Saturday, August 21, 2010

Last June, 6 anglers from Malaysia made the long journey to Lake Nasser in Egypt, to pit wits with the mighty Nile Perch. I wrote a long article on the adventure, published in Rod&Line, the Malaysian fishing magazine. Here it is!

I'm not attaching any fotos here. You can see them in my Facebook.


Part 1: The Great Egyptian Adventure

The Mummified Perch

24 June 2010. The red facade of the Cairo Museum stood resplendent in the harsh summer sunlight. We sat under the welcoming shade of a tree, watching the throngs of tourists milling about in the compound. We had just deposited our cameras and videocams at the official booth: no pictures are allowed in the museum. We would regret this fact later.

The museum is certainly huge, with hundreds of statues and coffins, and topped by the stupendous treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb. After a while though, you tend to get rather blase about them. There’s just too many! Still you can’t help but be in awe of the amount of history presented here. Egypt is nearly the oldest civilisation in the world. These beautiful artifacts in their glass cases were made by people some 5000 years ago, with no help from computerised machines.

I was naturally attracted to the rooms displaying miniature models of tools and items that depicted the way of life in those ancient days. But the one that takes the cake was this long room displaying mummified animals that escorted the pharaohs to their tomb.

There’s this favourite mare of a pharaoh. The flesh had deteriorated, leaving only the large bones. There’s baboons, cats, rabbits, dogs, cobras: it’s like a veritable zoo of mummies. The tombs of the pharaohs must be the first time capsules in the world.

Two mummified crocodiles held my gaze. The bigger one must be more than 7 metres long, with a huge head that could eat a 20-kg siakap in one gulp. It even had a baby croc in its mouth. According to the interpretive write-up, certain oils are used on the body before wrapping the animal in linen. More oil is applied. It’s a remarkable technology, enabling the mummy to last thousands of years.

Then I saw the fellow. It’s a huge Nile perch, flat as a board – it’s innards must have been extracted before mummification – but with all its scales intact. I measured its length: 142 cm. from head to broken tail. I stared agape. This is Pharaoh’s fish, 4000 years old, perfectly preserved, magnificent.

I asked Jerry to estimate its weight. After a long spell – Jerry never rushes for anything except for a runaway canoe in the rapids – he proclaimed it to be at least 45-kg.

“So, it’s set”, I said with finality. “Our target on this trip is to hook and land a perch as big as this. Okay, it’s Lake Nasser, but it’s still part of the Nile, right?”

“On!”, said Jerry.

It’s gonna be a tough one. We had decided to come at the height of summer, when the water is way down and lots of small perch will be rampaging on the small tilapia in the shallows. The giant perch would probably lose out to them in the quest for colourful Shad Raps and Storm plastics. But what the heck, a fishing trip is nothing without a decent target.

An Unexpected Start

Our story actually began last December. Coming back from our Cauvery trip, Foo, Frank Lewis and I began planning another trip. We had been intrigued by the Nile perch of Africa. After some research, we set our sights on Lake Nasser in Egypt. This huge lake has decent outfitters with good boats, providing some degree of comfort and security during the fishing adventure.

And it has huge fish! For a start, the IGFA record for Nile perch, some 230-lb., was landed here.

I contacted Arnout Terlouw, our well-renown big game angler-writer, for advice. He linked me up with Steven Mayor who runs an outfit called Lake Nasser Adventures. He has live-in fishing boats, each accommodating three anglers.

The Jerry and Fong got wind of the impending trip, and decided to join in. Choy Khee took the third berth.

Weeks before the trip, Frank and Foo had to pull out for work reasons. I was left stranded. To the rescue came Datuk Kalam and Steven Chin. The trip was on again.

It was a surprise outcome. The six of us are members of the original APLC Club (don’t ask me what that means), which made the maiden Malaysian trip to the Cauvery in 1997. It proves to be a great reunion adventure.

This trip would be a different ball game from the ‘lazy’ bait-fishing approach at the Cauvery. We would be trolling and casting big lures like the Super Shad Raps and X-Raps and CD14’s and CD18’s, along with large soft plastics. Lines of 25 to 40-lb, (mono) are the order of the day, with the attendant big reels and long rods.

We held our council of war and made the mandatory trips to the fishing shops. The guys from Rapala were kind enough to sponsor boxes of said lures, giving some welcome relief from the high cost of the trip.

Touchdown Cairo

22 June 2010. We arrived at the KLIA ahead of time. Our baggage was obviously overweight, what with the big tackle and four long rod cases. The officials were not watching the numbers though, so we were glad.

The ten-hour flight to Cairo on Egypt Air was half-full, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs for some needed sleep. We arrived in Cairo with our rod cases intact, but our troubles started the moment we stepped out of the building.

For the next two days, we got fleeced by taxi drivers, tour touts at the pyramids, shopkeepers and restaurant managers. It seemed like everyone’s trying to make the most out of the tourists. We concluded that you have to be extremely streetwise to tour this sly city. You need ample amounts of USD and LE (Egyptian pound), just to get by!

We felt relieved, leaving this metropolis and taking the flight to Aswan. There, Steven Mayor’s MPV was waiting for us. Ten minutes later, we were at the Aswan Dam, piling our stuff into two boats.

The Great Lake

It was blindingly hot. The thermometer on my Casio Protrek watch read 45 deg. C. Lake Nasser lay at my feet, stretching out to the horizon. The water seemed blue, reflecting the completely cloudless sky. A few dozen boats of various sizes were berthed at the landing. Most catered for the tourists. Some, like those of Lake Nasser Adventure, were designed specifically for anglers.

So, here was my lake of dreams, home of gigantic Nile perch, a freshwater cousin of our siakap. It looked more like a sea, with white-capped waves egged on by the stiff wind.

Lake Nasser was built decades ago at the First Cataract of the Nile, to ensure ample supply of hydro-electricity to Egypt, and also to regulate the annual floods of the mighty river. The First Cataract signified the border between Egypt and Nubia, the land that stretched from Aswan to Khartoum, Sudan. With the building of the Aswan Dam, the original Nubian lands were inundated by the lake.

The project had taken it’s toll of human life. Some 35,000 people worked on building the dam, and 451 of them died. It’s a modern day version of the pyramids!

