Of Snakeheads, Malaya and the British Empire: Reminiscence of an Angler

Of Snakeheads, Malaya and the British Empire: Reminiscence of an Angler

One Friday night, I was in the middle of my favorite TV program Nat Geo Wild when my friend Jim called. Knowing that Jim was a keen sports fisherman and angler, I spoke first: “Ah, got fishing itch again? nevertheless lamenting over the fact you let that big one get away?”

I could imagine Jim’s amused confront on the other end of the line: I heard him giggling and I was sure he knew, once again, I was hooked. His bait? He had promised to foot the bill for a short break in Wales, with a possible Pembrokeshire Holidays tour for the two of us scheduled for next Summer.

When he hung up, I continued my TV program. When it was over, I sat down at the sofa chair, my eyes casting a furtive to peek briefly at the clear, moonlit night sky. I began to reminisce.

About 60 years ago, when I was about 8, my father was posted to the Straits Settlements, later forming part of Malaya, now known as Malaysia. Later, he became the Police Superintendant of a district known as Muar, in the then Malayan State of Johor. It was in Muar that I took up the sport of angling.

Our family consisting of Dad, Mom, me and my younger sister lived in a bungalow house with a large compound, complete with an annex for kitchen and the Amah’s room. The style of the house was distinctly Victorian, but it also contained some elements of Malay architecture. The fact that Muar River ( quite a large body of water with one bank heavily lined with Mangrove and ‘Nipah’ trees – a kind of wild palm) flew close by our house was pivotal in my lauching to angling.

My Malay playmate, one Ahmad, who attended the same school as I often brought me to the edges of the Muar River to fish. During those years, fish were extremely abundant. All we did was to use a length of bamboo as our rod, using a simple string and a hook with clams or small shrimps as bait. Sometimes we used a kind of sea worm found in the muddy earth near the river bank. Without fail, we always hooked something: it could be a puffer, a bream, or a sea-bass and other shared estuary, semi-marine fish. One did not need any skill to land fish then.

I later graduated to more skillful and varied forms of fishing – fishing in lakes, mining ponds, small creeks, etc using rods and reels. I could nevertheless ingemination that the most exciting fishing at that time ( and already now – I was so told by my Malaysian friends ) was angling the two commonest varieties of snakehead ( known as “Ikan Haruan” or “Ikan Toman” in Malay ). This is a powerful, predatory fish that live in fresh water and sometimes in brackish waters too, terrorizing other fishes in the water. Then as now, to hook a snakehead the best bait would be a live frog-let or house gecko. I would cast the line and slowly reel back the line with the hooked bait close by the sides of the water, taking care not to get the bait entangled among the weeds.

The moment of truth came when you felt a tug of the line and soon the hooked snakehead would struggle violently against being caught and brought to land. To me, that was the high point of a fishing trip and I would not trade it for anything – not already a short break in Wales, or, for that matter Pembrokeshire Holidays. And speaking of fishing holidays, I potential myself that I must go to the thorough jungles of Amazon for my next fishing expedition.

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