Avid angler Uncle Bob makes a trip to Tasik Temenggor in Royal Belum National Park, Perak with some friends.
Of all the trips to Tasik Temenggor in Royal Belum National Park, Perak, this was the most fun as it was more than just a fishing trip.
The anglers included Steven Chow, an award-winning Hong Kong master chef who cooked for Prince Charles when the latter visited Hong Kong. His ‘assistants’ Wong Hon Thim – who worked in the US for seven years as a chef in a Chinese restaurant – and Yussof, the charter operator who was a chef in a major hotel in Kuala Lumpur for eight years before starting this fishing charter business.
Included in the group were Kozo Okubo, a professional sport angler from Japan who designs rods and lures. His regular fishing buddy is Alvin Lim, part-owner of a fishing tackle shop in Singapore. Add in fish biologist-turned-agriculturist, Stephen Leong, and Chak, a tattoo artist, and you can imagine the interesting topics of conversation at the dining table.
We met in Grik for a simple, inexpensive dinner. We had a few hours to while away before meeting Yussof at midnight. Chow made that simple dinner interesting by elaborating on every dish served, how it was cooked and how it could be improved. I now look at food in a new light, appreciating the effort that goes into presenting a fine dish.
After dinner, we had a few drinks before heading for Pulau Banding, the take-off point for Royal Belum. None of us brought along a cooler box as the only fish kept would be the one for dinner each night.
Master chef Chow advised us on the size of the fish for great cooking. The sebarau (Malayan jungle perch) should be between 1.5kg and 2.5kg; anything smaller would be too bony and without flavour. Baung (catfish) should weigh 0.5kg – 1kg. We crossed out toman (giant snakehead) as Kozo does not eat it, and kelah (Malaysian Golden Mahseer) is a protected species.
We set off at 11.30pm for the jetty at Pulau Banding. The lake was at its highest level and the jetty was fully submerged. Yussof sent out his boats to ferry us to the houseboat where we spent the night on comfortable double bunks. A night on the lake is a wonderful feeling, soaking in the peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Early next morning, the houseboat cast off its moorings and got underway. A simple breakfast of fried noodles and eggs with black coffee awaited us. Within the hour, we were at the army outpost and presented our permits for entering Belum. After the checkpoint, three boats set off, each carrying two eager anglers.
I had a snooze as I didn’t get a good rest the night before. Some people call it the “fishing syndrome”. Though I have done sport angling for years, the anticipation keeps me awake the whole night through.
We had caught and released three toman weighing 1kg to 3kg. Not good at all. We hoped to fare better in the afternoon. Alas, it was not to be. Again, we hooked small toman. Maybe we were at the wrong place at the wrong time or this place had been heavily fished.
Well, tomorrow is another day, I thought. Tonight, let’s be happy. We had some wine while the master chef went to work on the beef and lamb shoulder we bought for the outing. These were complemented by curry chicken cooked by Yussof – fair compensation for a bad day’s fishing.
After the hearty meal with the fresh air, beautiful natural surroundings and a sky filled with a millions of stars, our spirits were high and we were looking forward to the next assault on the toman.
Meanwhile, Yussof slipped off in the dark of the night to catch some catfish for dinner. I always marvel at how these locals find their way around on a dark moonless night while us city folks can’t even make out the silhouettes of mountains.
Early next morning, we left just after daybreak with a mug of hot coffee and a couple of slices of bread in our tummies to tide us over for an hour or so before returning for a proper breakfast.
We wanted to be the early birds catching the worm, or rather, the fish. We headed out to different spots with Yussof’s boatmen cum guides. By 9am, we were back for a good breakfast of baked beans and sausages on toast.
All except Thim had caught a toman. Not bad for an hour’s “work”. After a hasty breakfast, we were off again. The houseboat moved on to the next spot for our second night on the lake. The late morning foray was just as good. We hooked a giant snakehead weighing 4kg. We took off after a lazy lunch to a nearby waterfall.
Beautiful waterfalls seem to be scattered all over Belum and they make a welcome break from the hot afternoons. Soaking in the cool pools below the waterfalls is one of the highlights of my trips. The late afternoon lure castings were successful too, though the haul was much less than in previous years.
The largest toman, weighing 6kg, was caught by Kozo. No sebarau of more than a kilo were encountered and the evening frenzies were badly missed. This used to be a highlight of every trip to Temenggor or Belum, where we would land and release a dozen or more jungle perch. Where have all the fish gone?
Dinner on the second night was highly anticipated. Chow cooked a whole sebarau, in two different textures: tender and chewy.
The third day was a repeat of the second, except Alvin came in with a 2.5kg sebarau for our dinner and Kozo landed and released a 7kg toman.
Yussof steamed the jungle perch. His mastery of the wok was clearly shown in the presentation and taste of the fish.
All too soon, it was almost time to bid farewell to Royal Belum. We went for a last morning foray and met back at the houseboat for lunch.
Yussof presented us with his special fried chicken. Maybe it’s the fresh air or good company, but I can’t remember ever having such delicious fried chicken.
At the end of the day, it was a great outing with good company, fantastic food and decent fishing. And most of all, I did not see any rawai (long lines of hooks) or nets.
Things seem to be looking up for the future. We anglers must also play our part. Kill only what you can consume and release the rest; practise catch and release. – Uncle Bob