I had seen photos and heard whispers of a beastly-looking freshwater creature with the head of a bumpy, the intelligence of a dog, and enough power to snap fly lines like nothing else. Intrigued but skeptical, I thought this sounded like a trip I needed to take. With limited information due to only a 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 played 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 organized 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 could drastically change due to the weather. In the heart of the rainforest, you are completely at the mercy of its forever-changing conditions, which means that road flooding and degradation of tracks are 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 bushcraft. Within a short period, they had created a large wooden structure covered by a tarp, a kitchen, and tents for us to sleep in. This was no 5-star hotel trip; this was a real jungle mission, so you must be prepared to be uncomfortable.

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 structures 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 upstream. 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 4×4 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 rainforest, 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 resembles a native flying Cockroach that the Kaloi seemingly love to eat. 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 heartbreaks, 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, and with 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 three times in roots and vines, it certainly let me know that it 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 a fly. Oh, what a feeling!

This has to be one of the strangest and most unique-looking fish I have had the pleasure of catching. A huge bump head, a massive bottom jaw full of sharp teeth, barbels, and a body built like a rowing paddle. This fish is designed to be a fly fisher’s dream and nightmare; Kaloi have everything that a fly fisher is looking.

Angler Story of the Week from Angus Line, be sure to check out more of their story on Instagram @fly_fishing_outfitters. If you’re interested in this trip reach Angus at info@flyfishingoutfitters.com.au.

Check out the articles below:

First Ever Borneo Red Gourami or ‘Kalou’ Fish Caught on Fly

Five Saltwater Fish that Should be on Your Radar


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