They claimed that Nasser is the largest man-made lake in the world, although I suspect the Three Gorges in China and the Itai-po in Brazil could argue on it. Still, the stats are astounding. It covers an area of 5250 sq km, is up to 35 km wide and 550 km long. Imagine a body of water that stretches from KL to Kangar, and you’ll get the general idea!

It contains up to 157 billion cubic metres of water, of which 6 billion is lost annually through evaporation!

Lake Nasser is a place of stark beauty. The surrounding land is mostly rocky desert. Nothing much grows there except hardy bushes, grass and the odd patch of rock melon. Gazelles, foxes and snakes live on its shores. Crocodiles and monitor lizards live in the shallows. The former eat fish exclusively, although there have been the odd case of a man disappearing into the waters.

Few humans make the lake their home. There’s the small tourist town of Abu Simbel some 300 km upstream, and about 5000 fishermen who catch 50,000 tonnes of fish a year, most of it tilapia and small tigerfish.

Thus, Lake Nasser is a relatively desolate place. On a windless day, it seems like a totally dead place. But in its green-blue depths, there’s healthy activity, with acres of red cattail grass that grows down to 7 metres, and millions of tilapia serving as fodder for the tigerfish and Nile perch.

First Foray

We settled into two boats. Choy Khee, Datuk and I took one and Steven, Jerry Fong the other. Our captain was a genial Nubian named Ali, with our cook Mohamed serving as the mate. Fong’s boat had Murad as captain. Abiding by the local regulations, we had a police personnel accompanying us; a quiet man named Anuar.

First things first: we had lunch prepared by Mohamed. It was a formal affair with proper china and cutlery, even serviettes. I guess they have tuned their service towards European customers. Later we got Mohamed to place only forks and spoons instead of the knives.

After lunch, we headed off into the general direction of Abu Simbel. We won’t be reaching that historic place though: in the 6 days of fishing, we would only cover about 100 km of the huge lake, trolling the shallower areas and casting from selected islands.

Ali suggested we use Super Shad Raps. We realised later that this lure is his favourite. It doesn’t work too deep, and has ample bulk to attract the predatory perch. Ironically, we didn’t get a single strike.

This was disconcerting. From my research, I had surmised that June was the peak of summer, and millions of young tilapia would throng the waters, attracting the perch. We were expecting to catch lots of the small perch which would be faster off the blocks than the giants.

Later, we discovered that the extraordinarily low water plus extremely hot weather spell had put the fish down. Other angling groups in various parts of the region were suffering the same fate of almost fishless outings.

At dusk, the two boats docked at a small island for the night. The vessels were made of steel, to handle the rocky shores and underwater islands, so it was just a matter of sliding the boats up the rocky beach and throttling the motor to “anchor” it further. A length of rope tied to a steel anchor then secures the bow to a suitable rock.

Jerry and Choy Khee promptly had their bath on the afterdeck, “perigi” style, using a steel pail with cord attached and sluicing water down their overheated torsos. Immediately, they began to shiver! The dry lake wind was instantly evaporating the water on their bodies, refrigerating them! I decided to forgo the bath.

First Strike

26 June 2010 We woke up just before sunrise. Ali and the boys had already done their dawn prayers and gone back to sleep. After some “gunfire breakfast” – coffee and bicuits – we set out for the morning’s trolling session.

As the boat skirted a promontory of an island, Datuk Kalam’s rod suddenly bent down, the spinning reel shrieking in protest. The perch did a few nice jumps. Everyone on board was shouting encouragement. This is the first fish of the trip, so we obviously excited.

The fish was finally landed without untoward event. Datuk seemed cool, although I did detect a little shivering of his hands. The fish pulled the scales down to 12-kg. The honours went to a purple Halco Sorcerer plug.

Meanwhile, the other boat was seeing action too. Fong had hooked and successfully landed a boisterous 13-kg perch on a Rapala Magnum CD14 (Red Dorado). The guys were punching the air in delight.

We continued on our way, generally heading south, spending more time around underwater islands and deep drop-offs, especially where the waves were lapping the shore. According to Ali, perch would prefer such places, not just as ambush points but also for the extra oxygen in the water.

Choy Khee’s stout trolling rod slammed down to a mega strike. Line was streaking out at a worrying pace. It was all he could do, just to hold on. Alas, seconds later, the rod sprung back, lifeless. The fish had broken the line on some rocks. The last ten metres of Trilene Big Game mono was badly frayed. It was obviously a big perch.

‘How big do you think it was?’, asked Choy Khee.

‘Probably the biggest fish of your life!’, I teased.

Ali explained that a torrid strike like that will probably be from a fish of 20 to 30-kg. The really big ones are usually slow, only using their bulk to fight one’s tackle. Choy Khee felt weirdly relieved: at least he had not lost a true giant.

That was the only action we had that day. The rest of the daylight hours were spent bouncing on the high, breaking waves egged on by a stiff wind.

I have poor sea legs, but somehow I did not even get the expected nausea. Still, it was tough conditions to fish in. Even Mohamed had his hands full: several times, the cutlery in his tiny kitchen got thrown to the floor.

The next day was a mirror image of the previous one. We would get the odd fish trolling, after that it’s all quiet for the rest of the day. And the stiff wind and big waves would continue to harass us.

Ali decided to try this small rocky island (everything seems rocky here!) for a spot of casting. He instructed us to trek to the windward side. I opted for a CD14 Fire Tiger. Retrieving the lure to the shallows, I spotted this sliver of silver streaking across to the Rapala, but missing on the strike. Tigerfish! I quickly changed to a smaller rod, and chose a Siam Spoon as my weapon.

On the third retrieve, this two-foot long tiger pounced on the lure, but after a brief few second of head-shaking, it managed to throw the treble free. Angst! That would have been my first Dracula fish ever!

We went fishless again for the rest of the day. The only thing to do was dock the boats by a gentle shore, do our bathroom duties, and enjoy a good dinner and the customary chinwag with the effervescent Datuk.

This trip has proven to be a challenge, due to the conditions. Even Ali was perplexed as to why the perch were keeping their mandibles firmly shut. Well, we can only keep on trying, in the hope that they’ll somehow change their minds.


Part 2: A Change Of Fortune

Getting The Best

28 June 2010 Things have not been going well for us. The APLC Club fishing team, by previous reputation, is supposed to catch lots of fish, and big ones too. But it seems like this humongous Lake Nasser is having its laugh at our expense.

