The challenges and intensity of Malaysian fly fishing...

The challenges and intensity of Malaysian fly fishing...

Paul Arden | Monday, 3 August 2015

Tuesday was a bit of a disaster for me. I was going to start writing this page that night but had a serious snakehead hangover and so crashed out early instead. The thing is, that I managed to hook my biggest snakehead, not only of the trip but of all time, and I lost the bastard. Now while it's very early days, and quite frankly I feel that I've moved here at least semi-permanently, it was very disconcerting to have absolutely no control over this fish, despite using a leader of 30lb breaking strain.

I don't know if you've ever tried to break 30lb tippet, tied with Bimini Twists, Slim Beauties and a Lefty Knot, but I have, when I've been snagged to a tree, and it's no cake-walk, baby. The reason I use 30lb (40lb now) is not so that I can hold the fish, try as I might, and indeed with Snakehead you have to try to hold them and even pull them backwards if you can, but it's more about what happens when they snag you. When I first started fishing here I would lose four out of every five Snakehead hooked. Since then I've been learning serious knots, have upped breaking strains, and now point the rod at the fish and pull... hard.

Everything was perfect; I'd just discovered a series of bays that I didn't know existed, we'll call them "Bays of Snakehead", and sure enough I saw Snakehead rising in the first of these bays, but deeper in, I spied what looked like a log just under the surface, but I could see it was a Snakehead. This rarely happens; mostly they only come to the surface to take air, and it's a two-second shot, three seconds if God is on your side and he's never on mine. Incidentally it's this speed shot, no idea where the next rise will come (although occasionally you can track them), coupled with such a limited time to get it right - and it must be damn-near perfect: the fly must land in front of the now descending fish, but not so far that he'll be deep by the time you pop of gurgle it - and there is so much that can get in the way, especially when trying to hit the target with none or one false casts, with a hot sticky line, in a hot sticky jungle, with a fish that spooks if he sees you or the boat, anyway... this fish was at the top and so I paddled closer to investigate.

It turns out that there was not one Snakehead but two of them, and they were big buggers, moving in and around a fallen tree. In retrospect methinks they were a couple in post-orgasmic bliss waiting for their babies to hatch. So when the bigger bastard swam out from under the tree I made the perfect shot - of course - bit of a sidearm cast, made difficult because of the trees behind me, and a challenging on-shoulder breeze, a loop that would have been sexy if you have the fetish, one false cast, and right on the bloody money. One pull on the fly and wallop! A big tug-of-war ensued with a very heavy fish, for about a minute, and then without warning, he went down, hard under the boat, the tippet touched a snag - only touched mind you - and everything parted; I lost my fly and the bollocks fish.

And of course then the head started to give me problems. How am I ever going to land another fish? Snakehead are an impossible fish! You're never going to catch another fish again, Paulie. That sort of annoying thing. And it was later compounded by hooking my first Gourami of the trip, on a dry fly on dusk, which also snagged me, and broke me off too. Fuck! The difference between a great day - one huge Snakehead and respectable-sized Gourami - and a complete disaster - hooked and lost both, is just that fine line that makes us keep fishing I guess. Incidentally I've now hooked five Gourami on all these trips and still only landed one.

Snags here in Temenggor is one of the things I don't think I've discussed much. This is a flooded jungle. It would be a natural lake if a landslip had occurred 45 years ago, but instead of a landslip they built a huge dam. Ordinarily, I think, the jungle would have been logged first, but the government back then was having a problem with communists who were fighting in this part of the world. Maybe that didn't prevent them logging, but they did build four concrete gun towers to try to protect the workers building the bridge at Banding Island, so that could have been the reason. Anyway, they didn't log it, or if they did then not very much of it, consequently it's a Snag Clusterfuck.

If you've ever been to a jungle in this part of the world, you'll know that it's dense and you need a machete just to go anywhere. Not only is it dense, but it's also spiky with lots of sharp pointed bits that will cut your legs and your 30lb tippet to ribbons. This is basically the substructure of the lake I'm fishing. Trying to keep a big Snakehead out of this razor-sharp tangled mess is tough. Never have I played fish so hard.

So while things were looking pretty bad on Tuesday, they picked up very quickly again on Wednesday afternoon, when I just happened to land not one, but three Snakehead, back to back all from one bay. Two of them were approx 3kg and the third a smaller one, but they all count! And thank goodness!!! Three Snakehead landed equals my best day fishing for them so far on any trip. And I personally found it interesting, because last week I wrote that I simply wanted to catch one fish every day and lift the numbers from that point, but when I got to three I immediately wanted to catch ten, and I wouldn't be lying if I told you that had I got to ten I would have immediately wanted to catch' twenty! Anyway I got stuck on three.

