conditioned rooms. The room was nice enough - proper flash-packing to be honest - but the hotel itself seemed to be the biggest Elephant in the Royal Belum Reserve (albeit a white one), with 116 rooms that no one seemed to have a clue how to fill, and food verging on the inedible. Not good. The dining room staff shuffled round our table watching hawk-like as we poked around a couple of plates of rice, one of which they'd covered with a sprinkling of the ubiquitous tiny dried fish. They're dead popular out here, for some reason I can't fathom, as the whole effect is like a fishmonger's garnished your grub with his toenail clippings. But there we go, different strokes and all that.

I awoke before dawn the next morning, itching to get fishing on the lake. They say the jungle always reclaims things, and the hotel wasn't exempt. The corridors were open to the outside world at the ends, and someone had left the lights on overnight, so they'd acted like a giant light trap and the multi-hinged and winged had invaded. The floors, walls, doors and ceilings were covered in beetles, praying mantis, ants, flies, roaches and moths the size of sparrows. Looking at one set of spikes and antennae laid on the floor buzzing like a Black and Decker, I could see where the makers of the Alien movies got the idea - and silently thanked the builders for not scrimping on the brush-strip round the doors. 

One of the blokes working down at the hotel had kindly offered to give me a lift the couple of kilometres round to the jetty on the other side of the island where Noraini had told me to meet my boat. He dropped me off and told me to ring reception when I was done and he'd come and fetch me, so I tipped him a few Ringnuts to make sure he didn't forget. After the usual confusion and a couple of phone calls, eventually a boat edged round the corner, driven by my guide for the visit, a young lad named Amri.

He slipped on his Ray Bans, wobbled his head and we departed north of the bridge. He didn't say much of anything, let alone in English, so I guessed there wasn't going to be a lot of banter flying about. But I figured if he knew his way round the pond and put me on a few fish, then I'd be ok making my own entertainment.

Nature in the raw: daddy centipede 
getting his legs over.

Above: Amri gets himself inaugurated onto the Gullible's Travels "It's a Dirty Job" Wall of Fame.


Seems there's no such thing as 
friendly fire when the toman 
are on the chew.

At last at last at last. On the water at last. The jungle was as lovely as I remembered it, with the canopy steaming and obscured by wisps of white cloud on the tips of the higher hills, the omnipresent buzz and whistle of the insects, birds screeching deep in the foliage and monkey and gibbon whoops echoing through the tree tops, sounding like someone had kidnapped a bus load of Clangers. It gave me goose bumps just being there again.

It was about half eight by the time we got in the first spot and started fishing. I'd asked for a few keli catfish for bait to be brought along, but they were lost somewhere out there in  the world of translation. But I'd got a heap of lures with me - spinnerbaits, surface pencils, frog imitations, X-raps, Saltigas, jerkbaits, Halco RMG Scorpions and Yo Zuri minnows amongst others, so I was sure that with a bit of effort I'd be able to charm something out of the stumps. I selected a lure from the heap and began chucking it round the submerged forest.

I'd rigged up with what I thought would be a pretty balanced outfit, and one that'd be able to deal with whatever a big toman could chuck at me: an 8ft Shimano Speedmaster 25-125gm SW spinning rod, Stradic 4000 reel loaded with 30lb Power-Pro braid, 5 or 6 feet of 50lb fluorocarbon tied to the end with a mid-knot, and a 70lb roller bearing swivel and snap fixed on the end of that with the simple but stout Palomar knot. All hooks on my toman lures were changed for 3 and 4X strength Owners, and I'd tied a few 50lb titanium wire leaders for use with the keli livebaits, if they ever turned up. Aside from this, I'd also rigged up a lighter outfit of a Technium medium/light spinning rod, Shimano Seido 4000 loaded with 15lb Power-Pro and a mid-knotted leader of 30lb fluorocarbon, just in case the opportunity arose to throw some smaller lures around in search of the sebarau. Anyway, blah de blah. Enough of that.