So far, we have had to endure high waves whipped by hot dry winds, bringing discomfort to anglers and I guess the perch too. Things were getting desperate. We were down to holding our trolling rods, regularly changing the running depths of the lures in the hope of triggering the fish to bite. I even resorted to standing at the rocking bow of the boat and casting out the Magnums, reeling in like crazy just to impart some action on the lures. Nothing.

The only cheer came when we stopped at some island and did some land-based casting.

There was this shoulder of a cove that we tried, which was a goldmine of sorts.

It was lunchtime. The boats were berthed on the leeward side of an island, to escape the omnipresent wind. But that made the cabins too stifling. Ali suggested that I go to the windward side of the island and do some casting.

He explained that, in hot conditions like this, the fish would congregate on the windward side for two reasons: food would be deposited there, attracting the small baitfish, and hence the perch and tigerfish; further, the swims there are more oxygenated due to the lapping waves.

We trekked across the island. It was seriously hot. Choy khee measured it at 45 degrees C, in the shade! Even breathing was difficult. I felt like I’m trekking in a sauna at full blast.

We reached a series of little bays, the waves slapping against the broken rocks. I wasn’t that confident of getting fish, what after poor days trolling the seemingly lifeless lake.

Minutes later, that sentiment changed. Ali had a good perch bending the Abu Tournament rod. The see-saw fight in the shallows was a sight to behold. After some tense moments when the critter swam into some underwater weeds, he finally brought the perch up to the rocks. It was a handsome fellow of about 6 kilos. Smiles all round!

The triumphant lure was an orange Supershad Rap. Ali invited me to take over in the perch-casting department. He then borrowed my small rod, casting a spoon for the tigers.

Hardly had I done the first retrieve when Ali shouted, “Tiger! Come, take rod!”

Big dilemma. I have already caught my first perch, but there could be a giant lurking out there. Still, the elusive tigerfish has been bugging me with their irritating antics. Aw heck, tiger it is!

Following Ali’s advice, I cast the Siam Spoon, then let the metal lure sinking deep down and then began a jerky retrieve. It worked: the Xzoga rod bucked down to a good tiger. I fought it cautiously. Mere feet from the bank, it threw the hook!

Through the polarising lens of my Rayban, I could see a pod of some ten tigers zigzagging in the shallows. I cast again, to a different spot, and repeated the process.

Wham, another tiger. This time, I gave it the “DGC treatment” (don’t give chance!), hauling and reeling in like crazy whilst chanting the magic DGC mantra.

The fish didn’t have a chance even for a headshake. It shot out of the water and landed on the rocks above me. And yes, the treble came off in mid-flight!

Sorry for being brutal folks, but that’s what you need to do to get your first tigerfish!

That’s the only strike I had from the tigers. After that, they got smart. After getting another perch, we decided to return to the boat for lunch.

Moving Somewhere Else

Ali noted that we had already traveled over 100 km from the dam, and we needed to turn back. We traversed the lake to the other side, crossing the really deep water used by the cruise ships. These vessels carry passengers between Egypt and Sudan. In fact that’s the only way to travel between the two countries, other than taking a flight to Khartoum.

This side of the lake was almost devoid of the local fishermen netting tilapia and tigers. But we eventually found out that there’s not much fish here either. Ali explained that the netters and anglers have a symbiotic relationship. They trace each other’s footsteps. Find the tilapia, and you find the perch, and vice versa!

After endless hours of fishless trolling, Ali decided to stop at this place called Scorpion Island for a spell of casting. I trekked over the loose rocks, watching every step for obvious reasons, headed for the windward side.

Just as the Fire Tiger Magnum wriggled to the shallows, a big perch pounced on it, but missed. Loud expletives followed. I was casting like there’s no tomorrow. No more takes, but I spotted a few tigerfish following. I quickly switched to the smaller rod. This time, half a dozen big tigers were zipping around the flapping spoon. Each was about a metre long!

I ended up doing a No. 8 retrieve, right at my feet, but the fish merely looked on and laughed. Uncouth critters!

I cast again. This time, I got a hook-up from down deep. Back to the old DGC technique. Alas, just as I was about to haul it out, the crafty tiger gave a mighty headshake and threw the lure. Game over.

We’ve had a fishless day, but were soothed by one of the most awesome sunsets we have ever seen. I hope the picture hereabouts will do it justice! We call it Enter The Dragon. Bruce Lee would have liked that!

Back To the Old Grounds

That night, we had a little pow-wow. Ali suggested we return to the other side of the lake, where the netters are. Obviously, that’s where the fishes can be found. The giant perch are probably holed up in the depths, and you can’t tell when they’ll be triggered to be on the feed again.

I reluctantly agreed. This side is more dramatic, scenery-wise, with steep banks and tall hills. However, like they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it, and that means wetting your line where the fish are.

We spent a noisy night at the weedy banks of a cove. The frogs had decided to have a mating session. The croaking was so incessant, I wished I had brought some firecrackers.

Next day, after some unsuccessful trolling over deep drop-offs, we crossed the lake to the now vaguely familiar swims.

This change in tactic was accompanied by a sudden change in the weather. No, it didn’t rain – this country only gets five drizzles a year, if they are lucky – but the wind simply died down. Now we were truly feeling the heat, but at least the fish were starting to bite.

Trolling beside this shallow cape, my short trolling rod hit paydirt, the Banax GT5000 reel giving its smooth whine. The perch performed its expected series of jumps.

There’s something truly elegant about jumping fish. So much so that I wished the kelah and mahseer could learn this skill. That’s where species like the kelesa, sailfish, siakap and now Nile perch are in their element. And if you can capture the moment on video, so much the better.

I think it did four jumps before allowing itself to be tamed to the boat. It’s a small fellow, but I was thankful for the favour.

It was Datuk’s turn to be at battle stations, but he was ‘occupied in the loo’ (yes, there’s a toilet in the boat). Lucky me. The 9-ft Penn Powergraph rod bent down to the butt, and line streaked out of the Saragosa 14000 egg-beater. The fish immediately jumped, and jumped again.

We were given an aerial display by the obviously bigger perch. It even tail-walked like a sailfish. We were all shouting with glee. Choy Khee managed to get part of the action on video.

