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Back To Malaysia Part 3 Onto Australia Return To Home

The Fun-bus rattles it's way down the east coast, taking in a spot of Sailfishing and a spot of bewilderment up a jungle river- thankfully taken under the wing of some of the kindest people I've ever met. But only because I don't think they classified me as either "wildlife" or "edible"...

Alighting the bus at Kuala Rompin bus park after another seven hour excursion down the coast, I was left standing with my embarrassing heap of luggage as usual, looking round in each direction wondering where I should go to try and find a room. I saddled everything up and walked gingerly towards a Durian vendor who was set up on the concrete of the bus park, awaiting the moment when the stench-field would hit me. 
"Hotel here?" I asked. 
The vendor pointed back over his shoulder without even appearing to register my presence. 

And so I crossed the road behind him, scanning the street for a hotel- and sure enough, just 200 metres away was the Hotel Sri Rompin. I wobbled into the reception area, and met the Chinese owner sat behind his desk, scanned the inexpensive tariff, and asked for a "room cheap cheap". He nodded and took me upstairs and showed me into what was actually a very nice, clean room with two beds, a shower and an air con unit. "This'll do very nicely" I remember thinking to myself, and with a huge sigh of relief dropped my bags onto one of the beds.

"Study of random melon placement".

Kuala Rompin turned out to be quite a relief in many ways. Not only did I now have a bed with a mattress on it, but also, having a high population of Chinese, this meant it had several Chinese restaurants. This in turn meant that aside from there being a lot of very apprehensive local wildlife, a nice cold beer would be available. 
This was something which I hadn't seen since leaving the Perhentian Islands, with the vast majority of northern and eastern Malaysia being mostly Islamic and therefore very 'dry'. 

I had a lovely meal that evening and a few ice cold lagers, while all around me Chinese families wolfed down big bowls full of miscellaneous animal parts with noodles and rice, and Everton versus Man City in some Asian pre-season tournament played on the TV in the corner, dubbed over with Chinese commentary of course. 

This was also the first football (I use the term loosely...) I'd seen in absolutely ages and it was later to give way to some bizarre programme which I had no chance of deciphering, where there were these blokes, right, some with the ears of an elf and a nose like a pig, who could float in mid-air for 30 seconds while carrying out an surreal array of martial arts moves and sending lightning flashes and explosions back down to earth. I briefly wondered what the hell they'd put in my sweet and sour. However, what was more bizarre to me, was watching all the people's faces in the restaurant, as they sat, every one of them glued to the screen, mouths slowly and absent-mindedly chewing their food, as for some reason they became deeper and deeper engrossed in the insanity occurring on the screen.

Very, very strange. Leaving the restaurant, I had a wander around the dark streets of the town, which, apart from the few restaurants dotted about, were pretty much deserted. However, I did notice there was a fishing tackle shop there, and I made a note that this would be my first port of call in the morning.

The weather closed in as it came
over a bit Kuala Thumpin'.

And so it was that after a coffee and roti, I dropped into the shop. I was immediately surprised at the amount and quality of the stock there... and the prices! 

I was soon stocking up on some cheap wire, leader line, lures and Gamakatsu and Owner hooks. In fact I ended up with quite a pile on the counter - so much so that the nice lady running the place gave me a discount. 

I asked if there were any boats in the area which would take me out fishing on the ocean. She nodded, and immediately got onto her phone. 

After a short conversation, I was asked if I could come back to the shop to meet 'the man' later on. I nodded back myself, and she rattled off a few more words and clicked the phone off. 

"12 o'clock ok?". And of course it was, after all, I had absolutely nothing else to do that day. Returning later to meet Steven-Paul (I guess that wasn't his real name...) and using the same bartering technique I've mentioned before, I managed to get two days on the deep blue ocean for the price of, well, as it turned out, one and a quarter. 


Ballooning for Sailfish.

I was well pleased with that, since the first price seemed to be only a bit more than what I expected and I thought I'd try my luck. I also made sure I mentioned 'bluewater', 'ocean', 'Sailfish', 'Mackerel' and, laughingly, 'no messing about' during the negotiation process. I was ensured that there would be 'no messing about', there was a friendly shake of hands, and off he went on his moped, disappearing in a smoke screen of yellow dust. 