Initially, the lures raised nothing by way of action. I had a couple of throws at rising toman, neither of which saw fit to eat the plastic, and we spent some time sneaking round the myriad of steep sided arms of the lake, throwing surface lures in among the sticks breaking the oily calm surface. Again, nada. But we did get some action when, on three separate occasions, we managed to locate bristling fry-balls of baby toman. Throwing a Yo Zuri surface lure into the first one, it was immediately smashed into by the hyper-protective parent Snakehead, a fish of about 4 kilos which hit the lure so hard its follow through flung it airborne. It didn't stay on long though, as the lure pinged free as soon as it re-entered the water.

When the second ball loomed into view, I had a Halco RMG on the end. This too was nobbled straight away by an angry mummy toman... and was also ejected in double quick time as I tried to hold her hard and out of the sub-surface jungle. Bugger.

"My life is shit". I may have mentioned it before.

The butterfly salt-lick. They seem to like-a-ma sweaty rod handle you know.

I finally managed a hook-up on the third ball of fun. Unfortunately it was one of the babies who got it - foul hooked through the back of the neck. Hmmm. I apologised to him as I slipped him back in the lake, hoping he'd be alright.

So, by lunchtime, it was about 95 degrees, 95% humidity and I was sweat-soaked and fishless. It was hard to tell where your skin stopped and the atmosphere started as Amri edged the boat into the shade of one of the over-grown tendrils of the reservoir for his afternoon siesta. He tied up to a trunk, smoked a couple of fags, pulled his cap over his head and set about some serious snoring.

As he snored, just like the hotel, as soon as we were stationary the jungle began reclaiming the boat. The butterflies gathered on my sweaty rod handle, taking advantage of a kind of improvised salt lick, a couple of massive centipedes got their legs over on the trunk over my head and the flies swarmed round me like a cloud, driving me nuts. After a bee got it's barb into me and stung my hand, I ended up windmilling on the duckboards every time I heard another one buzzing round looking for a spot to land. Amri just slept right through it all, untroubled other than the odd casual swat of a fly from round his cap. Finally he woke up, yawned, crammed down a couple more fags and then nodded that we should head back out onto the main body of the lake. By now it was 2pm, and it was absolutely roasting out on the lake. The only noise from the jungle was the rubbing of cicada wing casings, and the there was no sign of life on the water. Not another fish showed before Amri pulled the starter rope at 4pm. Clearly a re-evaluation of approach was required.

Amri was a man of few words, probably because he didn't know many, so it all took a bit of getting over. Eventually, by drawing a picture of a keli with a hook in it on his boat seat, and giving him 10 Ringnuts for 10 baits, the message went home. And then by pointing alternately at my watch and the jetty I think 

Back of the net. Amri gives a 5.8kg Toman (that's 12
3/4lbs in real money) a cuddle before sending her back to look after the kids...

I somehow managed to arrange to start fishing at 7am instead of 8, then pack in at 11 and go back to the jetty, and then start fishing again at 3pm until 7 (basically on darkness) in the evening - thereby avoiding all the crappest times of day. Amri nodded: "bagus (good)" he confirmed. So despite the slow start, I felt mildly enthused about our chances the next day.

Amri turned up with a dozen keli catfish slithering about in the bottom of the boat the next morning, and we were out on the water by 7.30am. This, by normal Gullible travel-fishing standards, was a very good start. The lake was as lovely as ever, and as I checked over the baits and rigged up with a wire leader and 8/0 Owner SSW, I felt pretty confident - after all, "we have the bait, we have the technology..." and all that.

That might have been the case, but didn't account for yours truly fishing like a myopic with Tourette's. The first few chances that presented themselves were properly mucked up. The Toman would pop on the surface, then my over-excited cast (I've always been supercool when I'm fishing!) would either land

five yards wide of the target or up a tree, usually followed by a beautifully crafted string of profanities. Nil points.