It took time to boat the fellow: I endured a series of hand to hand combat with the rod bent to the water. But I was feeling fairly confident with the tackle. The Shimano reel and Maxima line have proven track records on the treacherous waters of the Cauvery, and that 80-lb mono leader was a fresh one.

We finally boated the fish, quickly weighed it (exactly 14-kg, although it seemed bigger), took the customary photos, then revived it and set it on its way.

Meeting the other boat, we learned that Fong and Jerry had also landed good fish of 11 and 12-kg. So, the tide has finally turned. We were getting good fish now, on our last full day of our trip.

Last Hurrah

But the best laugh was reserved for the last fishing session, next morning.

We had gone back to the same area for our finale. Trolling our now favourite lures – CD14 Red Dorado and Fire Tiger, and Super Shad Raps and Sorcerers – we were surprised by the lack of action.

The other boat had gone off searching for other grounds, but Ali was adamant. He suggested that we drift in the slight wind over this underwater island.

I have been the guy who would regularly ask Ali the “why” questions, more for learning’s sake than to doubt his wisdom. Of course I didn’t doubt him now, on the last day of the trip.

That decision paid huge dividends. We had one hook-up after another. Even Mohamed the cook was hauling perch. We drifted over that tiny island several times until the fish wisened up. We made a tally of ten fish. Smiles all round!

That was the last action of the trip. We now had two hours of cruising to do, to reach the Aswan Dam, where the van would take us back to civilisation.

Fishing wise, this trip had not been stupendous. The conditions had not been kind, not least the extremely hot days. This was the peak of summer. Ali suggested we come again in November, when the days are cooler and the giants would tread the shallows.

I’ve got a feeling that some of us may be back. Choy Khee for a start had lost two big fish: one among the rocks and another on the sharp steel hull. So, those piscatorial creatures will haunt him for a while.

But it’s not just about the fishing. The friendly, honest Nubians like Ali and Mohamed, the stark beauty of the lake, and those awesome dawns and sunsets, can really cast a spell on you.

Okay, it’s set. Now all I have to do is find some low-cost airline...


Lake Nasser is a long way from home, and there are hardly any people by its shores, let alone fishing shops. You have to bring everything you need. Having said that, you can’t bring too much, so you need to compromise.

Essentially, you need three sets of tackle:

- Trolling, 40-lb test (or 80-lb braided): Trolling big lures for Nile perch. Like the siakap, this fish does not have sharp teeth, so an 80-lb mono leader of 1.0 to 1.5 m. is used. Rods can range from 6 to 9 ft. Our reels included Daiwa Saltiga 6000, Shimano Saragosa 14000, Banax GT5000, Shimano Calcutta 7000 and Ryobi Applause 5000. Abrasion resistant mono mainlines like Maxima Chameleon, Sufix Synergy and Trilene Big Game (green) are good. Ali recommends braided lines like Powerpro. With less stretch, braided lines help in reading the action of the lure while trolling.

This set of tackle can also stand in for night-fishing for vundu catfish, using suitable baits like pieces of chicken or fish stomach. Use a large circle hook (5/0). The same 80-lb mono leader can be used, although I personally prefer a 200-lb braided one.
- Lure-casting, 25-lb test: Casting big lures for Nile perch. Again, leaders of 80-lb mono is needed. Rods of 9-ft are good.

- Lure casting, 12 to 15-lb test: Casting small lures and spinners to tigerfish. A short wire leader (20-lb test) is needed to handle the mean teeth of the tiger. Hooks need to be small and sharp: these fish have the reputation of throwing the lure after hookup. Ali recommends a small single hook at the tail end of the lure. Expect to lose three out of every four fish hooked.

Lures for Nile perch:

General lengths of 14 to 18 cm. are good. During our trip, the hottest lures include: Rapala Magnum CD14 (Red Dorado, Fire Tiger), Super Shad Rap (Orange, Fire Tiger) and Halco Sorcerer (purple). Ali swears by the Super Shad Rap. In fact, he asked me to brig a hundred of them on my next trip! Other lures include the X-Rap and deeper divers like CD18, Bomber, Eupro, and large soft plastic lures like Storm Big Eye and Curly Tail.

Lures for tigerfish:

The tigerfish here grow to about 6-kg, but most are about 2-kg. with small mouth and long sharp teeth. It has a habit of ‘playing’ with the lure, taking half-hearted nibbles. It’s exasperating fishing! Small, sharp trebles or singles are needed. Once hooked, you need to literally haul them out as fast as you can, before they make their customary headshake to throw off the lure.

We tried various lures and spinners including small Rattling Rap, X-Rap, Tormentor, Blue Fox spinner and spoons. The hottest lure for our trip was the small Siam Spoon with the titanium nitride rainbow colours.


Lake Nasser is fed only by the Nile, the longest river in the world. But due to this, there is really not much diversity in the aquatic environment, be it water quality or underwater terrain. As such, it’s not surprising that the eco-system has less species of fish compared to our country.

The few species found in Lake Nasser, which is literally the Nile between the First and Second Cataract, comprise two species of tilapia, a few other cichlids, eels, catfish, electric catfish (Malapterurus and Paradoxaglanis species), the tigerfish (Hydrocynus spp.), the Nile perch and, intriguingly, the large puffer fish.

We found the two species of tilapia during the trip. One is silvery with dark vertical stripes on its flanks, whilst the other is plain with light red fins. These two species represent the bulk of food fish caught by the local netters.

Tigerfish also abound in the lake. The Lake Nasser tigerfish is not as large as the goliath tigerfish (H. goliath) of Congo River or H. vittatus of the Zambezi, but they are certainly gregarious: the small ones would even have a go at the CD14’s and Super Shad Raps we were trolling. Hookup is rare, obviously.

These brutally designed fish with “Dracula” jaws are reputed to grow to about 6-kg in this lake. That size would be a handful on the 10 – 14-lb tackle we were using. Another species, the goliath tigerfish, grows much bigger (to 30-kg or beyond), but is found in other parts of Africa (Zambesi and Congo).

The tigerfish is not only sought after by anglers. Local netters turn them into salted fish. They are not good fresh, since they have lots of bones.