Next morning I was up and about early, and thanks to a local bloke who saw me walking in the direction of the jetty and pulled over to give me a lift, I was only five minutes late. Steven-Paul was already on the boat and I was impressed to see a clean, fairly modern, white fibreglass boat of about 25 feet in length, complete with what seemed to be an almost new 130HP Johnson outboard on the back. However, this didn't mean that we could get out to the fishing spot without stopping half-way out to mess about with the fuel line- after all, there had to be something - if only to uphold protocol! 

And this week's entry for the "F***ed Outboards Of Asia Gallery" comes from the South China Sea...

Once we got out onto the ocean, we spent half an hour collecting some scad and slimy mackerel for bait, and then finally we sped off southwards in the direction of the Sailfish zone.

Two rods were rigged up ready to go, with a TLD and 55kg braid on a 20/30 class outfit for one, and a very brave set up of a heavy spinning rod, Calcutta 700 and 50lb braid on the other- in the name of getting a bit of a fight out of it(!). The end rig was the same for both, with a couple of metres of 80lb mono tipped with a size 6/0 Owner circle hook, which was baited with a nose-hooked livebait and suspended beneath a balloon tied on some 4 metres up the line. I dropped out the first bait, and began feeding out line with the tide as we drifted on the deep blue sea. 

The balloon zig-zagged from left to right slightly, but eventually reached a position some 30 metres down from the boat.
"Is this far enough?" I asked.
"Yes, that's good".
And with that I briefly felt the trembling of a panicking bait before the braid was savagely pulled from between my fingers.
"Strike!!!" shouted Steven-Paul.

The sun is shining, I'm sweating my little hairy clems off, and there's a mental fish on the line... Living my dream. Corny eh?

But before I could even engage the reel's lever drag, I looked up to sea a large Sailfish in mid-air, shimmering and luminescent in the morning sunshine. The image hung, seemingly suspended in time in my mind's eye for a brief second before crashing back into the waves. I wound down furiously to set the hook, but found that the bait was gone, and with it the chance of the first fish of the day.
"No problem" said Steven-Paul, "Many more here. Many more chance".

And so another balloon was readied and another Scad sent out to play with the Sailfish.
"My record 28 Sailfish one day. We send out bait, then we play fish. Some day like that", assured SP.

Five hours later we were sat there bobbing about on the swell of the South China Sea waiting for the next one, despite numerous prayers to the Chilliwack Fish Gods.

Just when I was thinking that it was going to be (another) of those days, I looked round to see the balloon on my lighter rod sliding from right to left at an un-natural rate of knots. As it drew my attention, I was suddenly aware of a large bill slicing through the surface not so very far behind it!

"Look out!" And I quickly pulled the rod from the holder just as the ratchet began to hum it's tune. I clicked into gear and wound furiously, and thanks to the no-stretch braid, within a matter of milliseconds the whole set-up locked up solid, the rod folded over to the corks, and the line started to empty from the 

reel at an alarming rate of knots, the irate Sail 
bursting from the surface three or four times on 
the bounce some 60 or 70 metres back from the boat. The fish did little else to begin with, and even swam 
back towards us, allowing almost all the line to be wound back onto the spool. 
"He friendly fish this one", observed Steven-Paul.
Then it woke up. A hundred metres, then a hundred and fifty metres of braid melted in no time at all:
"Hey! Come back Mr Sailfish! We only want to say hello!!!" laughed the now-happy skipper.
"Ha bloody ha... I've got to wind that bastard back...!"


Above: Would that be a Sailfish then...?

Below: Sure is. Note snapped rod at the side. The third time it has snapped on me with this rod- at various points, and this time finally with a fish on the end, which is at least an improvement. It's now in the skip for good. "Blood, Sweat & Tears" was the logo written near the handle. No kidding.



'Kinell! Time to go home. And boatman, please, whip those snails.

And that's how it went for the next 20 minutes, great fun on the light tackle, and in due course there was a beautifully lit-up fish circling the boat, almost in reach of the leader. It made one final dive, and I thumbed the spool gently to hold it in place... then with a loud pistol crack the rod split clean in two. Great. A brief panic, since initially I thought it was the line that had given way, but luckily the leader was taken, the Sail brought aside, and then held by the bill in the water while I got the camera ready. She was hauled aboard for half a dozen quick snaps, then swiftly dropped back over and held in the tidal flow until, with a pulse of the tail, it ploughed back deep into the blue, leaving a happy angler back on deck. The crap travel rod had been given a decent burial.

