Growing up, Momma NéNé always told me that a quality opponent is a gift. With that mindset, I can confidently say the Red Kaloi of Indonesian Borneo tops the list as the finest opponent I have fly-fished for. Structure-loving and with canine-level intelligence, Kaloi exit their lairs to inspect your presentation, and if it suffices, they immediately take you back to the woodshed and kick your ass.  

Here are five tips to put the odds in your favor if you’re lucky enough to tangle with the Giant Gourami that calls the second oldest rainforest in the world home:

Keep Your Arm Happy

Protect Your Mental Health

Keep Your Back Happy

Keep Your Mind Happy

Pack Properly

Bonus Tip: Get A Damn Good Guide

Keep your arm happy

Learn from my mistakes. Pack a slow action rod with a soft tip and stout bottom third. Initially, I focused on the potential fight with my rod choice. I love fighting strong fish with my 10wt Sage Salt HD (roosterfish, jacks, tarpon, etc.), so when my buddy offered up his 9wt Salt HD for the trip, I jumped. It was an awful choice. I got my first case of fly-casting forearm “tennis elbow” with it. The majority of Kaloi casts are tight, precision shots. 20-40 foot casts. Backcast sliding underneath hanging vines, forward cast landing between two submerged tree trunks. And give it a pop so the 2/0 cockroach fly makes a big ripple. Pack a rod that loads easily. 

Luckily, I switched to my favorite rod, the Hardy Zane Pro 8wt, and paired it with Fajar’s Scientific Anglers Jungle Titan 8wt floating line. It was the perfect fit. Oddly enough, this fishery is one of the few times a fly reel is purely for line storage; you can’t give these fish an inch. Set the hook and hold on for dear life. 

Protect your mental health 

It’s not you, it’s the fish. The Kaloi’s selectiveness may drive you to madness. I was beside myself in the first few days, convinced I had pulled the hook out of multiple Kaloi mouths. Then, on the second to last day, I watched a Kaloi tap my fly with its nose, circle the fly, tap again, circle again, and tap once more, all while swimming downriver in sync with the drift. The canoe, fly, and fish moved downstream in perfect harmony for 60 feet or more. And then the Kaloi disappeared back to the depths. When Kaloi eat, they eat. But they also like to rise and check things out. And maybe even gulp some water to make the fly sink to get a better look at it. And make your heart race into your ears. 

Keep your back happy 

Plan to pack a (truly) waterproof backpack for all the usual reasons (the rainforest can be somewhat rainy) but, more than anything, for the boat rides. An airtight bag makes for a great pillow to sit on in the narrow canoes. My trusty 5-year-old Patagonia backpack whistled out air the first day. It is less comfy to lean into water bottles and fly boxes. Peacefully perched on Fajar’s Yeti backpack full of air while reading, motoring upriver under the jungle canopy was a borderline religious experience. It also allowed me to rest and be ready to fish to the best of my ability once it was time to stand up and be alert. Since the trip, I picked up the Fishpond Submersible rolltop backpack. It is divine. It’s the closest I have seen a dry bag get to an actual hiking pack (sturdy hip belt, chest strap that doesn’t ride too high). I have never been a fan of waterproof items with zippers, so having a load-bearing pack which is also a roll top dry bag is the perfect combo. 

Keep your mind happy

Even if you aren’t a ‘have an emergency copy, paperback reading, always keep a headlamp with you’ kind of person, I highly suggest being prepared to read a book on trips like these. Diving into an excellent adventure tale saved my sanity as the river rose ten feet in a matter of hours one morning. I got lucky and happened to start the finest non-fiction book I’ve read yet on this trip, No Mercy: A Journey Into the Heart of the Congo (O’Hanlon). Other favorites from this year I can heartily recommend are Into the Heart of Borneo (O’Hanlon), Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart (Butcher), A Bend In The River (Naipaul), and two bonus classics you’ve likely heard of but may not have read: Ninety-two in the Shade (McGuane) and A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (Maclean). Most know the latter book, but I am always surprised by how few have read it, and even fewer have read the other stories. Those stories are golden nuggets waiting for your eyes to discover them. 

Pack Properly

Pack the best UPF hoody you can find. Equatorial rainforests can get steamy. I grabbed a Simms Intruder snap hoody before my initial trip to Djibouti in 2022, and it’s the best fishing shirt I’ve worn. I wore it for eight days straight on that trip, wading up to chest-deep in saltwater most days. Not a single freshwater rinse the whole time, yet the shirt never smelled, and I never got sunburned through it, even when soaked. I was sold. Over a year later, I still adore it. The material does not weigh itself down when wet, like most hoodies. The buttons allow you to adjust how tight the shirt is around your neck and, most importantly, maintain coverage between the shirt and buff on the back of your neck even if you don’t wear the hoody. I believe I fish better without the hoody on, but I always like to have it in case the sun gets to roasting levels. I am also a big fan of the Simms Intruder BiComp shirt and wore that on the trip as well. Both shirts have zippered chest pockets, which is crucial for me. I keep chapstick and lens wipes in that pocket at all times. 

Bonus Tip: Get a damn good guide

Enthusiasm got the best of me the first few days, and I was over-casting. I wanted to hit every single spot that looked promising. On the final day, I fished one-on-one with Ming and took a third of the casts I had earlier. He said no to the majority of my cast requests. All casts were intentional. Each location was agreed upon verbally. Teamwork at its finest. And that deliberate casting paid off. Ming was the first person to catch a Red Kaloi on the fly and is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the jungle and its inhabitants. Sharing a boat with him was a richly rewarding experience. 

Stay tuned to check out the Reel of the Week from Austin Kane promoted on Flylords social channels, you don’t want to miss it! Reel of the Week from Austin Kane be sure to check him out on Instagram @austinvkane. Be sure to check out Kaniak Fishing to join an adventure with Austin!

Check out the articles below:

Reel of the Week: DIY Giant Trevally Fishing in Djibouti

Angler Story of the Week: Fly Fishing For Red Kaloi

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


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