There are several species of catfish in the lake, but the one that takes the interest of the anglers is the vundu catfish, which grows to 35-kg. Ali says that, pound for pound, the vundu fights harder than the perch! It’s a nocturnal feeder, coming to the shallows in search of food scraps.

Usually, anglers would groundbait the swim with smelly stuff, and use baits like sausages (“sundried” for a few days to make them smell), pieces of chicken, intestines, even blue soap! This is similar to some Malaysian villagers using soap to catch the river patin.

The puffer fish here is really inscrutable. When stressed, it can grow to the size of a football. It chases after anything. We caught a few inadvertently, on small lures.

At the top of the food pyramid is of course the Nile perch. It is a rampant predator, lurking among the underwater rocks to pounce on unwary tilapia or tigerfish. There are many giant perch here, although our trip did not manage to land any. Fish below 30-kg are considered small! In fact, there is one regular angler who has achieved a record of sorts, having landed a hundred fish, each weighing 100-lb or more!

The IGFA record for Nile perch was registered on this lake: a 230-lb specimen caught by xxx. The flyrod record stands at xxxx, caught by xxxx.

It is certainly possible that bigger specimens can be found in this huge lake. After all, the largest fish ever caught, on a net, weighed some 500-lb!


Lake Nasser (Buhayrat Nasir, in Arabic) is a vast impoundment in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Strictly, "Lake Nasser" refers only to the much larger portion of the lake that is in Egyptian territory (83% of the total), with the Sudanese preferring to call their smaller body of water Lake Nubia (Buhayrat Nubiya). The area of Sudan-administered Wadi Halfa was largely flooded by Lake Nasser/Lake Nubia.
The lake was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High dam across the waters of the Nile between 1958 and 1970. The lake is named after President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who initiated the controversial High Dam project.
The Lake is some 550 km long and 35 km across at its widest point, which is near the Tropic of Cancer. It covers a total surface area of 5,250 km² and has a storage capacity of some 157 km³ of water.

When Lake Nasser was being created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam, across the Nile, between 1958 and 1970, the anticipated rising waters behind the dam required major relocation projects that were carried out during the 1960s. There were 18 ancient temples in the area.
Several important Nubian and Ancient Egyptian archaeological sites were dismantled block by block and moved to higher ground, most notably Abu Simbel. The prior Sudanese river-port and railway terminal of Wadi Halfa was lost beneath the waters, and a new town was built nearby; and Egypt's entire Nubian community (some 80,000 people) from the upper reaches of the Nile saw their villages disappear and were forced to relocate.

Rising lake levels through the 1990s resulted in what the Egyptians term the spilling over of waters, others claim deliberate leakage, westwards into the Sahara Desert, forming the Toshka Lakes beginning in 1998.

Ferries take passengers and road vehicles between Aswan in Egypt and Wadi Halfa, from where the railway goes to Khartoum, capital of Sudan. Since it is prohibited to cross the Sudan-Egypt border on land, and no paved roads connect the two countries, the ferries are the only alternative to air travel; currently, they constitute a link in the Cairo-Cape Town Highway.

More facts about the lake:

Lake type: Reservoir
Feeder river: Nile
Primary outflow: Nile
Basin Countries: Egypt, Sudan
Max. length: 550 km.
Max Width: 35 km.
Max depth: 180 m.
Average depth: 25 m.
Surface area: 5250 km2
Shore length: 7844 km.
Elevation: 183 m.


The Nile perch (Lates niloticus) is a freshwater species in the family Latidae of the order Perciformes (perch-like fish). It is related to our siakap (Lates calcarifer).

It is a native to the Congo, Nile, Niger, Senegal, and lake Chad, Volta, Lake Turkana, and other river basins. It can also be found in the brackish waters of Lake Maryut in Egypt.

Originally described as Labrus niloticus, the species has also been referred to as Centropomus niloticus. Common names include African snook, Capitaine, Victoria perch (a misleading trade name, as the species is not native to Lake Victoria), and a large number of local names in various African languages.

Lates niloticus is silver in colour with a blue tinge. It has a distinctive dark black eye, with a bright yellow outer ring. One of the largest freshwater fish, it reaches a maximum length of nearly two metres (more than six feet), weighing up to 200 kg (440-lb) or more. Mature fish average 121–137 cm (48–54 in), although many fish are caught before they can grow this large.

Adult Nile perch occupy all habitats of a lake with sufficient oxygen concentrations, while juveniles are restricted to shallow or near-shore environments. A fierce predator that dominates its surroundings, the Nile perch feeds on fish (including its own species), crustaceans, and insects; the juveniles also feed on zooplankton.

Nile perch have been introduced to many other lakes in Africa, including Lake Victoria and Lake Nasser. The IUCN’s (World Conservation Union) Invasive Species Specialist Group considers Lates niloticus one of the world's 100 worst invasive species. The state of Queensland in Australia levies heavy fines on anyone found in possession of a living Nile perch, since it competes directly with the native barramundi, which is similar but does not reach the same size as the Nile perch.

The species is of great commercial importance as a food fish. The Nile perch is also popular with anglers as it attacks fishing lures, and is also raised in aquaculture.

The introduction of this species to Lake Victoria in East Africa, is one of the most commonly cited examples of the negative effects invasive alien species can have on ecosystems. The fish was introduced to the lake in the 1950’s, and since then it has been fished commercially. It is attributed with causing the extinction or near-extinction of several hundred native species, but as Nile Perch stocks decrease due to commercial fishing, at least some of them are making a comeback. Initially, the Nile perch's diet consisted of native cichlids, but with decreasing availability of this prey, it now consumes mainly small shrimp and minnows.

The fish's introduction to Lake Victoria, while ecologically negative, has stimulated the establishment of large fishing companies there. In 2003 Nile perch earned 169 million euro in sales to the EU. Another income is the sportfishing tourism in the region of Uganda and Tanzania which aim to catch this fish. The long-term outlook is less clear, as overfishing is now reducing Lates niloticus populations.

The introduction of Nile perch has also had additional ecological effects on shore. Native cichlids were traditionally sun-dried, but Nile perch have a higher fat content than cichlids so instead need to be smoked to avoid spoiling. This has led to an increased demand for firewood in a region already hard-hit by deforestation, soil erosion and desertification.