The bait on the surviving rod was fed out again. We were now in the zone, and in minutes another Sailfish made a launch for it.

"Mister you wan umbrella?!" Cheeky kids shelter from the storm back at the harbour.

 As I set the hook, we were treated to the spectacular sight of another four or five Sails bursting from the surface in all directions, we even saw one rocket past the boat right under the rod tip. In fact I wasn't even sure which one I was connected to for a while, but whichever it was, it was certainly a maniac, as it stripped metre after metre after metre of the heavy braid from the spool at a quite alarming rate. After several leaps, another couple of awe inspiring runs and a lot of sweating by yours truly, suddenly everything went slack, and looking at the frayed braid it was easy to tell that somehow it had become damaged and worn through on something- possibly the Sailfish's rough bill as it leapt and twisted. Never mind eh?

After this, I told the skipper that I wanted him to get the next fish so I could get some photo's of leaping Sailfish during the fight. He looked a little surprised at this, but agreed anyway. And sure enough, the reel drag soon told us that we were in action again and Steven-Paul tightened up and leaned into the fish. It went airborne immediately, and after a few minutes, for some reason the hook came out. I looked across, shaking my head and tutting loudly; "Amateur", I smiled as the rig was checked and readied to go out again.
Again, we didn't have to wait long before we were in action again, and again the fish went absolutely crazy and eventually shook its way free- somehow.
"Have you done this before?"


Always nice to start the day off with a little bit of squid on the end first thing!
Inset: Whole live squid rigged ready to go and meet a Cobia. Or take it's stool at the Fat Chance Saloon as it turned out.

Out went another bait, and as we waited for the next action, we were suddenly aware that the sky had become ominously dark over in the direction of dry land.
"Storm come. We need go", said the skipper. But even then, as he reeled in the bait, very slowly, it was taken by yet another Sailfish... which he missed on the strike. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow: "Stick to driving the boat mate", and we both burst out laughing. 

As we cut our way through the worsening waves on the way back, we were treated to the breath-taking sight of a twister forming over the ocean, even stopping the boat briefly to take a few photos. But as the tropical rainstorm dumped its load as we hit the jetty, for once in my life I was actually pleased to have packed in fishing a bit early!

Next day I was to fish with Steven-Paul's brother, Sky, and as we spoke on the way out to sea, I asked him if we could fish for other species, having had some Sailfish action the previous day. We quickly decided to spend the early part of the day after Spanish Mackerel, and then swap to bottom fishing for large Cobia later in the tide. I was particularly interested in the Cobia, since Sky told me he had personally taken them to over 60 kilos in the area we were heading to. And that would seriously hurt. 

We did the usual bait catching routine for half an hour or so, which included jigging about some squid lures and taking three of them. These were also placed alive into the bait well ready for later use- once they had been allowed to empty their ink-sacs all over the side of the boat. My remaining rod was rigged with a wire trace an large lure ready to go, and Sky rigged his rod the same, with a pretty well

(Starter motor or something this time...)

A Malaysian Ikan Alu Alu that stayed on the hooks.


battered and rusty looking lure on the business end. And off we went through the monotonous motions of trolling. During the morning we had several hits from 'cudas, all of which dropped off, but none of which were very big. But then finally we were into a very different kind of animal. The drag on my TLD screamed at me as I tried to relinquish the grip of the rod holder, Sky gunning the boat forward briefly in a fog of spray and engine fumes to help set the hook. Once in action, the drag continued to squeal at the same rate, the spool emptying as I gazed down at it. Eventually it ground to a halt, I gained a few yards, and then off it went again, yours truly really starting to enjoy the scrap... And then the bloody thing fell off! I couldn't believe it.
"Oooh. Big Mackerel this one", noted Sky, just to make me feel even better. Cheers.

I eventually made one of the Barracuda stick on the the hooks - Sky shocking me by releasing the thing alive, and then the hooks on Sky's battered lure were straightened out by something else unseen before we decided to go and sit it out for a Cobia.

