The Belum FF Experience

The Belum FF Experience

Paul Arden | Monday, 25 March 2019

I had an extremely enjoyable four days fishing with Martyn White last week. So very close to a few fish. We didn’t get many babies shots - which is unusual for this time of year, maybe four sets in total - but we did find some big free-risers (Martyn put a shot in at a BIG Snakehead that could have been good enough) and a few fleeting-window shots at Giant Gourami; a number of wind-laners and a few shots around the stumps. Martyn had a chase from one Snakehead, a possible Gourami eat and some long inspections. Pretty tough, but that’s normal. Just to get close on his first trip was an outstanding effort - four days is on the short side. A small tightening up with the casting accuracy with both sets of tackle, putting the fly down first, before the line for the Gourami and speeding up the reaction time to make the cast, will see eats and of course a whole ‘nuther set of problems then begin... it’s not over until the fat lady sings!

Martyn said it was possibly his best ever fly fishing trip, and that’s without landing a fish! I feel the same way when fishing here. It’s such a fine line between nothing at all landed and an amazing set of moments coming together and a spectacular fish in the boat. There really is nothing else quite like this place... So technical, such a casting challenge just to get your foot in the door - and everything happens so damned quickly, and when you connect it’s brutal and in the case of the Gourami, rather technical as well. And all of this happening in a virtually unexplored fishery, for fish species that have not yet been fully worked out (to my knowledge less than ten people have even caught a Giant Gourami on fly), in the world’s oldest rainforest, with hornbills and monkeys and elephants. Quite an extraordinary experience and I remember why I’m here every single day!!! 

I was very pleased that Martyn loved it too - I thought he would, but you never know! So far, everyone who has booked me has either been back or has plans to do so. It gets under your skin, this narrow margin shot fishery that tests your skills like no other. I call it a “one fish a day fishery” but  it’s much more complicated than that. For first time visitors, just learning new skills is mostly what it’s about - and a proper fish is a real bonus. It’s very hard - and totally addictive. It might be the challenge, or just these two completely different sight fishing species. Nothing else comes remotely close to either fish and yet to find them both in the same fishery... well that’s simply amazing. 

From my perspective I really enjoy taking guests fishing. When I have someone on the front of the boat, I feel that we are fishing together, which we are of course. I’m often “fishing through them” - trying to organise the casting so that the fish sees the fly, trying to impart the skills and theory so that they can take out my other boat and experience the even more enjoyable challenge of making it all happen on their own. I learn a huge amount while doing this - for one thing I get to see just how important the casting shot here really is. To be consistent, just to be in the game, you need to be able to make highly challenging shots first time, every time, and at a moment’s notice. So there is a lot of casting coaching, before, during and after the trip. Anyone who thinks that they can’t cast but can fish is going to have a huge problem here. Certainly when it comes to free-rising Snakehead you can forget it. These are most probably, the tightest flycasting shots that exist. On the flip side, if you can learn to do this you will annihilate everything else casting-shot-wise. 

I have Tim Kempton joining me tomorrow. I was talking with Jono Shales two weeks ago and he said “Tim’s a bloody good caster” - and he is. Tim’s been coming here every year for the past five or six years. I’ve watched Tim up his casting game. Last time here, he was right on the money and made one of the best shots I’ve seen. It was so good I wrote an FP about it. 

Chuan Tay is another regular guest. He’s been visiting two or three times every year. He’s my no1 guest. I’ve watched Chuan go from the fish never seeing the fly, and likening it to “whack-a-mole”, to being right at the top of this game. After me, Chuan has landed the most Gourami on fly, of anyone - in fact Chuan has a concentration of Gourami, six in three days, that I haven’t come close to. 

As Ronan beautifully put it, it’s about “finding time to take your time - in one second!!!!” I’m looking forward very much to seeing Ronan again in August. I know he’ll have tightened up his shots and will have found more time to “make haste slowly”. Ronan has a great first tip. Fish here don’t come easy, but it’s very doable knife-edge fishing. Martyn is due back again later in the year and I’m certain we’ll be moving up to the next stage; how to apply more force to these fish than he’s ever done before. 


If you think this appeals to you (I’m sure that it won’t appeal to fly fishers who want an easy lunch, but I’m sure it will appeal to rather a lot of Sexyloops readers!) then please get in touch. You will be challenged here: the first time you may not even land a fish, but the skills that you learn will lift your game everywhere else and you will have an amazing trip regardless. The Saltwater fly casting challenge is easy by comparison - I really mean that; here you need to be precise, often to within a saucer, with fast shots, usually with no falsecasts - and there are additional skills needed such as putting the fly down first for Gourami - but most important of all is speed and accuracy. 

Here you are a pioneer. I don’t know how many unexplored FFing frontiers we have left in the world. There won’t be many. This might be the last big one. Thank goodness it’s tough! If anglers were coming here and catching a shit load of fish, then it would be too busy for me. Let me remind you: this is an incredibly hard fishery! The number of people who have caught Gourami on fly maybe less than 10 worldwide - and that’s me including other anglers who don’t fish here. Big free-rising Snakehead as in 5KG plus, that actually may only be me - it certainly won’t be many. In fact any decent sized free-rising Snakehead on fly may still actually be less than 10 anglers. Snakehead off babies: that’s different; maybe 30 or 40 anglers. In short there is still a hell of a lot to be learned!!! I’ve had around 1500 days on the lake now, I plan the same again before it’s time for me to move on. 

Martyn actually told me I should increase my rates!! (If you have a current reservation I haven’t of course!). Guiding/teaching is 2000RM/day (400GBP) and this includes daily fly casting lessons - which can be on other skills; Chuan is currently working on his Spey Casts for example and if you are training to be an instructor this is a great opportunity to learn! Boat rental 500RM/day includes petrol and I will fish the other boat - this can be one or two anglers giving us a capacity of one, two or three fly fishing guests. Houseboat accommodation (later this year) 500RM/pp includes three meals per day. Currently we are hammock camping with campfires (Martyn’s speciality as it happens) or you can stay at a rather nice resort while I sleep in the boat. You just have to arrive in Penang and I’ll help sort out the rest.

Additional costs:

It’s approximately 350RM (70GBP) taxi ride from Penang International Airport each way. Belum Rainforest Resort accommodation is around 450-500RM/night. Camping is an arranged fee to include food and keeping the chef (me) happy! [These are long days. We start at dawn 7am and fish through to dark 8pm. We may have an hour or two siesta, unless the babies are up or if it’s overcast, in which case we fish straight through... and then, after nightfall, I become campfire chef! There is no 9-5 working day here!!]

So - one suggested trip option would be one or two days guided FFing with me and 3-5 days fishing the other boat on your own. If there are 2 or 3 of you, you can mix between the front of my boat and fishing “The Ronan”.  You can either stay at the resort or camp or a combination of the two (I do plan to have a houseboat soon). Alternatively you can book me for the week - many do. 

Two of you sharing “The Ronan” costs each of you 50GBP/day. This includes fuel and a charged thruster motor. So there are options to do this as an affordable holiday. It’s not all guided fly fishing; I can provide camping gear, hammocks, tarps and in the case of guided fishing I can provide all tackle (but in which you are responsible for anything you destroy! Tongue Out )

It would be a great pleasure to see you - come for the incredible fishing, come for the casting lessons, come for the jungle experience or best of all, come for all three! I plan to be here for the next 5-6 years. I have another, completely different plan for after this :D 

Any questions hit me with an email: 

Cheers, Paul