From certain angles, the Damansara Perdana Fishing Pond near PJU8 could pass off as a tranquil lake in a kampong. It overlooks green hills that have somehow escaped development. The lake’s perimeter is dotted by banana and papaya trees. There are even roosters and hens strutting around in one corner, oblivious to the presence of urban fishermen – or anglers, as they are known – in the other corner.
To me, this is a completely romantic scene, with cooling air and the sound of splashing water adding to Mother Nature’s embrace. But Izad and Husin, two chatty anglers, are not as impressed. “So this is what passes off as a lake these days,” they laugh. “A man-made pond with high tension cables above it, overlooking high-rise apartments.”
Izad and Husin are among the customers who pay RM8 for one hour of fishing in this 24-hour pond. There are few other similar ponds in Puchong, Kelana Jaya and Old Klang Road. The business model works because there is demand for this activity among urban folks and a supply of abandoned mining pools that can be converted into fishing ponds.
At these man-made ponds, the chances of reeling in fish in a pond are significantly higher than a river or natural lake, because the owners ensure that the pond is well stocked with fishes like pacu, rohu, patin and tongsan. As if to reassure customers, the release schedule of fishes is prominently displayed at the entrance. According to Izad, a lucky angler once caught a 10kg tongsan in this pond, but on average, people usually catch fish weighing 1-2kg each.
But none of that really matters to the anglers. To them, the pond is their mamak. It is a place for them to meet, banter and engage in mild competition of who-is-a-better-angler. On this particular day, Mahmud was the undisputed champion. In just two hours, he had a haul of eight to ten fishes.
What is his secret?
“It’s the bait that makes the difference. Everyone here uses the same kind of fish feed, but you have to adjust the recipe. I like to mix buah ara in the feed, because the fishes are attracted to the scent. You can usually find buah ara trees on river banks, and it is an old trick to increase fishing chances. Other people use strawberry, coconut or pandan scent, with differing results.”
As if to illustrate his point, Mahmud’s fishing line suddenly becomes slack and taut repeatedly: the sign of a catch. As he grapples to reel in the fish, the other anglers provide a running commentary:
“Wah, so lucky. What magic dust did you use?”
“Stay strong! Show it who is boss.”
But no matter how big the fish, Mahmud’s catch will not end up on his dinner plate. “I don’t actually eat fresh water fish, so I will sell it to a restaurant or interested buyers. I am just here for the experience. I was born and raised in the city, so this is my temporary escape.”
Still, when did people go from fishing in rivers and lakes for free, to paying for access to fish in a man-made pond?
Mr. Nick Ooi, owner of Tacklebox Adventure, a shop that sells everything a fishing enthusiast needs, explains. “Traditional fishing is very time consuming. First, you have to head to natural sources like the sea or river. And then, you had to have enough patience to sit and wait for a fish to nibble at the bait. Today, people want the experience, but cannot afford the time. So for city folks, pond fishing is a great compromise. It is a quick fix.”
When asked who his customers are, Mr. Ooi insists, “Fishing is a sport for all ages and types. My customers’ demography includes teenagers, retirees, men, women and families.” Despite the stereotype, not anglers are middle-aged men. When I meet Anne and Eu Gin, a couple in their twenties, they are living proof of this. They tell me that they occasionally go fishing in one of the paid ponds in Puchong. “We enjoy fishing as it is a nice way to spend time together, beyond the usual dinner-and-movies routine.”
Apart from running Tacklebox Adventure, Mr. Ooi is also known as a fly fishing pioneer in Malaysia. This is still a niche fishing sport as it requires more technical know-how than regular forms of fishing. As a Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) instructor, Mr. Ooi regularly organises fishing trips and classes to share casting and tying technique.
“If people just wanted fresh fish, they can go to the market or tai chow restaurants”
Fly-fishing is defined by using a ‘weightless lure’ and artificial ‘fly’ or bait. Mr. Ooi designs some of these fly patterns specifically for the Malaysian waters, which has become popular among local fly fishers. In other words, unlike regular fishing, fly fishers do not have to dig for worms or mix their own fish feed. Mr. Ooi calls this “fishing without the bad smell.”
A popular spot for fly fishing enthusiasts is Sungai Air Kuning dam in Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam because it has a lovely, natural setting for experienced and amateur anglers. In addition, it is a conservation area that practices a “catch and release” policy. Mr. Ooi approves of this measure. “In the last 10 years, the number of fishes in our rivers and lake have depleted,” he says.
“It is the journey and experience that matters,” reflects Mr. Ooi. “If people just wanted fresh fish, they can go to the market or tai chow restaurants with a fish tank.” In the past, fishing may have been a survival skill; a way to put food on the table; perhaps even a show of machismo. But in modern KL and the surrounding suburbs, it is a way for city people to unwind and seek some respite. Through these businesses, entrepreneurs and conservationists have found some middle ground – or rather, water – to sustain an ancient pastime.
Photos by Anne Fernando.
Damansara Perdana Fishing Pond, PJU8/1, Damansara Perdana, 47820 PJ.
Tacklebox Adventure, 99 SS15/4C, 40150 Subang Jaya.