Oh yes... Spot on again.

A live squid was rigged on a long flowing trace- once we had located the necessary rocky patch on the sonar- and was then dropped down to the ocean floor and then wound up to about 2 metres from the rocks.

And there we sat for the next four hours. Nothing happened at all. Exciting eh? So we tried the last half an hour or so after Sailfish on a slow troll with a livebait out the back, and had two chances, both of which rejected the bait immediately before the hook could be set. The only thing of any interest that happened all session was when a pod of dolphins briefly accompanied us back to port at the end of the day! 

Perhaps I shouldn't have put all my eggs in the one basket by sitting it out for a big Cobia. Still, you don't know unless you try eh?

I realised that with only another four or five days left in Malaysia before my flight out (which had already been rearranged for the second time), my options now were becoming a bit limited. I had heard several times during my travels here that the Kelah (Malaysian Red Mahseer) was certainly king of fishes  for the people, and having been shown a couple of pictures, I could certainly see why. Now one of those I would dearly like to catch. After consultation with the two lads at the internet place in town, Aimeem and Maman, with my map of Malaysia laid out on the table, I decided to head off to a small (well, tiny) town called Sungai Lembing, where I could see that two jungle rivers converged. What I would find there, and whether any of it was fishable I just didn't know, but I was prepared to give it a look on the off chance that I may encounter a Kelah.

Waiting for the big pull and a Kelah at Sungai Lembing, but in reality probably more likely to get blown up or a spot of cyanide poisoning!



The journey itself was pretty unremarkable, except for meeting a mentalist westerner in the form of Adam from Sunderland - a bloke of about 60 years of age who had decided to cycle from Singapore to Delhi for some obscure reason or another, after his missus had divorced him and taken him to the cleaners. 

Unfortunately he had just made it across the border from Singapore into Southern Malaysia and fell asleep in a bus stop, and then when he woke in the morning someone had ridden off on his bike - complete with the panier bags full of his worldly possessions. Sounded to me like his ex-missus was obviously stalking him. I was just starting to feel a little sorry for him, when he mentioned living in a hippy commune in Spain a few years back. I remembered just in time: "Never trust a hippy". I did just about manage to buy him a cup of tea at Kuantan bus station though.

I negotiated a price with a taxi driver at the station- once I had ascertained that no buses ran to Sungai Lembing- and we set off on the journey into the wilderness, the driver questioning me on why the hell I wanted to go there. A couple of hours later we were idling through the dusty streets, which were lined with ramshackled wooden and corrugated iron buildings on each side of the road. Thankfully the taxi man had taken it upon himself to help me find a place to stay, stopping and asking the few pedestrians on the street, each one seemingly giving directly the opposite directions to the previous one! If it hadn't have been for him, I would certainly have been up crap-creek without a paddle. 

After much messing about, we finally pulled up in the yard of a place which was clearly the town's one and only hotel- even though it was a couple of kilometres out of the village, and again my taxi driver spoke to the Chinese bloke who was sat chain smoking under the shade of a tree. He quickly dialled and spoke into his mobile phone, and then gestured that we should sit and wait. The lady owner pulled up on her moped a few minutes later, and after some wheeling, dealing and a lot of arbitrary translation, I ended up with a room for a couple of nights. Taxi man left, handing me over his card and asking me to give him a call when I was ready to head back to civilisation - which I was sure to do because I don't think anyone else could have found me!

I watched the taxi disappear down the road, and went to sit in the shade with the Chinaman.

Palm Oil Nut used as bait for the elusive (non-existent) Kelah.



Nathan in action - a very good angler!

Polo gets to grips with his princess. "Nice flippers, honey". 

While Kenny shows off his prawn for the camera: "Onry vewy smaw one though".

"How you find this place?" he asked.
"Point finger on map" I shrugged.
"Why you here?"
"Fishing. Ikan Kelah".
He smiled and shook his head. 
"No Kelah here now. Later in year. October. November".
"Great", I thought. 

As we sat exchanging pleasantries in the bright sunshine, a big 4x4 truck pulled up in the yard, and another Chinaman and an Indian bloke got out.



