Sungai Tembeling of Taman Negara
The Kelah story
| Scientific name
|| Tor tambroides; Tor tambra
| English name
|| Malaysian Red Mahseer; Thai Red Mahseer; Greater Brook Carp
| Local names
|| Kelah (Peninsular Malaysia), Empurau/Semah (Sarawak), Pelian (Sabah)
| Salient features
|| Large strong head, thick lips with median lobe lower lip. Body cylindrical with slight compression; large scales. Colour ranges from pale to bright red. Fins range from pink to red to blue. Large forked tail and rudder-like anal fin.
|| Indian, Myanmar, Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra.
|| Medium to large rivers with rocky, sandy and leafy bottom. Prefers highly oxygenated water and dark environment.
|| Stations itself in prime lies where its needs of security, shelter and food it readily served. May forage in shallow areas or close to rapids when it is assured of security. A very shy fish.
|| Jungle fruits, insects, crustaceans. When mature, it may forage on small baitfish.
Deep in our pristine jungle rivers swim a fish so majestic, so beautiful and so elusive, it has become a holy grail for Malaysian and international anglers. The kelah invariably represents the ultimate challenge for these sportsmen. To locate this fish is already a triumph. Then comes the challenge of enticing it to take a bait, lure or fly. Finally, the angler has to contend with its extreme strength and tenacity before it can be brought to the sandy river bank, to be lovingly photographed and released, none the worse for wear. In fact, many a time it’s the angler who is exhausted, albeit elated!
The kelah is one of Malaysia’s precious ecological heritage; a fish that is unique to the region. It is of very high economic value too. Anglers and eco-tourists are willing to pay significant sums of money to meet this fish! The kelah is essentially a carp, placed in the order of Cypriniformes, although it is loosely related to the European barbel (Barbus barbus).. It’s closer relatives are the mahseer species of India (Tor spp.) and several other countries in Asia. You could say that kelah is amember of Asia’s prime sport fishes.
Kelah can be found in the mighty rivers of our country: Sg Pahang and its tributaries (Tembeling, Jelai, Tanum, Tahan, Keniam, Sat etc), S. Perak and its tributaries (Kejar, Chiong, Singor, Temengor), Sg. Muda and its tributaries (Teliang, Gawi), the rivers feeding Lake Kenyir (Petuang, Cacing, Terenggan, Tembat), Sg. Kelantan and its tributaries (Galas, nenggiri, Lebir, Aring, Pertang), The Endau-Rompin rivers (Endau, Kincin, Kemapan, Jasin, Mas, Lemakuh), and the Batang Rajang and Sg Kinabatangan systems. In fact, almost all the major rivers in the country – with the exception of Perlis – used to have stocks of this beautiful fish.
However, factors like pollution, river degradation due to silting, the straightening of rivers and deforestation have combined to destroy the habitat of this fish. Further aggravating the problem is the unscrupulous fishing activities like illegal netting, bombing, poisoning and electro-fishing that have severely decimated the stocks of kelah.
If you were to be a kelah today, these are the probable scenarios you would have to face in your now-shortened life:
With these scenarios, the kelah and other prime fishes like the temoleh, kelisa, kerai and tengas are doomed and heading for extinction. Ethical anglers were the first group to realise this issue. As fishermen, they are in a unique position to be able to see first hand what is happening in our rivers. Many have started the self-imposed practice of ‘catch-and-release’, preferring to go home with a cherished photo rather than a dead fish. Now, a group of concerned citizens have got together to help the authorities and the angling fraternity to conserve this precious fish. Eventually, it is hoped that it will be for the good of all – the eco-tourism industry, the recreational fishing groups, the country, and most importantly, the fish!
Kelah fishing at pos melantai, taman negara
The dark, tannin-stained water flowed over the regiment of smooth stones and entered the tranquil pool. By the leaf-strewn banks, the mammoth neram trees reached out towards the middle of the river, creating a gloomy cavern of sorts. Perfect water for the elusive kelah.
