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Thursday October 20, 2011

The toman promises a good fight for anglers

DESCRIBED as the strongest freshwater fish and a prized catch in Asia, the toman is one fish that every angler loves to get their hooks in.

Commonly found in man-made lakes and dams around the country and in the interior jungle, the toman (Channa micropeltes) is a predator known for its enormous strength and brutal fights with anglers.

A member of the snakehead family, the toman can be identified easily by its white stripes and purplish and greenish markings on the long body.

Big one: Francis Khoo and the toman caught at Teluk Bahang Dam, Pulau Pinang, recently

This mean-looking monster is very hardy and is also known for its sharp teeth.

Due to its aggressiveness, the toman has made itself one of the most sought after fish in the Malaysia freshwater fishing scene.

My first encounter with toman was when I travelled along the East West Highway from Gerik, Perak, to Jeli, Kelantan, in the early 1980s as part of a country-wide road trip with my uncle.

Along the highway, I spotted the orang asli selling these huge, ugly-looking fish, some as long as three feet, that were hung on their makeshift roadside stalls. They are mainly sold as dried salted fish. Freshly caught giant toman were also a common sight along the highway. The fish then was not known to be an eating fish among Malaysians, except for anglers and those who regularly visited the jungle.

It was not until some 10 years later that I returned to Pulau Banding in the Temenggong Lake on a camping and fishing trip in search for this killer fish.

Whopper catch: A giant toman caught by Dr Kelvin Khaw at the Air Ganda, Grik, Perak.

By then, the population of toman in the 15,200ha man-made lake in Perak had already dwindled.

My long time guide and boatman, Gopal, told me that huge fish, which could weigh as much as 20kg had diminished due to constant netting by the locals to make salted fish. The demand for this species as food, to substitute haruan, a similar but smaller species to toman, had also depleted the wild stocks despite the meat of this monster fish tasting rather coarse and bland.

Aside from Temenggong, my other favourite spots for toman are the Kenyir dam, the largest man-made lake in the country; Chenderoh Dam, the oldest power station in the country located in northern Perak; and Pergau Dam, a hydroelectric dam in Kuala Yong, Kelantan.

I have had many thrilling adventures encountering toman and even broke a rod or two for being too careless in the excitement of attempting to land the ruthless fish, which loves to dive and hide among submerged tree trunks, branches and roots in a bid to escape. But it was a good experience that taught me to be a better toman angler.

One has be mindful if they want to hunt for toman in the wild.

One of the reccomendations is to gear up with a medium heavy and relatively stiff rod to fight this species.

At least a 30lb line and a heavier leader or preferably a wire tracer to prevent the toman from snipping the line, are essential tools for this type of fishing.

A 3,000 or 4,000 series spinner reel, with loaded full line, is a must but I have always prefered the round baitcasting reel. My all time favourite is the Shimano Calcutta 400.

As for bait, there are several methods being used to attract this fish.

Those who prefer the drifting method would use live keli or Malaysian river catfish, which is hooked underneath its dorsal fin, to allow it to swim freely to entice the toman to take the bait.

The other method is to use lures and poppers to hunt for the toman.

One of the favourite and popular ways is to wait for the toman to rise to the surface for air and then pop the lures towards the spot where it had emerged.

A fisho needs to be fast and sharp to cast the line and lure out, in time to catch the fish before it submerges. But this method needs some experience and skill to do it. Once you know the technique in anticipating and spotting the glimpse of the fish before it make its appearance and tricks in deploying the lure and line out, it would be a fair chance for a fisho to land the toman.

The other method is to look for the toman nursing its juveniles. Many anglers prefer to catch them this way as the mother fish is protective of its young and would be ferocious if they are spooked. This will not only give a good fight to the anglers in reeling in the catch but also an extraordinary brutal run in that spur-of-the-moment action in protecting its young.

Life frogs, plastic lures and bushwackers could also be used to attract the toman but the spinner baits would be more attractive and productive.

And one of the important skills in fighting toman is to keep the line tension taut as the fish is capable of spitting out the hook out when the line slacks.

So, if you are aiming to hunt for this killer fish, it is advisable to go during the hot season, where the water level in the dams and lakes are much lower and the toman eare said to be more aggressive during this period. Good luck and taut lines!

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