"Me Polo", said my new acquaintance, 
"This my friend. Nathan and Kenny. You name?"
He then rabbited on to his two buddies, and I heard the word Andy crop up towards the end, to which they smiled and nodded in my direction, and then the word 'Kelah', which made them look in my direction again, and this time they laughed openly. Excellent. I was pleased to see that my tentative quest to encounter the Malaysian Red Mahseer could inspire such involuntary mirth.


As it turned out, Kenny, Polo and Nathan (stage names I'm sure...) were another three of the most generous people I have met. They took me hunting for prawns at night down on one of the rivers, and each meal time they would ask me to join them, and they would drive into the village to their favourite restaurant. To be honest it looked like it shouldn't even be open, with bricks and rubble laid on the floor, pieces of wood, broken furniture and twisted reinforcing bars littered about, and an open gutter flowing through under the tables. Yet the food was surprisingly great, give or take the odd chicken's foot floating in the surface film of the sauce. And as much as I offered, they refused point blank to accept any money by way of a contribution to the bill. 

The restaurant was a seat of entertainment all on its own, with various local personalities coming and going all evening - such as the local bloke who turned up with a sack full of huge live frogs, which my new friends bought from him before he even got to the kitchen out the back. And I remember trying not to burst out laughing as I watched a bloke who looked about 112 years old in the corner, as he tried to eat a bowl rice with his chopsticks, with the added hurdles of Parkinson's disease and a toothless set of gums 

until his table looked like someone had been feeding pigeons on it. 

During our meal in the restaurant they called over the Frogman and discussed something in tongues, and then turned to me with a smile;
"This man take you to river tomorrow. He know place for Kelah". Now this was a turn up for the books. And after further deliberation, they even extended their stay by a day so that Nathan could come and fish with me. Absolute top blokes eh?

Next morning we met up with Frogman, who had been and procured a sack of palm oil nuts - apparently the best bait for the omnivorous Kelah, and set off in the direction of one of the rivers, passing down a two-wheel track for several kilometres through the jungle. We finally stopped at a clearing, unloaded the gear and wound our way down into the valley, sweating profusely in the intense heat and humidity of the canopy. 

We crossed the river precariously, and set up station on a gravel bar in mid-stream, at the point where the two sections of fast flowing water reconvened. Frogman took some palm oil nut and put it in a separate sack, then smashed them to a pulp with some rocks, this was then 

Nathan and some rambutan sit it out for a bite.


anchored under a rock in the flow to set a trail of scent down the river and hopefully draw the Kelah up to us. 

All looked good on the beautiful, steaming jungle river, but unfortunately it just wasn't to be. I tried several hook and leader combinations, stationary baits, moving baits and different sizes of baits- all to no avail (although a few small barb species and the like were caught on worms from the margins). Kenny came to pick us up in the evening, and as darkness descended, we were once again soaked to the skin as a really spectacular storm swept down the valley, huge bolts of lightning seemingly crashing all around our heads as we skidded and slipped our way through the mud back up the tracks to where the truck had been left. At least we'd tried.

During breakfast at the restaurant the next morning, before the boys set off for home, I rang the taxi man for my trip back to Kuantan, and some of the local blokes came over for a word. One of them spoke a bit of English:

"You fishing Kelah in river?"
"Yes", I replied, "but catching nothing".
"Ahhh. River not good now. Two year ago many Kelah in river. Then men in village dynamite and put poison. Now no Kelah".
Wonderful. So I had been fishing at the wrong time of year in a river that no longer held any of the fish that I was actually trying to catch anyway. No wonder the fishing was slow... But you know, I still had a great time, marooned in the jungle, but under the wing of three of the nicest blokes you could meet.

I said goodbye to Polo, Kenny and Nathan with a little flurry of handshakes before they headed off back to the city, their truck looking like the circus was coming to town - bursting with canisters of live prawns, cages full of exotic birds and sacks bustling with those huge live frogs, and then waited for my taxi to turn up. Some 12 hours later I was back in Kuala Lumpur for the final time for a day or two, from which I would be heading off to Australia (via Singapore); land of beer, crocs and Barramundi. Should be good. I hope.

Selamat tinggal Malaysia, as they say in these parts. I knew I was gonna miss it.

Back To Malaysia Part 3 Onto Australia Return To Home


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