Rainforest streams usually bring to mind pint-sized, nervous fish, but there’s nothing small, subtle or hidden about the red kaloi. A rhino in fish form, this snub-nosed wonder will smash your poppers, tie you up in submerged structure and seriously test your tackle. In issue 36, Singapore-based fly angler Mervyn Tan tell us what he learnt about them on a recent trip.

What: The red kaloi, Osphronemus septemfasciatus, is one of four species of gourami within the Osphronemus genus. It is thoroughly omnivorous, eating everything from fruits and flowers to insects, crustaceans, fishes and amphibians. While according to local reports they are known to grow up to a whopping 15kg for the males and 5kg for the females, the common range based on expeditions so far is between 4kg to 8kg.

Where: They are endemic to the island of Borneo, where you will find them in one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Their habitat is primarily restricted to the upper sections of clear-flowing forest streams, often tinted by tannins ranging from wine to tea colours, guarded by an impossible fortress of complicated submerged wood structure.

How: From the few expeditions that have happened so far, red kaloi have a proven preference for popper flies. Depending on the weather, time of day, water flow and quality, they respond differently. From smashing poppers to giving the most subtle takes, they can either be incredibly aggressive or frustratingly reluctant, taking their time to size up the fly before turning away and disappearing into the depths.

Hooking them is one thing, successfully landing them is another. No disrespect to the females but the trophy has to be the bulls. They are aesthetically majestic, significantly larger in size and possess pure brute power. Combine those attributes with the environment they live in, and you have your problem. You have to stop them or they will bury you dead in the underwater structure. You don’t get many chances with them either. I’ve had more than 10 opportunities, but only tasted success once.

In terms of tackle, I was using the Sage Salt HD in an 8-weight with the Abel Super Series 7/8, loaded with Scientific Anglers’ Jungle Titan throughout my recent expedition. Out of six proper hook-ups (of the males), I only managed to land one weighing in at around 10.8lbs (4.9kg), after I switched up to 40lbs direct tippet. To stand a chance in the fight, I would recommend at least an 8-weight setup, as you need a rod with a powerful backbone. I’d also recommend tippet of 60 to 80lbs to hopefully be able to help stop these fish from heading back to their lairs in brutish fashion.

Side note: Drawing lessons from this expedition, the setup I will be using when I head back again early next year will be the Sage Bass II Largemouth 330 Grain and Peacock 390 Grain rods, with Abel Super Series 7/8 and 9/10, coupled with 9- and 10-weight Jungle Titan lines from Scientific Anglers. Tippets will range from 60lbs to 80lbs. I may bring 90lbs and 100lbs as a contingency.

Who: I went with my friend, Fajar Setyawan, from Spice Island Outfitters; they run and organise fly fishing trips in Indonesia.

Watch a preview of Mervyn’s trip here:

Get stuck into the rest of issue 36 below. As always, it’s free.

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