Taking On Royal Belum, Perak
By Isaac Kuek
Royal Belum – one of the synonyms for toman fishing in Malaysia, and often considered one of the last wild frontiers for us anglers to conquer. Funny enough, there was never the urge for me to try out this place even after hearing many good things about it. However, this changed when the boredom of city life kicked in, and the usual morning getaways were not enough to satiate the desire for some untamed adventure. Hence the planned was hatched, and a 6-man team compromising of myself, Jonathan, Jared, Joel, Danny and Doc headed to the famed Royal Belum for a 2 day 1 night trip.
We reached the jetty in the wee hours of dawn, and we were unexpectedly greeted with a chilly breeze. After having been in a car for the past 4 and a half hours, it was definitely the wake-up call we needed to set our blood pumping. The boatmen were on time to our surprise as well, and we headed straight to the boathouse which would be our humble abode for the next 2 days.
The Fishing Begins
After dropping of our stuff, we started our first session of the day. Me and Jonathan started of using some surface lures like pencils and buzzbaits, which received plenty of hits but 0 solid hook-ups, including some pretty intense strikes from mama tomans guarding fry balls. As the morning wore on and the misses kept continuing, I decided to switch over to a spinnerbait in hopes of scoring a solid bite.
As we moved into a small creek, with the boatman quietly paddling in to avoid spooking the fish, I spotted a rise at the edge of the bank. As soon as my spinnerbait hit the water and I began cranking it, the fish smacked it with no hesitation. I was quite surprised by its strength as it began peeling drag off a fully locked down reel. However, after a brief intense fight, it gave up and quietly allowed itself to be dragged towards the boat. I was so sure that the fish was subdued, that was until it made one last dash that twisted the hook of a custom spinnerbait and escaped.
Whilst I was busy retying, Jonathan continued blind casting around the structures and his spinner bait was suddenly taken by another toman. As we were at the end of the creek, there was lots of sunken trees which made the fight way tougher. However, the fish was no match for his brutal pumping, and was soon subdued!
A beautiful toman (giant snakehead) caught on spinner bait.
As we took a break to have lunch, we met up with the rest of the crew and found the situation to be pretty similar with ours. We all had plenty of bites on topwater, but they were just not connecting. With frustration mounting, we took a quick nap before heading out again for the evening session. As the sun began to set, we started off by throwing top waters again, and the same problems persisted. As it had been raining for a few days, I suspected that the fish were slightly sluggish, hence a lot of follows and blow-ups but no hook-ups. Hence, I tried to slow down my twitches, with pauses in between, and it finally paid off. We landed a couple of young gangsters in quick succession.
We were about to head back to the boathouse when we suddenly encountered a huge sebarau frenzy. However, as they were feeding on small insects on the surface, the myriad of lures thrown at their faces were completely ignored. We chased the frenzy for a good 1 hour, before heading back to the boathouse to cook and prep for the next day. It was quite frustrating, as the fish were clearly there and eating, but we failed to put them in the boat. It was a good reminder that sometimes we cannot win every battle, and this time the fish won.
After having a good night’s rest, we woke up before the break of dawn and had a quick breakfast before heading out. Our boatman decided to head back to the spot where we encountered the sebarau frenzy last night, in hopes that today they would be more cooperative. To our delight as we reached the spot, we could see the sebaraus busting at baitfish. Although the frenzy was not as big as the day before, the fact that they were chasing baitfish and not eating insects gave us hope. We started sight-casting whenever they came up to boil or chase baitfish, and Jonathan was the first to hook into a decent size one.
He sight-casted his pencil towards the sebarau and it was fish on! After having landed his fish, the topwater bite shutdown and they ignored our lures completely. Switching to subsurface lures like minnows and spoons also yielded no results. However just as we were about to give up, the boatman suggesting using a diving minnow that could maintain at a deeper depth even on a fast retrieve. Using an ima shukari 50s, we chased the frenzy again, and this time I connected and successfully landed the first sebarau of the trip. However, the same thing happened again after landing my fish- the bite completely shut off and we decided to chase after some giant snakeheads instead.
The toman bite was pretty slow compared to the previous day, with barely any takes on topwaters. Switching to diving crankbaits also proved useless, with zero takes at all. As we were waiting for toman rises in a ‘lubuk’, I noticed a small toman fryball deep in the snags. As the boatman adjusted the boat to allow us to make a cast, Jonathan switched to a spinnerbait and made the first cast. As the spinnerbait broke water, it was instantly taken and his drag began screaming. Alas after that brief fight, the fish managed to throw the hook, a common thing when fishing for mama toman as they usually just knock the lures away instead of actually eating it.
Sebaraus; the wolves of rivers and lakes.
We continued casting fruitlessly for the next few hours before deciding to head to a campsite to have lunch. However, when we arrived the others were nowhere to be seen thus, we decided to make a few casts at a spot nearby. As it was relatively shallow and weedy, I opted to use a spinnerbait and was rewarded with my first toman of the day! After that brief bit of action with no other takers, we headed back to the campsite just as the others arrived and took a well-deserved break.
We headed out again around 3pm, and as the bites today were slow, I decided to stick with the spinnerbait that had produced bites. Entering another lubuk overgrown with weeds and fallen logs, I spotted a toman swimming in the shallows. Casting over it and slowly reeling it pass its face, I saw the fish turn and took a bite at the blades of the spinnerbait, hence no solid hookup. However, this was one fierce fellow, and I continued to chase it. The monster finally took the spinnerbait properly boat side. It was a pretty intense close quarter fight before landing my first proper ‘negro’ toman from Royal belum.
As the day wore on and the sun began to set, our boatman said he was going to bring us to a secret spot. After a 30-minute boat ride, we arrived at a creek mouth with lots of weed islands around. Seeing as the conditions were right, I switched to a topwater buzzbait and began blind casting around the islands. Out of nowhere, a wake suddenly appeared before a solid explosion followed by line peeling of the reel. Using my trusty Abu Roxani Poweshooter paired with a Fenwick HMG, the fish stood no chance as I pumped it out of the reeds and landed the biggest toman for the trip; ending the trip on a high note.
Looking back at this trip, I would say that this place has lived up to the hyped. We saw plenty of fish, had plenty of strikes, just not many landed successfully. But that’s fishing, there are good days and bad days, and we just happened to have had bad luck on this trip. That’s what gives us the motivation to keep on trying, in hopes of better days. Till the next time, tight lines.