While the lake ecosystem is slowly moving towards a new equilibrium, the former state of fisheries on Lake Victoria probably cannot be brought back, regardless of whether this is considered positive or negative.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I have always had a penchant for jungle rivers. There’s something about clear water flowing over boulders and sunken logs that evoke a feeling that I’m truly home. Maybe it’s memories of my childhood, fishing the overgrown little Sungai Korok in Kangar. I would spend whole days by the waterside casually fishing for haruan and puyu, watching the wildlife go by.

And so it was that I’m forever triggered when some friend or associate mentions some far-off river that I have not fished before. The immediate urge is to drop everything and pile my fishing tackle into the Ford Ranger.

Hanapiah knew this weakness of mine, and when he mentioned his planned trip to Sungai Sat in Pahang, he knew I would say yes. This river is a whole six hours’ boating from the basecamp of Kuala Tahan, and is seldom visited by even local anglers.

To cut a long story short, Hanapiah never did make the trip. I ended up taking over the reins. Six friends made the long drive from KL to the basecamp. On the next morning, we took two longboats up the Tembeling, fully laden with camping and fishing equipment.

Three hours later, we reached Kuala Sat. The river mouth was small, promising shallow rapids and riffles upstream. It would take another three hours to reach our predetermined campsite, often disembarking and pulling the heavy boats up the shallow stretches.

The river is typical of the Taman Negara streams; clear water flowing among huge sunken logs and rocky beds. Overhead the neram trees created a monstrous tunnel of foliage, making the river seem dark and foreboding.

We made camp in the gathering dusk. I noted that the elephant dung strewn on the sandbank had grown full mushrooms. This might signify trouble: the goliaths may be on their return leg. I was unfortunately proven right: for the next two nights, the beasts were trying to cross the river. We had to have a large campfire going all night and occasionally burn some firecrackers to ward them off!

For the fishing, we broke up into three pairs – it’s never safe to fish alone in a jungle river. Izzudin and I opted to trek upstream.

We found an old track on the left hand bank, followed it for half an hour, occasionally peering down to the river to select a choice pool. But a small rivulet coming out from the jungle caught our attention. Just a few yards in, we found a small swampy pond amongst the huge hardwoods. On a hunch, I put on a small Mini Whacker spinnerbait. My first cast was taken by a frisky haruan that fought all the way to the bank.

No, it wasn’t a haruan, but a mega haruan palas! This Channa species with grey flanks and bluish fins is a rarity, and to catch one of almost a kilogram is a truly memorable occasion. And our joy didn’t end there, for we were catching a fish at almost every cast!

Well, we took lots of photos and released each fish with care, then set off for our original agenda – catching some kelah or tengas from the deep river pools.

We had to cross the river several times before we came to a magnificent bend of the river with a dark, deep channel on the far side. A clean sandbank lay below our feet, studded with footprints of barking deer and a large tapir.

We cast our baits of oil palm kernel and earthworms and waited for the fish. It didn’t take long. A tengas took my worm bait and streaked across the stream. Minutes later, it came to the sandbank, a spent force.

We were catching one tengas after another, around the kilo mark. Then the bites stopped, as if the river had cottoned on to our intrusion. The river at the time was quite murky due to the rains, but was clearing up fast. We decided to change to the oil palm baits, and like clockwork, we started catching fish again.

A change of venue was needed, but we had gone too far away from camp. We had to go back if we were to reach camp by nightfall.

This time, we decided to wade all the way back, as much as we can. Halfway down the river, we came across a pretty pool that we had missed while trekking the jungle. The stream made this bend and threw itself at a huge log stretched across the river. Downstream of this woody “dam”, a huge brushpile hugged the steep bank. I could almost smell the kelah and tengas here!

I offered Izzudin first choice of fishing spot. He made his big mistake of the day, and opted for the upstream swim. Later, he had the dubious honour of having FIVE fish break his line among the rocks there!

I gingerly tip-toed to the spot below the log and set up my spot. My tackle was basic enough – a light spinning rod with 8-lb. mainline; a small hook on a 20-lb. fluorocarbon leader, with soft oil palm kernel as bait.

Twenty minutes into the session, my old Daiwa Gold Strike rod bent down to a savage take. It was just as well that I had it in hand all the while, for it would have flown into the river. The fish headed for the brushpile, as expected. Some side-strain stopped it just in time. It then streaked off downstream, stripping yards of line from the reel. The fish stopped, eventually, for the river had become too shallow over there. It was then that I knew this fellow was mine. When it changed course upstream, I reeled in quickly and guided it towards the near bank. Several minutes of tug-of-war followed, in snag-free water. Finally, I hauled it up the sandbank.

It was a beautifully red 1.5-kg. kelah with thick lips and median lobe (this was the Tor tambroides species). Izzudin, who by this time had ambled over, marveled at the fish – this was his first encounter with a wild kelah. He jokingly chastised me for letting him fish the upstream pool. I gently reminded him that I had already given him first choice. The rest is up to the gods!

We took photos of the fish and released it, none the worse for harm. It was getting late, so we packed up and went back to camp.

It was a happy camp, that night, save for the trouble with the elephants. Everyone had caught enough fish to sport wide grins.

Even on the next and final day, we still managed good sport on the river, although we couldn’t better that red kelah. Between us, we had caught some 70 fish, mostly tengas of around a kilogram. That alone made the trip a very memorable one.


Sungai Sat is part of the Taman Negara at Kuala Tahan, Pahang. You can drive directly to the village via Mentakab. The basecamp is on the opposite bank, reachable by a service boat. Book a room for the night, either at the well-appointed resort in the camp, or in the village (there are lots of chalets there).

Book your boat at the basecamp office. You need to start early in the morning, to reach Sungai Sat in late afternoon.


There are absolutely no amenities in Sungai Sat. Bring your own camping gear and food. The wooden longboats have ample capacity, but it’s best to trim down on your gear, bringing just enough to last your stay. Dome tents are light and safe. Extra tarpaulin sheets serve as “kitchens” and ground sheets. Keep food items safe in cooler boxes or those plastic bullet boxes.

It’s humid in the jungle, and you will be sweat-drenched in no time. Wear light long-sleeved shirts and pants, preferably those quick-drying ones. Good trekking boots or the “rubber tapper” plastic shoes are recommended for jungle trekking or fording the river.