I had to have a word with myself in the end, and after a few deep breaths and a smack round the back of the head I eventually started getting things right. Another toman popped his head out about 20 yards in front of the boat, just as we sneaked round the stick-strewn margins of a small island. My keli disappeared down the centre of the ripples, and an immediate and aggressive take saw me attached to a very lively little number. A few deep diving surges, a bit of squealing clutch, a bit of scraping in and out of submerged timber, and after a pretty exciting "please don't come off" type of scrap, where the fish punched far harder than it's weight, I was well chuffed to lift a snakehead of about 3 kilos into the boat. A couple of snaps for the album, and back she went, leaving behind a welcome flush of confidence that if we found some fish then I was going to catch them, and I really needed it at that point. As long as I had Keli, anyway. 

I did try a variety of lures in a variety of spots, casting to rising toman and dropping surface and weedless lures into the depths of the snags, but with the minimum of success. Well, none, actually, in comparison to the Keli, which it seemed would invariably be seized on impact, as long as it was cast into the right place. Finding the fishes was the key. But during the evening session, this proved difficult, with little or no opportunity occurring. While I'd been having fun out on the lake, Lynneth had been having a good deal less fun locked up back indoors at the hotel, waiting for another guest to turn up, eating Pringles and reading. Scratching around and desperate for a bit of entertainment, she'd taken the brave decision to paint herself with DEET, walk towards the light and venture squinting into the outdoors for an evening down on the lake. 

Due to the lack of snakehead activity, after a while Amri grunted the word "sebarau", and with that we were off to the entry point of one of the rivers into the lake. And nothing showed there either. Lynne was looking well unimpressed with the levels of angling aptitude on display, and after running through a few of the smaller lures and spoons in my bucket, she leaned across and picked one out:
"Awww. I like this pink one, it's pretty. I think you should use it instead..." she advised, waggling a little pink Mid-dive number at me. 
"If you're happy, I'm happy my dearest..." I replied as I clipped it on with roll of the eyes. Three casts later and bugger me backwards if it doesn't go and catch the only fish of the evening - ok, only a small toman, but perfectly formed nevertheless. 
"Told you", she smiled. Women and fish - I wish I could bottle it.

Another pile of precious jungle disappears forever. What a bunch of arse. Has anyone sorted out what they're gonna do when its gone, cos at current rates it won't be long...?

A few more opportunities presented themselves over the next session or two. I had fish up to 3.4 kilos, which was nice, and had some frustrations when I decided to experiment using a circle hook with the keli. For some reason they didn't seem to work - either a 6/0 wasn't big enough, or I didn't leave the takes long enough (worried that the toman would be straight back into the stumps again). In each case all I ended up with was a keli that looked like someone had been thrashing it with an afro-comb, so I soon sacked the circles off for the Owner SSWs again.

Being the only guests at the hotel had it's advantages. After 2 or 3 days the staff were almost like family - after all, there was no one else to talk to. And although the food was still so bad we'd taken to using the kettle in the room to make Pot Noodles for tea each night, and though nobody seemed to have anything to do, or even if they did they never seemed quite sure exactly what it was they were supposed to be doing, at the end of the day they were all really pleasant, helpful people.

In fact, the blokes took it in turns to give me a run to and from the jetty each morning and evening. It was on one of these runs that one of them told me he'd been fishing on his day off with a couple of mates the day previous.
"Yesserday, Misser Andy, me three friend try all day - many toman - boof - boof - boof - all over. But no biting no catch", he said, waggling his hand in the air as he drove. "Sungai Gadong is many toman. You try should later - maybe catching". I lodged this bit of info in my head, as it seemed to good too miss. In fact, it felt like a proper "something always turns up..." moment, as I had a notion that if I could get a bucket of keli into an area with that many fish about, then resistance, my friends, would be futile.

I checked my Temenggor map back at the room, found the tendril of lake where Sungai Gadong entered it a couple of kilometres north of the bridge, and realised it'd be no problem to visit on either an evening or morning session. Good times.

Meeting up with Amri back at dockside later on, he turned the boat south initially, but when I stopped him, pointed north, and nodded: 
"You know Sungai Gadong?"

      Laters, ya mofo.



He wobbled his head and spun the boat round sharply 180 degrees and headed north instead.

