Monday, October 20, 2008

A pro-life place By JUNGLE BUM

Sungai Tahan has fish a-plenty - thanks to an eight-year ban on fishing which has increased the fish population.

Many years ago, when our country was mainly covered in thick, almost impenetrable jungle, the colonial Brits gazetted a huge expanse of forest deep in the bowels of Pahang into a national park. They called it King George V National Park. Nowadays, we fondly refer to it as Taman Negara.

It certainly was a visionary decision. Few would have envisaged that our jungles would eventually be ravaged in the name of development to the point that many species of flora and fauna are driven to extinction. Taman Negara now serves as a sanctuary for these same flora and fauna, ensuring that future generations can appreciate our rich diversity of wildlife.

The story was not quite the same for the wild fish in Taman Negara’s rivers. For years, fishermen could angle for the likes of kelah, tengas, sebarau and toman with just a RM10 licence. Catch-and-release fishing was unheard of then.

Boats to take anglers upstream

Some time in 2000, the administrators of Taman Negara decided to close one of the rivers - Sungai Tahan - to any kind of fishing. The fish populations thrived, both in terms of size and quantity. Later, the Kelah Sanctuary was created to properly manage the fish. Special fish wardens were appointed to protect the fish, and certain pools like Lubuk Tenor were turned into fish feeding areas, enhancing eco-tourism whilst burgeoning the fish population.

Recently, parts of Sungai Tahan were re-opened for sportfishing, but with a difference - catch-and-release is the only order of the day here, and you can only fish the river under the supervision of Golden Mahseer Sdn Bhd, the operator appointed by Taman Negara.

Golden Mahseer - the common name for ikan kelah - was established by a group of Kuala Tahan locals led by an Encik Roslan, an affable man in tune with the ecological issues of the river.

The water is so clear, you will probably see your catch swimming up to the lure.

He and his able fish wardens and fishing guides have been operating the Kelah Sanctuary for several months now, and the results of their activities have elicited great interest from visiting tourists.

Last September, a group of us anglers from Kuala Lumpur decided to see what Sungai Tahan had in store in terms of sportfishing.

The prospects were exciting enough. Kelah, sebarau, tapah, toman, even toman bunga, were realistic targets for the angler. Roslan himself had landed and released a 9.7kg kelah and a monstrous 37kg tapah.

It took us just three hours to drive to Kuala Tahan, the basecamp of Taman Negara. Roslan and his team were there to receive us. Minutes later, we were taken by longboat to the Kelah Sanctuary floating house. A briefing on the sanctuary was followed by a half-hour boat ride to Lubuk Tenor, our temporary home for the trip.

The Tenor camp was well-appointed. There’s a lodge and dining area plus interpretive section, running water tapped from a small, clear stream, camping and bathroom facilities. From the big platform above the pool, one can watch the hundreds of ikan kerai, lampam and kelah rising to catch food pellets thrown by visitors.

We stashed our gear in the allotted tents and promptly took to the boats again. Just below Lubuk Tenor is Lubuk Nohong. There, at this short run above the big pool, Tan Jiin Sheng, our youngest member, hooked and landed a 3kg kelah, his first ever. He was grinning from ear to ear after that!

At the pool proper, I had one of the biggest “smashes” of my fishing life. A big tapah had taken my spoon lure and proceeded to swim upstream, no matter what I did to halt it. My rod was bent down into the water and across the keel of the wooden longboat. There was nothing I could do. Minutes later, my heart sank as the 14lb line broke.

A red mahseer landed on a silver spoon lure.

It seemed like this stretch of lower Sungai Tahan had fish a-plenty, and big ones at that. It was obvious that the eight-year ban on fishing had positive effects. Almost all of us landed specimen fish, from kelah and 2kg sebarau, to 4kg toman and 3kg toman bunga (called jalai in these parts). The only sore absence was the mighty tapah.

The second and last day brought even greater surprises. A giant kelah of over 9kg took a silver spoon cast by Foo Weng Keong. After a colossal fight that broke his rod, the monster was landed. Hours later, another feat was achieved: Monty Ming landed a 4kg sebarau - something to write home about!

Not only did we catch big fish, we had lines broken by even bigger ones. Most notable was that big tapah, something that will haunt me for months. Even the 3.5kg kelah and 1.5kg sebarau did not remedy the affliction, for I knew that I would have to come back for my revenge!

Roslan asked me how big I thought that naughty tapah was.

“Probably between 3kg and 30kg. Who knows? But I’ll tell you its true weight when I come back for the next trip!” I said.

Getting there
From Kuala Lumpur, take the Kuantan Highway, turn off towards Jerantut (there’s signage for Taman Negara). At Jerantut, there are ample signs to guide you to the Park. Total driving time is about three hours.

You will first need to book your trip with Golden Mahseer Sdn Bhd. Early booking is advisable. Call Roslan at 012-483 2006.

The fishing costs between RM150 and RM300 per day per person, depending on how far upstream you are going. Camping and fishing licence cost extra.

Source of news & pictures : the star online Saturday October 18, 2008 (