If you know a fisherman or an angler, chances are you have heard some fishy story about the gigantic fish that got away. Most of the time we can chalk it down to friendly boasting and a little hyperbole on the description of the size.
Well, one time, I was with some friends in the relatively remote upper reaches of the Jasin River in Malaysia. We had been hiking through dense jungle for most of the day and now as the sun was low behind the trees, we gathered around one of the deep rocky pools of the river. Most of us rested on the rocks at the side, eating fruits we had collected along the way and dangling our legs into the cooling water. It was pleasant and calm and between telling a few jokes, we just sat and watched the water flow by or looked at a couple of our friends as they tried their luck with a rod and line.
Usually, in these deep pools there is this one large fish, the apex predator, the Toman. The Toman (Channa micropeltes) eats other fish, amphibians and even little birds. In fact, also known as the Giant Snakehead, it has even starred as the monster fish in several low-budget Hollywood B-Grade Monster movies. They can grow over 3 feet in length and weigh more than 25 kg. Their body can be as thick as a man’s thigh. They are a favorite of anglers because they can put up a good fight and they are quite tasty.
Our two friends had been casting their lure of crickets near a dark and deep part of the pool for a good twenty minutes. Suddenly there was a shout of excitement. They had hooked a toman and it was giving a good fight. There was water splashing as the fish trashed and jumped about. We caught glimpses of the fish and it was huge.
They struggled with the fish but slowly and surely, they were able to pull the tiring fish towards the shallows. Suddenly, we all saw the line grow taut and swing upstream. The guy holding the rod felt a strong jerk and then nothing. There was no more resistance. It was as if the toman had gotten free with one last desperate jerk.
He quickly reeled in the line and to all our surprises, as he lifted the rod up, there at the end of the line was the three foot long toman but something had taken such a huge bite out of its middle section that it was almost severed in two.
We all looked at the mangled fish, stunned. It was a few moments before we all stirred as one and took our legs out of the water and stared suspiciously into the dark waters. What could have been able to take such a bite out of the toman? Not anything we knew or expected in this river! This has remained our story about the mysterious monster fish that got away…….or in hindsight, perhaps the mysterious monster fish that we got away from.
Last evening, a colleague related a different but related story from the muddy waters of a river in the rainforests of Borneo. On one of his trips, he found some of the native forest people a little skittish about a particular stretch of river. To his enquiry, they told him that a monster was sometimes seen in this river. When he pressed for details, he was told that it was some form of fish but it is very wide and long. They claimed that it was as wide as a man is tall or approximately 2 metres. Again this is not something that is known by science to be there.
In the light of these two stories, it is interesting that National Geographic has launched a search for the Megafishes in the world’s freshwater sites. One of these is the Giant Stingray. These creatures were discovered by science as late as the 1980’s hiding in the murky waters of the Mekong, other rivers in Indochina and also northern Australia. It’s maximum size is reported to be as much as 197 inches (500 centimeters), 1,323 pounds (600 kilograms) and with a body diameter of 95 inches (240 centimeters). This recently re-made the news with the finding of a smaller specimen in Thailand this year.
My colleague feels this could easily be the monster that the natives were referring to as the Giant Stingray is immensely wide. However, I still don’t know what we encountered up in the Jasin River. Perhaps it is another as yet undiscovered Megafish.
All I know is that just when you thought it was safe to go into the water, they find something else to remind us that something big may still be lurking under the calm water surface. Cue the music from “Jaws”…..da…..dum,..da….dum, ..da..dum.