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Red Kaloi On Fly

Red Kaloi On Fly


I had seen photos and heard whispers of a beastly looking fresh water creature with the head of a bumpy, the intelligence of a dog and enough power to snap fly lines like nothing else. Intrigued but sceptical, I thought this sounded like a trip that I needed to do. With limited information due to a very small number having been caught, I asked the small group of anglers who were lucky enough to experience this mythical juggernaut. To say the least, this only grew my interest even more, every story was different. From a subtle gentle sip, followed by an intense and relentless battle, to a fast and ferocious inhale within milliseconds of the fly landing. All of these stories entailed a common theme. Hooking the fish was only going to be half of the struggle.

I had seen rods turned from 4 pieces into 6, 60-70lb leaders snapped, fly lines seemingly blown up and hooks bent in all kinds of ways. Of course this plays tricks on the mind, do you fish them light and see what happens, or do you bring the heavy stuff and tussle it out hand to hand. As you can imagine, the decision was to pack more rods than I would ever need.

Once we had embarked on this journey it took approximately 3 days from when we left Perth, Western Australia to when our flies first touched the water. Due to the remote nature of this expedition there was a substantial amount of logistics and travel involved, all organised by our guide Fajar, a well known figure in the Indonesian fly fishing community. This included three flights, two hotel stays and a 10 hour 4X4 trip out into the jungle. The drive can drastically change due to the weather. In the heart of the rain forest, you are completely at the mercy of it’s forever changing conditions, that means that road flooding and degradation of tracks is very common.

After some great recoveries, a broken CV joint and endless mud hole crossings, we finally arrived and the Dayak people of the local village began to set up our camp. These guys were serious masters of bush craft. Within a short period they had created a large wooden structure covered by tarp, a kitchen and tents for us to sleep in. This was no 5 star hotel trip, this is a real jungle mission so you must be prepared to be uncomfortable.

Abel Reel

We had a few casts before sunset that consisted of two Kaloi strikes. One a large female and the other a nice Bull (male). Both were completely different in the way they attacked the fly. This was my first taste of how ferocious and gentle these fish could be. I believe this is one of the many reasons why they are so hard to hook. You are constantly waiting in anticipation for a massive boof and a quick eat when all of a sudden a pink face slowly emerges from the tannin water, only to gently sip the fly down without creating a ripple. It is very hard to go from an extremely fast eat to a very slow one from one fish to the next. This meant it took a good minute to get into the rhythm of these fish.

The fishing is not really blind casting, I would call it more strategic casting. We cast at suitable structure for the Kaloi, so you are not always making casts randomly. They like slow pools after a fast run, or piles of logs where they can watch potential food float over. They can also be sight casted on occasions when they are in the shallows or on the surface eating fruits or insects.

The next day we set out again on the long boats and went around 1.2 hours up stream. The boats are traditional wooden long boats used by the Dayaks. There are no $100,000 skiffs in this part of the world and that only adds to the experience. This day we had the highest strike rate out of any of the days, my partner Paris and I both had around 5 hits each throughout the day. I would say the average was around 2-3 per day. Now we had really felt the power of this fish! I can only explain it as hooking into a GT that has low range 4x4 gears and is already in the reef. These fish don't want to do big long runs but they do want to get right back under their log and quickly. You have to be ready to battle it out at any moment. In the rain forest, every inch of water is occupied by Vines, fallen trees and snags of all descriptions, this means letting the fish have 1 inch could be disastrous.

Kaloi are anatomically designed to eat from the surface with their upturned mouth and big 360 degree viewing eyes, so you will be fishing mostly dry flies and poppers. I know it sounds weird but yes, we fished dry flies on 10wt rods with 60lb leaders. The fly of choice for us was recommended by the pioneers of Kaloi fishing, Fajar Setyawan and Minggaang Lejau. It is the BBC (Big Black Cockroach). This fly resembled a native flying Cockroach that the Kaloi seemingly love to eat.

Roach Flies

When casting the fly we have to break a few traditional fly fishing rules and adapt to the species. A wide loop style of casting is a necessity here. The fish is very reactive to plops and slaps on the water, whether that be a fruit falling or a big terrestrial insect that missed its landing. Opening your loop allows the fly to slap down hard, creating a loud plop. Remember the water here is heavy in tannin so the fish rely a lot on vibrations and sounds.

