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Fly Fishing in Borneo. Red Kaloi Camp, February 2023

Updated: May 18, 2023

I recently traveled to Indonesia to see my old friends Fajar and Eric and join them on a trip chasing Red Kaloi on fly in the heart of the Borneo rainforest. The scenery was incredible, the fish captivating and the people the finest I have spent timer with. I just landed in Cameroon for the start of another exploratory style trip but wanted to get a post up to about this amazing place. It deserves a full magazine article (hopefully soon) but for now I figure stringing together the daily Instagram captions along with corresponding photos should make for fun reading. Enjoy!

Travel Day(s) - We are packing up the truck this morning for the final leg of travel into the jungle. Yesterday, we traveled up river into the heart of East Kalimantan. Highlights of the day include the largest shrimp I have ever seen in my life (tasted like lobster), an overwhleming amount of coal barged downriver, a Borussia Dortmund jersey for 150k rupiah ($10 - can't say no to that), plenty of photo shoots and some high quality napping on the river taxi.

Off the grid until March 5 - here's to big fish on dry fly dreams!

Day 1 - "It's been a while since I've felt this alive"

Day 1 kicks off with Eric becoming the 7th person to land a Red Kaloi on fly. Eric had been working promising water well but no action. Around ten am, a fish suddenly levitates two inches downstream of the fly, floats in tandem for a beat, and engulfs the 2/0 hopper. Chaos ensues. The rod tip snaps in the process. We collectively lose our minds when Ming scoops the big bull.

Later that afternoon, I'm working the leaf line downstream of the boat. A lack of focus, blame the jetleg, allows copious slack to accumulate. A boil and the fly disappears. Too little, too late on the hookset. No Kaloi for me.

Day 2 - The dream team splits up for Day 2. Ming and Eric head to a new tributary and Fajar and I head up river. Eric keeps the hot streak rolling, landing his second Red Kaloi on fly before getting derailed by another breaking the fly line.

Traumatized by the late set the day before, I'm on edge. I move four Kaloi, briefly fight one, and land none, ripping the fly out of a monsters mouth in the process. And go into a tail spin. Hook-sets?! Hook-sets!? It's a long way to travel to angle poorly. Back at camp, I dive into tying emotional support flies, mumbling about my distaste for long shanks (less leverage!) and straight J points (surgical curves always stick better!). The rain begins after dinner and matches my mood.

I did land a chunky Bleeho tho, no release on that one.

Day 3 - The river roars to welcome Day 3. I knew it was coming, but in the darkness, deafened by the rain, I harbored some hope. The sunlight creeps through the trees and dashes the days fish dreams.

I place a marker at 7. It’s gone by 8. Another by 9. Another at 10. Shaking with anxious energy, I remove myself from camp. A logging “road” mud march will do. Bino harness on, its my first formal attempt at birding. I soon realize why I haven’t found any birds on the river while motoring upstream. Birds are small. Leaves are big. Those little things disappear as soon as they land. Better to stick to 800 lb mammals (elk out West).

A single rock rises above water around 3pm. I cheer. We motor upstream around 4. Eric fishes the first fork. Nothing. I’m up. A Kaloi levitates then spurns the offering. A few casts later, another appears. The fly drops. I set. Fajar says too soon. “So we are letting them eat it like a trout?!” I retort back after a few minutes to calm down. Yes and no. More on that tomorrow.

I’m fuming. At myself. At these fish. At the sitting time arriving soon. The cramped quarters breathing down my neck. I hate sitting. Back at camp, I grab a 5 gallon water jug and walk up the road. An hourlong jungle workout later and I feel safe I won’t say anything stupid and walk back for dinner.

Day 4 - The water level gradually drops over Day 4. Our top choice tributary is still un-fishable. We head back upstream. I hook and land a fat food-fish on the third cast, a subtle take in back eddy foam. The confidence builds. A few follows but no bites and then it is time to fish plan A for the afternoon.

We are floating past a promising spot and the fly gets pushed. Then pushed again. Then a swirl. Then another push. Like something is trying to capsize the fly. A kaloi is nosing the fly and then following it. The fly starts 40 feet from the boat and I end up feeding out another 40 to keep the drift going. It feels like ages. The swirls and bumps stop after 4-5 seconds. But the fly never disappears. The current picks up and fly races past a sunken long parallel to the current.

Further downstream, in the upstream pocket of big half-submerged log, I slide a cast just downstream of the single vine hanging directly down into the water. The casting window is minuscule and I frickin nail it. The 4/0 hopper plops hard, creating the desired wake circle. A wake comes form underneath. The fly wobbles. This time we can see the kaloi bump it. No bite.

We float through a dream, the setting sun pushing god rays between branches and a mist hanging along each bank. I’ve angled well. Finally. We have one more day to fish. A single phrase comes to mind. GOTTA BELIEVE!

Day 5 - A fish rises, and rushes the fly on the final day. The midday sun scorches the narrow, wooden slat floor of the Ketinting. The kaloi turns away. Ming shouts “Again! Again!” Current coating us away, I cast upstream now. The bull rises two feet to river left as the fly lands. It swipes towards it. Current catches the fly and the fish disappears. A third cast, 80 feet upstream, smacking the last known sighting. The big red bull kaloi chargers and engulfs the 2/0 hopper like a bull redfish.

0-2 so far on fights four hours into the final day, Day 5, I hold onto the the 60lb straight leader for dear life. My 8wt, my favorite rod ever, hums under its greatest fight yet. Chaos. Controlled chaos. It happens. It finally happens. An energy I’ve never felt. My body racks with noise.

Believe. Believe. These words echo’d in my head all morning. Calm washed over me after sundown on day 4. I had angled well. The fish had refused. I can take that. Before bed, I walked back barefoot to the river, careful in the fading, buzzing light. The stars choked the strip of sky that split the trees. A quick chat. I asked for another chance on the final day. A chance to right myself. To show that these fish are worth chasing after. To help bring more anglers here, help create sustainable jobs, help these master watermen, loggers and miners now, have a chance to become fishing guides. Maybe stop that neighboring river from getting diverted, drained, and mined, and keep the structure loving kaloi from a slow death in a barren canal.

I told Ming I chatted with the river gods. He laughs and says “No, you finally fished with me!” A Guide’ guide if I ever met one.

Four days of travel, four days without a target fish to hand, and then I became the 8th person to land a Red Kaloi on fly.

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