Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wildcats Wonderland

By Trevor Tau Fik


My first visit to this wondrous place was totally unplanned. Boon Cheng and I had been scouring the area for haruan (snakehead), without success, when he suggested that we check out this “Catfish Centre” nearby that is supposedly crawling with cats. I hadn’t had so much as a tap the whole morning and my striking arm was itching to fly loose, so I agreed in a heartbeat.

"Catfish City" enjoys regular visitors because of its yield-obliging reputation.

But first, we had to deal with the fact that we had no bait. Boon Cheng said that all we needed to do was catch one catfish, from which his fillet knife would derive enough bait for us to catch lots more. We caught a grasshopper and instantly got a bite with that, but I lost the hookup. Fortunately, there were quite a number of people fishing nearby. After exchanging some pleasantries, I asked the nearest guy if he could spare me a cricket. He had a whole pack of ‘em, so of course, he obliged.

I wasted no time putting the bait in the water and watched my line for that telltale twitch. The good thing about fishing here is that you seldom have to wait long for a bite. Before I could complete a ten-count, my line shot out and I struck eagerly. The reel spat out a little hiss… hookup! A few easy flicks of the rod and casual cranks of the reel later, a half-kilo kitty is dangling from the tip of my rod. Boon Cheng said it would do nicely and took it away. When he came back with it, all I saw were pieces of catfish sashimi…we had bait!

One of the best baits for catfish... is catfish.
There were signs of prowling pussies all over the place in the form of rises and bubbles, while the big and bold ones would push their entire head out of the water and surf on the surface! Quickly hooking on an inch of cat meat, I made a long cast. As my rig sank, I reeled slowly to set the line. While I was collecting the slack, I had this sudden “rat-tat-tat” machinegun take. Awesome! I struck instantly and my soft rod coiled into a curve. The fish fought in a zigzagging run typical of cats, offering dogged resistance. Just as I had played my fish halfway in, Boon Cheng whips his rod and also hooks up. Double strike… and both on the first cast! We engaged our fish leisurely, as the pond is snag-free, with the exception of some weeds near the bank.

After landing my kitten of about a kilo, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bait was still on my hook. In fact, it didn’t look any worse from wear, so I just cast it out again. A minute after setting the line, another pussy pounces on the bait and hooks itself on the run. Hey, this is great, man! Repeating the feat a few times, I caught a total of five catfishes with that single piece of bait. Boon Cheng accomplished pretty much the same results also… and we’d only been fishing for about fifteen minutes!
Evidence of toman presence. Catching one may be hard, though, due to the abundance of food.
Up until then, all the kitties we caught were below two kilos. Just as I thought that may be the best this place could offer, Boon Cheng throws himself two steps backwards with a snarling strike. His rod instantly contorts into a contemptuous curve and I knew right away that he’d snared a big cat. He commands his muscles into high gear to match his opponent’s size, as the crafty cat dredged the pond bed, releasing a trail of bubbles. Unlike the tame tots before, this thundercat made the reel roar in agony, but most times, Boon Cheng remained in control. He happily savoured every swish and spring that his mad cat hissed out during the prolonged catfight, as large specimens of this species are known for incredible stamina. After much scratching and clawing around the bottom, the formidable cat finally succumbs to Boon Cheng’s insistence and it grudgingly starts strutting towards the bank. It makes a few final attempts to dive, but Boon Cheng’s pumps turn it around and up it slides onto the sand. At about three kilos, it is quite an impressive cat(ch).
Boon Cheng has no fear of allergy to this kinda cat.
TOP CATI spent the next ten minutes hoping that I might also get attached to such a pretty puss, but all I caught in that time were three cranky cats that gave me more trouble than usual when I was unhooking them. Then shortly after that… whooomp! The rod is almost wrenched out of my inattentive grip and I barely recover in time to quickly fire off a panicky strike. Thankfully, I get a solid hookup. The fish hurtles into the depths, pulling my rod into a creaking curve while the reel is forced to exhale a continuous whistle. My mind registers it as a big one, and my fingers swiftly fumble the reel knob to calibrate a commensurate drag setting. That pushed the ferocious feline into a frenzied fight, rolling and churning the waters with savage swirls and bulging boils. I knew that I would not be able to beat the beast with my modest ten-pound line, so I just let the drag and the rod absorb all the rant and rave. Every chance I got, I made a fast pump and stole back some line. After about five minutes of such cat and mouse… erm, I mean “cat and man” play, I saw a thick set of whiskers break surface, followed by a humongous head. I gasped and held my breath. Hell, it’s BIG!!!

Boon Cheng also saw it and hurried over with a lipgrip. Even at the bank, the feral fish splashed and slashed violently, as if shaking its head in refusal to concede defeat. Ignoring its insolence, Boon Cheng snaps in the lipgrip and hauls up the lordly lunker. Although not exactly record-breaking, it is still a proud specimen… easily a kilo heavier than the earlier trophy. I correctly guessed that our day couldn’t get any better after each of us chalked up a coupla champs like that, ‘coz we only caught kilo-odd strays after that. Believing that our trip had peaked, we decided to start all over again on another day.
What a spanking good kitty to spread across my knee.
On a subsequent trip, we brought along a “cat” of our own, in the form of Kevin’s Korean girlfriend, Misou, who was keen to see what her boyfriend meant when he said that he was going out to “catch pussies”. Things got off to a fantastic start, with Boon Yew and I yanking in cats right from the first cast.

Misou from Korea meets an African catfish in Malaysian waters.
We had arrived quite late in the evening, which was apparently a good time, ‘coz we were getting a hit with every cast! In fact, the fishing was so great that we ran out of crickets after only twenty minutes. The two of us would have been content with that, except Kevin had not caught anything yet. Now, this was a dreadfully unacceptable outcome. Any angler who doesn’t catch anything from this place would not be expected to survive the ensuing insults. So out came the fillet knife again and we were back in business.

Boon Yew shows the usual result from an hour's effort here.
While Boon Yew and I continued catching cats of varying sizes, Kevin begins to get really worried about his scoreless condition. Even more so because the sun was setting and that meant he didn’t have much time left to “save himself”. But his anxiety was short-lived, as a fat cat soon took a liking to his chunky bait and slurped it in. Relief at last! Kevin fought the fish mindfully and landed it enthusiastically to claim his admission into our “Achievers Club”.
Oddly, the pond went into shutdown mode after Kevin’s fish and the bites stopped coming. It was as if we had exhausted the catch quota for the day, and here is where this pond stands apart from all other ponds… we can always come back here and start all over again on another day.

Kevin's saviour is a night cat that came out for an early dinner.


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