That evening I got soundly shot right up the arse. We must have seen at least a dozen toman pop on the surface - maybe more. I'd hit the mark (or what I thought was the mark...) on at least half of those, yet not one of them had snatched the Keli. Why, I have no idea. Amri sat smoking himself to death and clicking and wobbling his head, then adding a little  incredulous squeaky addendum of "Nnnoooo????" as each one steadfastly refused to do the tomanly thing and chew the catfish. I finished the evening without a take, which under the circumstances seemed unbelievable. As we crept back though the semi-darkness into the dock, my confidence had been dented a bit. Maybe the Keli-Flip wasn't foolproof. Arse. And the Gadong had looked so good.

The grub reached a new level of shockingness that evening, so once we'd pushed the fishy-rice round the plate a couple of times, and watched the Praying Mantis scale the wall in front of us, we retired to the sanctity of the room for Pot Noodles and Travel Scrabble. Just imagine the state of the Nasi Goreng when a Pot Noodle is a drastic improvement?

Final day and an early kick off again. Amri turned up and as we pushed off asked "Sungai Gadong?" 
"You know the rules, baby", I smiled and we were off. Strangely, the very area where we'd seen so many fish the previous evening was dead as a Dodo. For half an hour or so we patiently poled around waiting for something to give the game away - but for nada. However, once we paddled out across the main "arm" to the other side, it pretty soon turned into Toman Central.


Toman: they're dead aggressive, look great, give great photo, are hard as nails and pull like stink. Apart from world domination and a whole lotta money to spend*, what more could a bloke possibly want? I like them a lot.
Words courtesy Justin Sullivan.



Straight away, a couple of them showed just out of casting range, which was a bit cheeky. Then one stuck it's head out about 20 yards straight in front. A keli went down the hole, and in seconds the rod pulled round and I found myself doing battle with another nice fish of over 3 kilos. As the fish tried again and again to make a death-dive into the sunken branches, I saw another two toman burp on the surface within a 30 yard radius of the boat.
"Kinell! There's loads of em!" I thought - being ever observant.

I eventually managed to bully the fish to the boat, where Amri swatted it up in his tiny (and jammed) collapsible trout net at the third attempt. A quick snap, and back she went in about 20 seconds flat, anxious to get on and find the next one - hopefully the personal best 6 kilo plus fish I'd hoped to find on my line. We paddled on a short distance further, primed for the Keli-Flip at a second's notice. It took a few minutes, but while I was scanning front, left and right, I heard Amri do a little grunt behind me. I'd began to recognise this sound as "Sir, please look, because a fish has just risen over here", and spun round sharpish to see a very large toman sliding from the surface in a trail of bubbles about 15 yards back of the boat. My heart leapt, cos this was the kiddie - and no mistake - at least metre long and in a different class to anything else I'd encountered so far.

By this stage I'd got a grip and my casting was going pretty smoothly - not that this was a long chuck or anything - and the Keli-Flipped right down the hole. And this really was a different animal. This fish took me all over the shop: though the clutch was tight as a gnat's chuffer, it managed to rip yards of the line from the reel on several occasions. It had me under the bows, round the bows, dipping the rod - all sorts.
"Biiiiig fish", said Amri.
"No shit" I replied.

During the fight we'd drifted away from the stick-thick margins and out into the middle of the arm of the lake. And there I made the fatal schoolboy error of thinking we were in the all-clear and eased off, just for a second. Ted the Tomanator had other ideas and on piled into an extra-determined nosedive. It really was pretty spectacular; in fact, I was really, really enjoying the scrap. And then the thing buried itself in an underwater tree. And there it stayed. I tried coaxing it out with a slack line, pulling it out head first from a variety of angles (which probably just created an even bigger knot in the branches), and in the end the braid just gave way. 
"Fish no there?!" asked Amri and I sunk back onto the planks.
"F**k a large horse".
"No no no. Is big fish - minimum 6 kay gee!" he wailed.
I just sat there, gutted again, and with that horrible feeling in my stomach - the one where you wonder if you're ever gonna get a chance like that again. 