The tengas and kelah of Sungai Sat are not big. It is best to use light to medium tackle, using monofilament lines of 8 to 12-lb. test. For bait fishing, bring small barrel sinkers, small swivels, and short-shanked, suicide hooks in sizes 10 up to 2. The best hooks are black or gunmetal grey. My favourites are Gamakatsu Octopus and Owner Suicide Cutting Point.

Short leaders of about 20 – 25 cm., preferably of the “invisible” type like fluorocarbon or Daiwa Crystal Clear, will not spook the kelah. Use 15 to 20-lb test, depending on the conditions.

Spinning rods should be about 2.1 to 2.4-m. long, have a soft tip but sturdy butt section. Examples are Berkley Series One, Team Daiwa and Fenwick HMG. Small reliable reels like Shimano Biomaster 2500, Daiwa Kix 3000 and Penn Slammer 360 are good choices.

Sumatran Magic


The AirAsia plane coasted to a stop in front of the Padang Minangkabau Airport Terminal. We disembarked and proceeded to the exit area. There was an irritating jam at the immigration counter; two flights have arrived at once, and only two personnel were on duty. It took almost an hour before we came out into the clear air of Western Sumatra.

Foo, Jeay and I were on a week-long vacation here, with lots of fishing thrown in. Cousin Dayat – I have Indonesian relaives based in Padang – served as guide for the whole trip, driving his Kijang along the challenging roads.

We climbed the mountains, avoiding careening lorries and overloaded passenger vans and potholes. It took hours, but we finally reached a beautiful blue lake called Danau DiAtas. It looked like a mini Lake Lucerne, with absolutely clear blue water nestled among the volcanic mountains.

We couldn’t hire a boat for fishing, so we went on to another lake, the huge Danau Singkarak. Here, we checked into a tranquil hotel with the archetypal horned roofs. Next morning, we managed to get a wooden passenger boat. It was not quite designed for fishing, but it’s better than nothing.

We tried the coves and drop-offs, casting small lures for the sebarau, but to no avail. Apparently, these fish grow to 5-kg. here. We saw several locals fishing from the banks, but they were not catching anything either. By lunchtime, we called it quits and headed back to the lakeside hotel.

We left Singkarak, stopping only to buy some Ikan Bilis – dried small fish that looked like seluang. They are delectable when friend to a crisp.

We climbed even higher up the mountains. At this apex, this hazy green lake came into view, some 1000 metres below us. It was a sight to behold, a crystal clear cold lake nestled in a crater guarded by a ring of volcanic mountains.

Dayat negotiated the 47 hair-pin bends down to the lake. We nearly threw up, but arrived without event at Danau Maninjau.

There’s 70-km. of tarmac road circumventing the lake. We drove along, looking for a ‘fishy’ spot. We finally stopped at a place called Muko-Muko. Here, the lake water exited into a hydro-electric generation scheme. More importantly, the shallow areas were cordoned off for angling. We paid our dues – 10,000 rupiah or RM4 for a day’s fishing – at this tiny fishing shop at the lakeside, then joined the local anglers at their game.

Bait came in the form of paste made from fish pellets and flour, mounted on small hooks below slim floats. Small fishes were caught: ikan nila (tilapia) and manjalaya (a plain version of our terbol).

We enquired about better gamefish. They indicated a small island just off Muko-Muko where we could get decent barau (sebarau) if we were lucky. And that’s what we did on the next day. An old wooden boat took us there, and for a few hours, we fished off the island.

There were hundreds of lampam, baby sebarau and terbol in the shallows. Occasionally, sebarau in the 2-kg. range would make their entrance, look around and return to the dark green depths. But try as we might, we couldn’t entice these elegant fish to take bait or lure.

We gave up and returned to Muko-Muko. After a council of war over hot tea and local sweets, we decided to drive down from the lake in search of better waters.

It was a good decision. We came across a place called Antokan. A rocky river flowed by the road, and a water gate at the village created a pool of sorts. Here, locals were fishing with pellet-paste and oil palm kernel for the garing (kelah).

We discovered that this stretch of river was a sungai larangan – a tagal program – and the fishing is opened for only two weeks. We arrived smack in the middle of it.

We hustled some bait off the locals. Actually, they were a benevolent lot. They even made space for us on the riverbank for our fishing. But we were made to eat humble pie – we just couldn’t hook a fish whilst the villagers with their RM20 rods and reels were hauling in fish almost like clockwork.

We realized later that they were extremely specialised in this sport of garing fishing. They were using ultra-light lines of 3-lb test, with similar leaders, and hooks so tiny they could hardly accommodate a grain of rice. Not the kind of kelah fishing I was used to!

Well, we ended up fishless, but it was great to see the Maninjau anglers gracefully trotting their slim floats down the current and hooking up to the elegant garing.

The sun had gone down, and we finally gave up on the fishing. Foo bought a small garing from one of the locals. Both he and Jeay had never tasted a kelah before, so this was as good a time as any. We proceeded to the eating shop downstream, and had a rice dinner.

I have vowed not to eat kelah. It’s been seven years now, and I have lost the yearning for it completely. But Foo, Dayat and Jeay attested that the garing was the best tasting river fish they had ever taken.

It was good to end on that note. We would be leaving Maninjau tomorrow, heading for the highlands of Bukit Tinggi and beyond. But our short spell in Maninjau certainly had a lasting imprint in our minds. As I gazed down on the droning river rushing down the channel into the black of night, I had that feeling that I’ll be back, one day.


• Danau Singkarak
Large sebarau are reputed to dwell here, living off the thousands of ikan bilis. There are gazetted areas for land-based fishing, but it’s better to rent a boat for your lure-fishing.

• Danau DiAtas & Danau DiBawah
These are smaller lakes, with small fishes like terbol and lampam, and some sebarau up to 2-kg.

• Sungai Sangir
A long, clear river about the size of our Tembeling River in Pahang, with plenty of riffles and pools. Sebarau and garing can be found here. There are no larangan areas, but you need 4WD wagons or at least a hardy Kijang (similar to the Toyota unser) to get around and find the choice fishing spots.

• Kolam Ikan Sakti at Air Putih, near Bukit Tinggi
This is a permanent larangan water, but worth a visit just to see the huge garing. You can fish the almost-tame fish with bread and river clams. The garing average around 4-kg. I have spotted several giants of around 25-kg.!