I was in one of the last bastions of pristine kelah fishing in the Peninsula; the remote upper stretches of Sungai Tahan in Taman Negara, Pahang. I had been invited by the Kelah Sanctuary to gauge the fishing at the newly-opened Eco-Angling project at Pos Melantai, a programme to ensure that stocks of wild fish like the kelah (Red Golden Mahseer) and sebarau (Hampala Barb) are retained and even propagated.
They started with a fish-feeding programme in Lubuk Tenor and Lubuk Lesong, close to the base camp of Taman Negara at Kuala Tahan. This programme, involving the participation of Orang Asli and Malay communities, has proven very successful. Now, visitors can feed the hundreds of wild fish like kelah, kerai (Puntius daruphani) and nyenyuar (Scissor Fish).
We took almost four hours to reach Melantai, the professional guides working hard to push the plastic canoes over the numerous riffles and rapids. The trip was a joy in itself for the pristine river laced with 130-million-year-old jungle was already a sight for sore eyes. Aznir and his proud catch of an 8.5kg kelah.
Reaching Pos Melantai, I was surprised to find a well-appointed camp. There was running water tapped from a gin-clear stream, electricity, simple huts complete with floor-beds and mosquito nets, plus a well-equipped dining hall. Heck, they even have china dinner plates and silverware! This is truly five-star stuff.
I spent the next two days fishing for the kelah with angling guides Ahmad and Pak Uda Kamar. The latter is one of the living legends of kelah fishing, whose exploits are the regular subjects of campfire stories.
The kelah fishing at Lubuk Melantai 2 and Lubuk Panjang is nothing short of delectable. For a start, the pools are rife with mega fish in the five to 10kg class and beyond. With sightings of truly giant specimens, I will not be surprised if a world record kelah is landed here, one day (the current IGFA record stands at 12kg).
We caught several kelah topped by an 8.4kg female that took my oil palm bait on the drop. That was my biggest and fastest kelah hook-up ever! The giant made three torrid runs before reluctantly allowing itself to be brought to the landing net. Dr Eddy Tan, progenitor and driving force behind the Kelah Sanctuary programme, performed the tagging of the fish before we released it back to its watery home.
Pak Uda was not to be outdone by my lucky feat. He hooked and fought a smaller but much stronger kelah that almost snagged itself among the sunken timber. That gregarious fellow pulled the scales down to 6.4kg.
All in all, the remote camp of Pos Melantai is a Shangri-la for river anglers, with the kelah – the holy grail for Malaysian fishing – running to giant sizes. With the professional service given by the staff there, it is now arguably the most exclusive freshwater fishing destination in Malaysia.
Getting to Pos Melantai
Travel by road via Jerantut to Kuala Tahan, the base camp of Taman Negara, Pahang.
A short boat ride (only RM1) will get you to Rakit Kelah, on the mouth of Sungai Tahan.
The camp staff will transport you up the beautiful Sungai Tahan to Pos Melantai by plastic canoe (three to four hours).
Alternatively, you can fly by helicopter to Pos Melantai. Facilities
Move around by Pelican canoe, aided by two boat guides per visitor.
Fishing with personal professional guide. Baits for kelah are provided. Rod and reel (spinning tackle) for kelah fishing are also available.
The camp comes complete with simple huts, running water (flushing toilets, sinks, showers), proper dining hall, electricity supply, TV and Astro.
Accommodation is full board. Hot drinks and biscuits are available throughout the day, even at some fishing locations.
Fishing platforms have been built at certain key locations for kelah fishing. Alternatively, you can travel by canoe to other locations, either for kelah fishing or lure fishing for sebarau/toman.
Safe jungle trails have been arranged for you to walk to your favourite kelah fishing spots.
# 3D/2N, ex-Kuala Tahan./ # Price: RM2,000 all-inclusive.
Early start at 9am. Travel from Rakit Kelah, Kuala Tahan to Lata Berkoh (40 min) by wooden boat
Travel from Lata Berkoh to Pos Melantai by plastic canoe (three hours).
Lunch at camp.
Late afternoon fishing.
Season opening: May 2006
Location: Pos Melantai, Upper Sungai Tahan, Taman Negara Pahang
Angling season: Feb to Oct