After a few great tussles and some serious heart-breaks we returned to camp on the first afternoon. We jumped out of the boat and grabbed our gear but I didn't feel like i was done so we quickly convinced Fajar and two of our boatmen to take us up another stretch before the sun was too low over the jungle canopy.

The light was fading fast as it does out here and we were just about to start making our way back, when I made a short cast along a seemingly nondescript section of the bank. Instantaneously a pink face rose from the dark water and stopped right underneath my fly. The fish watched the fly drift for around 10 seconds before it ever so gently sipped the fly down a hard strip buried the hook into its top lip. Another battle ensued! My Scott Sector got the beating of its life, creaking and bending in all directions as the fish tried everything to ensure that I would have a sleepless night.

Running underneath the boat, getting tangled 3 times in roots and vines, it certainly let me know that he was the real deal, an almost unobtainable beast of the jungle. After several minutes of what can only be described as “scrapping it out” I finally got the upper hand and managed to coerce the fish to the bank becoming the 8th person to land a bull Kaloi on fly. Oh what a feeling!

Red Kaloi

This has to be one of the strangest and most unique looking fish I have had the pleasure of catching. A huge bump head, massive bottom jaw full of sharp teeth, barbels and a body built like a rowing paddle. This fish is designed to be a fly fishers dream and nightmare, Kaloi have everything  that a fly fisher is looking for from the way they look, to the environment they live in. They will hook you in and then ruin your confidence in a split moment with their fighting intelligence and power. You have to love them and the challenge that they are.

After landing one on the first evening I thought that I would be set for the week, oh how I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, we managed to hook a fair few others but between losing them in structure, bending hooks, pulling hooks and snapping leaders, the Kaloi managed to elude us for the remainder of our stay and my confidence was again diminished, beaten and bruised.

The fish that was landed was around 5.5Kgs which is a decent size for the red Kaloi but they do get much larger. The biggest landed so far was around the 7kg mark by Singaporean angler Mervyn Tan. The locals told us stories of 15+kg fish. On the second last day I believe we met a fish that was close to twice the size of mine. My partner Paris Russell Hooked a true giant in clear water, we got to see the entirety of the fish and its jaw dropping size. The fight went for close to a minute when I was out of the boat and ready to net it. Unfortunately one last run saw her 60lb carbon leader absolutely explode under pressure. We will never know how large the fish truly was, however we now have a new target upon our return.

We also experienced a number of other unique species including, Blue Masheer, Snake head, Hampala and various others. For the gear used on this trip I would highly recommend a short jungle style rod. For this I went with a Scott Sector 8’4” 10 weight. An 8-10wt rod would suffice, the length was more important to me. You are casting under tree canopies and require a lot of accuracy so a short rod is paramount. A compact head floating line is also a must, you will need to be able to pick up the fly and place it back down without any false casts when the water is running fast. We used the Airflo Flats Power Taper 2.0 line, I couldn’t recommend it enough as a perfect match for the short Sector. I would spend my money on the rod and line for this type of fishing, the reel is merely for line storage. If you were to let a Kaloi get you onto the reel, the fight would already be over. In saying this I did fish a custom Abel SDS because I have it and it looks cool. An Omispool taped to my rod would have done the same job.

All in all this trip was an incredible experience. We can’t thank Fajar and the Dayak people enough for their hospitality and execution of the logistical nightmare that a jungle trip like this is. The jungle is a harsh environment that I wouldn’t recommend to everybody, you need a certain amount of grit and the ability to handle inescapable discomfort for long periods of time. You also need to keep a constant eye on your wellbeing, from a variety dangers ranging from infections to painful insect bites. Any wound in an environment like this can turn bad quickly, so watch out and move slowly around camp. An injury will require a very long trip to the nearest hospital.

We met some incredible people on this trip and characters that you wouldn't find anywhere else. We have already made plans to come back for redemption, the tying has commenced and the planning resumed. A new expedition is imminent.

 Want to listen to more? Check out the Australian Fly Fishing Podcast, where Angus and Josh discuss this trip and more!



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