Sebarau Party in Berau
Sebarau (or Hampala Barb, as they are known to the English-speaking world) are some of the toughest fish you can find anywhere in Southeast Asia. With compact muscular bodies and a forked tail, they are fond of rough water and fight very dirty when hooked, often heading for sharp rocks tumbling along the riverbed, or the nearest festive array of snags in their general area. Their tough jaws, honed by a bottomless appetite for small fish, which they violently smash before swallowing whole, are also punishing on tackle. Large specimens have been known to crumple extra-strong trebles like paper clips. While their range extends throughout most of the region, trophy-worthy specimens have only held on in specific pockets that have been left untouched by pollution and drastic environmental impact.
One of these places is the Berau, located in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. There are few places more unique than the river systems the crisscross the regency. These waterways are home to some of the hardest-fighting sport fish in the world. Because of the low elevation, and strong tidal influence the area is subjected to, there is plenty of food for predators, which in turn attracts beasts from both sides of the salinity spectrum, who gather in the intertidal zone to feast on the riches of the day’s upswelling water.
Unfortunately, the constantly shifting conditions also make the area very susceptible to rain, something we found out on our last trip there.
Fishing was challenging, to say the least. We had to approach the area with the most intrepid of mentalities, struggling to navigate ourselves towards a patch of clear water in a river system that had been sloshed with a solid month of torrential rain right before we arrived.
The game here was deep cranking. With the extremely high water levels, it became difficult to present lures to the fish with anything else, as they were holding deep and avoiding the turbid water above, which drowned out oxygen levels and had difficulty sustaining even the smallest of fish life.
Despite these conditions however, there was some Sebarau action to be had. Perhaps taking advantage of the coloured water as cover for their hunting, the Sebarau bites were furious once we had located the correct holes. A selection of robust, deep-running cranks such as the Zerek Bulldog allowed me to comb the depths, looking for hungry Sebarau awaiting an easy meal.
The cream of the crop was a 5-kilogram Sebarau, which decimated a Crankbait slowly worked along the riverbed. The Combat Beast was the perfect tool for this sort of work, as the turbulent water exerted an unbelievable amount of pressure on our tackle. While it might seem overkill to be running a pe1-3 rod for this application, in practice, this was hardly the case. I cannot understate the importance a rod with a powerful backbone and good sensitivity has under these conditions. Without it, trying to discern a bite from a knock would have been nearly impossible, and I definitely did not want to be taking any chances with the fishes, which clearly possessed a serious advantage over the four fellows in leaky boat above them!
As we sojourned further upriver, the stained water gave way to fast-flowing, clearer stretches. We were entering the domain of another denizen that we had come to Berau for, the Red Mahseer.
Red Masheer are skittish fish. Because of the environment they live in, they are acutely aware of potential danger, and will not hesitate to power down river and straight out of the sight the second they sense it coming their way. While targeting Sebarau was a smash-and-grab operation, these finicky feeders forced us to take on a more finesse approach.
We decided upon a more natural presentation. Square-billed shallow cranks are less frantic in the water than the massive, wedge-billed cranks we had been using earlier. Slowly swum through the edges of the river meanders, these proved to be a hit with not just the Masheer, but with some of the other scaly locals as well.
These encounters came to a head with a very nice Masheer, which sucked in deep crankbait as it waddled past a little underwater bank. Once again, the Combat Beast proved invaluable in stopping these powerhouses in their tracks.
Don’t be fooled by the urge to go ultra-light all the time. Adjusting your tackle to match the conditions can often mean the difference between a day to remember, and complete and utter catastrophe.