Life is good and I'm looking forward to the rest of the week!


The one thing about Malaysia, is that it knows how to rain. The last two evening sessions have been completely killed by torrential rain. On a positive note however, this gives me a good opportunity to prepare the tarp properly for the Wet Season. I know from experience that these afternoon thunder-burst downpours are just a taster for what's to come in a few months. This evening was the first storm that was preceded by high winds however, and the tying of the tarp (two bungee cords at the back wrapped haphazardly around the motor) proved insufficient and for 20 minutes I had to spread-eagle myself to hold each side of the flapping tarp and stick my left leg out at the bottom to deflect the rain. I can do this for about 20 minutes, but I may get cramp after a few hours. So I now have a bungee chord connecting the middle of the tarp and running under the boat. The whole thing is still a bit Heath Robinson, what with the oar tied to the motor handle and the net poking out from the front, but if it works then I'm happy.

As well as discovering the lake I'm trying to understand Snakehead. As fish go, I think these are maybe the most fascinating fish of all. I mean we all know that the life cycle of an Eel is absolutely amazing, but Snakehead do something quite peculiar... they rear their young! Both adults will wait for the eggs to hatch and then, together, will travel around the lake with the young, defending off attackers - Jungle Perch and Gurglers for example - and one can only assume, showing them the lake. Certainly they don't hang around but instead go on some major expedition. I don't know of another species of fish that does this. Some insects almost do it, for example the earwig is almost unique in its behaviour that the female will wait for the eggs to hatch (I only know this because I had earwigs in the house and wanted to find out if they would crawl into my ears). Female Bass look after their "nests" but I believe only until the eggs have hatched. But Snakehead, both male and female, actually rear their young!

A question that I often wondered about was are Snakehead territorial? Well there appears to be a few that might be, but on the whole I would currently say, no - they roam - maybe a large territory, that I don't know. And interestingly, they appear to roam in shoals, furthermore these shoals are not made up of fish of only one generation - although I've certainly seen smaller fish of the 1-2Kg class that very obviously live together, rising in unison for example - but these "colonies" of fish do appear to include fish of many generations. And while one day you might find them in one particular bay, the next day there is nothing. These are, in short, vey interesting fish.

One other interesting observation is, that like many other fish species, they communicate. I recall very clearly fishing a bay a few years back with Marc Petit-Jean that held many Snakehead, when we entered that bay every Snakehead was casually rising. However before we had crossed not half of the bay, fish on the far side of the bay were doing the up-down rising that is the nature of a spooked Snakehead.


Incidentally for those of you wondering about the cost of such a trip, my living costs in Malaysia are under 80 pounds per week. Petrol is 35p per litre. I'm burning 50 litres per week - maybe 75 next week when I hit the far south of the lake. A bottle of wine is 5 pounds - alcohol is comparatively rather expensive. Food is dead cheap - about £1.50 if you eat out, but I cook myself 6 days/week and that's slightly more expensive! And I spend about 15 pounds per month on Internet. I have an investment here of 4K. Half on the boat, half on the truck - cars in particular are surprisingly expensive. But both the truck and the boat should last me many years to come - unless I kill them both first.

I never live on a budget. But I do sometimes choose to live in countries where I can avoid doing so!


It's turned out to be a great week this one! A SIX KG Snakehead, which is my best so far. I had one close to this size a few years back from the kayak, but this is my biggest. It was a real tug-of-war too, but I pulled harder!

Ashly is joining me for a week and bringing me up some new gear: an electric motor - which I badly need - as well as some more Tyger Wire and braid for leader experimenting. Thanks Nick for organising this! Nick owns the Tacklebox flyfishing shop in KL. It's a great fly shop, fully stocked with just about every fly tying material you can think of and well worth the visit. If you're flying via Kuala Lumper I can thoroughly recommend a day's stop-over here. There's fishing that can be arranged and the shop is worth a trip in its own right. (Also KL is a great place to buy cheap electronic goods - cheaper than airports for example!) and it's just an interesting city in its own right.

Hope you all have a fantastic week. I'm looking forward to fishing the far south of the lake with Ashly. Hope she catches a Snakehead too! Last time when she how big my first Snakehead was, she actually ran to the other side of the boat!!

Cheers, Paul

PS To celebrate the capture of this even bigger Snakehead, my Rumble in the Jungle offer (buy one Hot Torpedo and receive a free Thunderbolt Flyline and Sexyloops Stealth Master cap absolutely free!) has been extended for one more week! Now fingers crossed I can extend it to a third week Cool