Monday, October 27, 2008

Kelah; Malaysian Mahseer

Kelah or also popularly known as the Malaysian Mahseer is undeniably one of the fishes that tops any Malaysian angler or fish hobbyist’s wish list. This I know because when I was first introduced to fishing, people were already telling me stories of this elusive and prized fish.

The name Kelah commands respect and awe each time it is mentioned. For many years of learning to cast the line and tying the right knot for the hooks and sinkers, I imagined this fish to be found only in some great rivers and lakes, not even close to the fish ponds and small rivers that I was familiar with.

I love fishing. Though many of my friends (even my wife) occasionally highlights my ‘lack of patience’, fishing is still very much part of me. When I was in the primary school, off-school hours were mostly worm digging sessions and fishing. I rarely went home empty handed from any fishing trip. Mom would be beaming with her son’s catch and my brother just can’t wait to enjoy them on the dinner table. Fishes that I usually catch includes Tilapia (The African mouth breathers), Lampam, Sia, Baung and of course the vicious Haruan (Snake Head).

The Malaysian Mahseer or Kelah

I encountered my first (from the wild) Kelah during a multiple day trekking trip in Taman Negara. It was sort of like a tour group organized by an adventure company (can’t remember the company name). It was years ago. Eons ago to be exact. Back then I still had my 32 waist and a six packs to show off.

As the group trekked deeper into the tropical rainforest, the jungle suddenly changed. The canopy was so high from the ground and it literally covered the whole sky. The rivers became much narrower, fast flowing but almost crystal clear. It was here that I first come eye to eye with the Malaysian Mahseer.

Yup…our group fished the Malaysian Mahseer out from the Taman Negara rivers that time. I have not a clue that time that what we were doing is illegal. In fact, I didn’t know that there was going to be fishing either. Otherwise I would have brought my rod and reels as well. Though it was not part of the itinerary, obviously some of the guides came prepared with all the necessary baits.

I did not do any fishing (Honest!). In fact I was not even allowed near the river as the presence of humans (as I was told) would scare away the fishes. So, I stood a distance away, waiting to witness the exciting moments. Sure enough, several Malaysian Mahseer Kelah was caught. I can’t help but take picture with one of them fishes. Here’s a scanned picture of me with one of them Kelah.

Yes…it was (and still is) illegal to fish in the National Park but ignorance is blissful I suppose. I believe you are allowed to fish at certain parts of the park only. You’d have to check with park authorities to be sure.

Well, this ‘first’ encounter happened years ago. And since then, I have come to realize how endangered they are and how these fishes remain as part of the Malaysian heritage. These days, I still look out for them when I go fishing but its all catch and release. But more importantly, I have spent some time and effort visiting some of Malaysia’s Kelah sanctuaries to support and also share with people the importance of protecting this magnificent freshwater treasure. I will write more about some of these Kelah sanctuaries soon.

NOTE:To find out more about the Malaysian Mahseer or Kelah sanctuaries, look under the ‘LABEL’ segment on the right side of this page.