• Sungai Minturun, Padang
A small river about 30 minutes from downtown Padang. There used to be a larangan program here, but now you can fish the larger pools upon permission and some contribution to the local village.

• Padang beach
Padang holds an annual fishing competition at its beach. Locals frequent the esplanade for their late afternoon fishing.

• Persisiran
Located about 2 hours’ drive south of Padang. The river is a larangan, and is only opened once a year for an angling competition.


I suggest you bring light and ultra-light tackle. The waters are generally very clear, so the fishes are naturally shy of your terminal tackle.
• Mainlines of 3- to to 8-lb. would suffice. Leaders should be near-invisible, e.g. Vision and Daiwa Crystal Clear.
• Small hooks – size 12 or smaller – are recommended.
• For lure fishing in Singkarak, small lures are the order of the day, to match the ikan bilis – not more than 5 cm long.

Good fishing tackle are hard to come by I West Sumatra. It is recommended that you bring all you need. Bring extra spools of decent light monofilament line. The locals will thank you for them!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kincin River

June 2009

Deep in the bowels of the Rompin forest in Pahang lies a tract of pristine jungle. This land is like no other in the Malaysian peninsula, for it lies on a separate plate, and thus many of its flora and fauna are unique to the place.
They call it the Endau-Rompin Park. It straddles the states of Johor and Pahang. For several years, it was my second home. I have lost count, the number off fishing trips I have made to its rivers. And what beautiful streams! They are spellbinding, with awesome rapids stretching as far as the eye can see, with wondrous rock formations gracing the banks. At the more gentle stretches, you can find pools so deep, the water seems to be at a standstill.

The Kemapan, Kincin and Endau...these are the rivers of dreams for the Malaysian angler. Not many dare pit their muscles and wits with these challenging waterways. To get to the upstream stretches, you have to push your boats up the steep rapids and even waterfalls, and paddle over those black pools. And you may have to do this for days before reach your destination.
The Kemapan is especially challenging. You trek for hours, crossing numerous gulleys made by trickling streams, scrambling over countless fallen trees and climbing seemingly endless hills, stooping under your 20-kg rucksacks. You go beyond tiredness and pain, not daring to stop for the marauding leeches homing in on your heated torsos.
But the vista of the absolutely clear Kemapan cascading over unblemished rocks makes it all worth it. If you can make it.

But this story is not about the Kemapan. Well, not yet: I'll write about it later!
Let me tell you about the Kincin first. It's a relatively gentler river, and much more accessible too...
You drive from KL to the seaside town of Rompin. From there, you head inland through the oil palm estates of Selendang until you enter the Endau-Rompin park. Finally, you will reach the Park headquarters (Pahang side) by the Kincin river.

The Park is fairly well appointed, It has several chalets and a restaurant for visitors. Most locals go there on weekends, bathing in the river and having picnics on the banks. But our KAGUM Gang has other plans. We unload our Old Town scanoes and motor upstream, well-away from the crowds. Several miles up the river, we select a suitably breezy sandy beach and set up camp.

The water is clear but dark, stained by the dead leaves deposited by the overhanging pelawan trees. A bout of rain will make it murky, but the river will clear up after a couple of days.

We had traversed several low rapids, hauling the boat up using long ropes. Wading the rocky waters is very challenging, for the rocks are very slippery. Best shoes for the job are those cheap plastic ones (the Bowling brand is the best). Forget your Nike or Reebok. You'll end up with sprained ankles and bleeding knees.

Once we have set up camp, it's time for the fishing. We spread our along the river. Jerry, Steven and Ming opted for the Scanoe, ggoing way upriver. Fong, Tony and I trekked to nearby pools, baitfishing with soggy oil palm kernels.
The weather is unsettled, with the occasional drizzle and heavy downpour. Naturally, the kelah were off the feed. But Fong managed to land a gorgeous kelah of about 3-kg. The fight was just as amazing.
He had fished this huge pool, trying likely swims, to no avail. Finally, he went for the "suicidal spot": a deep channel with tons of sunken timber. The fish took the bait and immediately snagged the line among brush. They were deadlocked for a long time until Lady Luck came to the rescue. Somehow Fong managed to coax the fish out and eventually land it by the pebbly bank.

It had taken some fifteen minutes. His leader and mainline were in shreds, but he had the fish!

We took dozens of photos before we sent it on its way, none the worse for wear.
Mere minutes after this great catch, the heavens opened up, and the deluge thwarted the fishing. later, the flood came: muddy torrents laced with flotsam and rampaging logs.
We sat in camp for the next two days, waiting for the river to recover. Alas, another downpour came. Time to pack up and go home!
Well, we didn't catch much else on this trip, but the sight of that magnificant kelah is worth a dozen ventures.

Intro Intro Intro Intro...

Hi there!

I just thought I'd put "pen to paper", sharing my travels in Malaysia and beyond.

I'm an angling writer, and have had my fair share of trips into the Malaysian jungle, and to rivers and lakes of various countries. So, if you are into the outdoors, water sports and a bit of culture, do read on! :-)
Allow me to introduce myself in more detail...
Currently, I'm a Change Manager in a large corporation in Malaysia. For a life, however, I'm a passionately angler, and a regular writer for the local mags and tabloids. I'm also leading a small NGO called Kelah Association of Malaysia or KAGUM (, deicated towards helping the country conserve the rivers and their indigenous fishes.
The Kelah (Tor tambroides/tambra; Malayan Greater Brook Carp; Malayan Red Mahseer; see pic above) was chosen as our symbol. It's a beautiful red mahseer found in the upstream waters of our jungle rivers. Lately, this species is under serious threat of extinction due to river siltation/pollution and over-fishing. It has also become a sought-after aquarium fish and restaurant delicacy. There are joints in KL selling kelah dishes at up to RM800 a kg.!
Ironically, the kelah is also a sought after sportfish. Most anglers in Malaysia practice catch-and-release (CNR) on this fish, due to its endangered status.
I have been angling for kelah in many rivers for some fifteen years now, and have stopped consuming it for about ten years. It's a personal commitment towards conserving this awesome fish. In 2005, a group of us anglers formed KAGUM, to further the cause.
My love for the mahseer and other fishes of the great rivers have brrought me to many beautiful places, and I hope to share some of them with you.
Happy reading!