I managed to pick myself up from this, looked around, and decided to blame my gear. Off came the Stradic and 30lb braid, and on went my Saragosa 8000 and the 40lb Power-Pro, drag done up tight as I dare. New leader, wire and dirty great hook on, and we went on the look about again. It wasn't going to happen again - if I could help it anyway. If only I could get another chance.

We rounded a corner, and as luck would have it, before the hole in the pit of my stomach had filled up, I noticed a dark shadow forming close to the bank. I stood on a seat to get a better view. It definitely seemed to be moving...
"Amri - that small toman ball?" I asked, dumb pidgin style.
He squinted, then stood on his seat. He nodded with a little grunt:
"Toman small. Waiting." He began to paddle up a little closer. As we arrived within about 15 yards of the shadow, suddenly it swelled, throbbed, retracted and swelled again, and then finally spluttered on the surface as hundreds of tiny tomans writhed in the film.
Amri nodded "Ok".

I flipped the keli and it landed right in the morass. The babies scattered on impact, and then scattered even further as mummy launched herself head-long at the bait. Within a second I was on my knees on the duck-boards and hanging on for dear life. The fish went nuts, the tight clutch grudgingly gave a metre or two of line, but no more. I was putting that much pressure on that the boat started moving towards the fish, which was now going mental in a small semi-submerged bush. Finally it came free, and we ended up right above it, and as I looked down, I saw another big toman, at once blue, green, brown, black, white, iridescent, it's gills flared, rolling, shaking it's head and trying over and over to get a head of steam up that'd get it stuck back in the bush.

I just shat my pants, as I really didn't want to lose this one as well. Luckily, the souped-up tackle held firm (good move, changing that), and after a few more tense moments of attrition the fish rolled over at boatside. Amri grabbed the tiny trout net, and flapped about a couple of times before the Toman just gave up and threw itself in head first - a good job, cos the head was the only part that fitted in it anyway - and then hoisted it aboard with three quarters of a snakehead writhing around in mid-air.

Once the thing hit the decks, much celebration ensued. Even Amri was smiling and shaking my hand. I pulled out the hook with my pliers and looked at the prize - a truly beautiful black, white and bronze fish that (well, almost) made up for the monster I'd lost not half an hour before. She weighed 5.8 kilos on the scales, and after half a dozen snaps we slipped her back to rejoin her juniors which were still bristling up against the bank on the other side of the small bay.

We set off back to base right away, Amri grinning as he chuffed on another ultra-strength cigarette, me slapping my knees like a knobber, going "5.8 kilos... 5.8 kilos...!" Ok, not the 6kg I'd dreamed of, or the monster, but more than enough to make the trip a success. The Great White Hunter arrived back at The Great White Elephant feeling fairly well chuffed that morning: "Any good?" asked Our Lynne.
I smiled from lug to lug: "Honey, we have toman...."

Footnote: I'd like to thank the aforementioned KL fishing Blogger Wai Loong for his help with a couple of phone numbers in this neck of the woods - without a bit of contact info, I think it's fair to say we'd have been scratching about up the creek without a boat, and, as a knock on, struggling for any kind of accommodation up there at Banding Island. The options are limited! So cheers Wai. He has a blog here: Angling World with some interesting pictures of some interesting species from all around the world, so it's well worth a look of you're into fish and stuff. And why would you have bothered reading this far down if you weren't?

Finally, the Banding Lakeside Inn. On the final morning before departure, we went downstairs to find the upper echelons of management had descended. Breakfast then consisted of a massive buffet spread of fresh cooked omelettes, beans, tomatoes, toast, fruit, fresh coffee... the full works, and it was great. It turns out the place wasn't even fully open, the staff were all in training, and the chef had done a bunk a few days before, leaving the bottle-washers in charge of the burners. The new chef arrived the night before our departure - hence the great breakfast just before we left. Talking to the management, it seems they have some big plans for the place, so I'm sure they'll get it right in the end. Here's hoping the new chef hangs around a bit longer.

Onto Malaysia Taman Negara

Onto a Borneo Disaster



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