On the semah trail along Sg Katibas

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A delighted angler showing off his catch.

Chimon’s siblings, brother-in-law (right) and longhouse chief Sapai Ajom (second right) are all smiles as they show off their grilled ikan semah.

This spot is called the Batu Babi (wild boar’s rock), famous among the locals for an incident during the emergency period when the communists tried to ambush a group of Rangers scouting the area.

FOR avid anglers, the mention of Ikan Semah brings to mind the thrill of fishing in Ulu Katibas.

The fresh crystal clear water of Sungei Katibas, surrounded by thick virgin jungles in the interior of Song, is a haven for the semah mahseer fish – an indigenous species found only in higher reaches of the river.

The thrill of tackling ikan semah – where one’s angling skills and patience is sorely tested – lies in putting up with the powerful fight from the fish once it’s hooked.

Moreover, the beautiful unspoilt scenery, away from the bustling city, the sparkling water and soothing sights along the Ulu Katibas tributaries alone make this adventure worth pursuing.

“Catching semah is not as simple as it seems. It’s challenging – at the same time thrilling, particularly the powerful fight the fish gives you when caught on your fishing line.

“Even the smallest semah puts up a good fight, making several runs before it finally gives in,” thesundaypost’s very own pixman Chimon Upon said.

He went on a fishing trip recently to catch ikan semah along Sungei Katibas, one of the many tributaries of the mighty Rejang.

He said while fishing for semah which is rare and could only be found in the interior, it was important to practise the catch-and-release method.

Anglers, he believed, must be responsible in helping the local community preserve the semah population.

This is Batu Perejuk Bungai Nuing. Legend has it that an Iban warrior named Bungai Nuing leaped from this rock and landed on the other side of the riverbank – a distance of some 40 metres.

Light setup preferred

Fishing for semah in Ulu Katibas provides a great escape from the bustling city environment.

According to him, semah found in Ulu Katibas average between one and two kg but further upriver at the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuaries, the highly-priced empurau is known to weigh up to 10kg.

He said to fish for this species, a light setup was preferred. A medium fast action rod with a 2000 series spinning reel or small multiplier with 20 lb line is recommended while artificial lures such as spoons and soft plastics can be used.

The traditional method uses soaked palm oil seeds or soaked buah kepayang, an oval-shaped tropical fruit scientifically known as pangium edule.

But Chimon cautioned the fruit could be poisonous for consumption if not properly prepared, saying it had to be soaked for a month before the seed was removed and used as bait.

Not just a fishing trip

The fast current and shallow water sometimes make it difficult to manoeuver along the upper reaches of Sungei Katibas.

Chimon and his siblings make an annual trip to Katibas to reconnect with their roots.

He said apart from casting, Ulu Katibas has many tourist attractions to offer.

One can plan a visit to one of the many longhouses situated along the riverbank. A visit to Ulu Katibas can promise eco-tourism and rich Iban cultural experiences. The more adventurous can also camp along the riverbank.

“It’s not expensive fishing for ikan semah in Ulu Katibas. The journey there starts with a two-hour expressboat trip from Sibu to Song at only RM17 per person.

“To get to Ulu Katibas, one needs to arrange (charter) a longboat. The journey to the furthest longhouse – Rumah Sapai at Nanga Ngeranau     will take about six hours. In this regards, fuel will be quite costly due to the distance,” he explained.

Chimon and his group of about 10 people forked up about RM200 each for fuel and rations for their five-day trip starting July 26.

He noted that a longboat could easily carry five adult passengers, including baggage.

“As we arrived quite late, we decided to spend the night at SK Nanga Engkuah, about four hours from Song by longboat. The following day, we took another three hours to get to Ng Ngeranau and stayed at Rumah Sapai.”

Chimon, his siblings and in-laws started fishing on the third day. This took the whole day as they paddled from one spot to another to cast their lines along the river.

They camped out at night while the more adventurous among them went diving and spear-gun fishing.

Their catch for the day (and night) were brought to the longhouse for a barbecue session as a gesture of gratitude for the community’s hospitality.

The group headed back to Sibu the following day on July 30.

In the evening, the more adventurous go diving and spear-gun fishing.

The Rejang tributaries serve as important links between the interior of Song and Kapit and the rest of the state.