Sunday, April 08, 2007

Return from the North - Lake Kenyir (Prologue)

After a 2-year hiatus from fishing in the tranquil surroundings of Lake Kenyir in Terengannu, Malaysia, I was able to finally arrange a trip to revisit this favored freshwater fly fishing locale of mine.

Covering an expanse of 260,00 hectares, which incidentally is larger than the size of Singapore, Lake Kenyir is the largest man-made lake in South-east Asia. A myriad of fishing environs are scattered throughout the lake. Small coves with lots of overhangs, small streams, waterfalls, rapids and many more provide us with many different challenges with which we can test our skills. Many indigenous species and a few introduced species provide us with hours of enjoyment.

The Hampala Barb, or known locally as the Sebarau, is one of the highly sought after fish by us, fly anglers. With a migratory habit similar to the salmon, it uses its great strength to swim up the fast flowing rapids and even leap up waterfalls to head upstream to spawn. Its range covers most of the lake but prefers to live and hunt near waterfalls and tree stumps. Even a juvenile, barely bigger than a palm can give a good account of itself on light tackle. It is the natural nemesis of the Giant Snakehead, picking of the young by using its great speed to avoid the protective parents guarding the school.

If patience is your virtue, another prized target is the Malaysian Mahseer (Tor tambra), or Kelah Merah in malay. One of the many Mahseer species around Asia, it is well-known as the King of the River. Favouring the clean clear waters of the upper reaches of rivers, an outing to fish this magnificent fish requires a long trek and sometimes, boat rides upstream. Camping out for a few days will usually increase the chances of hooking one. While teasing one to take a fly has been accomplished before, it is a very very difficult undertaking. The usual means of catching one involves chumming with a bag of oil palm fruit and then using stiff tackle, fish with a piece of the palm fruit. A stake out usually ensues with a close eye being kept on the rod, for it has been known to fly off the stand when the Kelah takes the bait. The powerful jaws can crush 5X strong hooks with relative ease and it's powerful runs can even break 40lbs tackle in a flash.

Other fish species we go for include,

the Giant Snakehead(Channa micropeltes),

Small Snakehead (Channa asiatica),

Giant Gourami,

Kelah Hijau (Neolissochilus hexagonolepis, not related to the Tor species mentioned above),

Clown Knife Fish (Chitala ornata),

Tinfoil Barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii),

Ikan Busoh (Oxygaster anomalura), just to name a few.

Taking a night coach, Hun, Liew and I endured the gruelling 9 hour overnight trip, traversing almost the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. With a couple of stop-overs for drinks to warm ourselves up from the incessant cold winds blowing from the souped-up air-conditioning (I'd recommend a good jacket or even blanket for anyone thinking of taking a trip up), we arrived, at around 6am, at the bus station in Kuala Terengganu. A short wait later, a familiar face appeared to welcome us. Our driver Rudi, helped us to load our gear into the 'well-used' van and drove us to, at my request, a shophouse in Chinatown that serves fantastic herbal Pork-Rib soup. Nothing like a hot bowl of soup and Chinese tea to wake the senses and loosen the well-jolted, frozen limbs.

After that, we loaded up a case of bottled water and off to the pickup point we went. From Kuala Terengannu, it is a 45 min ride up the mountain range to the edge of the lake where our host, Cheong, awaited our arrival by his 20ft fibreglass tender. Here on, it is only a 5 mins boat trip to his lodge, Musang Kenyir Lodge, located at the foothills of Mt. Tembat, in the northwest corner of the lake. I must add that this boat trip may take longer during the dry season as the water levels will drop thus blocking the most direct route to the lodge. Even then, it will only double the time to reach the lodge.

This lodge is as rustic as it can get but comfortable enough for us who like to travel on a tight budget. it used to boast a couple of floating platforms housing the chalets, a dining hall and a multipurpose hall.

However, the fragile handiwork of Man was no match for the fury of Nature. The floating chalets were washed away by a flash flood during the monsoon three seasons ago and to reduce the maintenance cost, the other platform has also been decommissioned.

Now all his chalets and facilities are located on terra firma. This small spit of high ground is straddled by two waters falls. But rest-assured, we are safe as all structures are placed well above the highest watermark. The wooden platforms are structurally safe, though I'd recommend watching your step as there may be a few loose planks here and there.

Activities for the non-anglers include karaoke, Cable TV (so you won't miss that all important soccer match), nature hikes and swimming at various waterfalls. For the fishing enthusiasts, bait fishing is allowed and there are floating platforms where you can spend the night in soaking a live bait.

However, Hun, Liew and I were there to enjoy a relaxing 3 days of fly fishing. And the plan was to fish from kayaks around the lake and also around the rock pools at the base of the waterfalls.

to be continued...