Losing Sebarau

Why do we lose them? Read on to find out how we can stop losing the big ones


















It is this sort of terrain that attracts the sebarau but at the same time helps us lose the big ones.














Chris C. and “my” sebarau caught on a Halco combat.






Chris C. releasing “my” sebarau to fight another day, maybe so that I can really catch it myself the next time.









This shad rap lure normally comes equipped with bronze hooks out of the box. Having changed them to stronger hooks reduces the chances of losing the fish.



















Lures like this tilsan bass have had their original trebles changed to strong quality single hooks which reduce the losses of larger sebarau than previously with the soft standard trebles.
















Small sebarau like these are effortlessly dealt with good terminal tackle











This deep diving Halco poltergeist +8m has been severely brutalized by a large sebarau. The tail hook was broken off and the paint of the lure scraped before the lure was returned to me.







This sebarau is no monster. Notice that it is hooked up on the poltergeist +8m by the tail hook. Check out the next picture to see the other hook, or lack of if.







Though the sebarau is no monster, it still could exert a lot of leverage to rip off the forward hook, leaving one mangled split ring on the hook hanger. The sebarau needs to be treated with respect!






Pic 2

Losing Sebarau


By Christopher S.G. Tan


This year has been a tough year for my friends and me. We have done our fair share of fishing, but the returns for our efforts have been poor. We have had our little triumphs and joys this year, but overall we tend to end up going home having enjoyed an outing on the water, but not having had the thumping thrill of feeling a heavy fish give us a good yank on the rod.

We sit around at work, wondering where all the fish have gone. Our favourite fishing holes are barren. New fishing grounds filled with fish are as scarce as hens’ teeth, so we reminisce about the good old days and the ones that got away, rather than excitedly going over the day’s catch on our short sojourns. Occasionally when we do get a fish, we snap a pile of pictures of the catch and, on the way home, we spend an excessive amount of time regaling about how the sole fish was caught.

Basically, as we all know, the reason fishing holes are barren is the total lack of fisheries conservation among recreational anglers. Sure, recreational anglers are quick to blame the gillnetters and set liners, but observing the majority of recreational anglers at play, they cannot put the blame entirely on the other party. As a friend said to me recently: only if one practises genuine catch and release, then only can that person tell off those who ravage our fisheries. Else, whatever method the fish is caught by, if the catch is all slaughtered, the anglers are just as guilty of depleting the fish stocks to below sustainable levels.


All this empty free space in our memories of memorable catches has left plenty of room for the ones that got away to be firmly fixed in our minds even more. However, sometimes I think the memories tend to be a bit misty as time goes by. The facts may stretch a bit and the estimated size of the catch increases with our age, but they are satisfying memories that will stay with us.

Unfortunately, memories do not transform into pictures for publication so the pictures you see here of sebarau are mostly of the ones that were not lucky enough to be just a memory at the end of the line!

Patrick frequently reminds me about the one that got away years ago in Temenggor dam. He keeps saying that this was the best trip ever in the locale they had encountered. The story about the one that got away was about how something big engulfed his lure and dragged the boat around before he lost it. It seems it finally got snagged deep and the boatman tried to dive down to untangle it, but he found that the fish had gone. I keep questioning whether it could have been a toman, but Pat is adamant that it had the take and fight of a sebarau. It can never be confirmed for sure, but then it still makes a good tale.

I have one memory of how I lost two big sebarau on one cast firmly embedded in my “data banks”. We had been slowly cruising along the edge of the dam, using the electric motor in the morning. An occasional average sized (half kilo or less) sebarau was hooked up on our casts to the brushy bank side. At the end of the curved bay was a rocky point protruding out.

I cast out my deep diving poltergeist +8m to crash dive down the steep drop off at the rocky point. As the crash diving lure went deep I was met with a powerful arm-wrenching jerk after a few cranks. I could feel the powerful twists and surges of a big sebarau as I struggled to pull it clear of any deep, line-cutting rocks and branches. I had it on for only a couple of rod shakes when the line went slack. It had come off!

Disappointed, I heaved in another lung full of air, then turned the handle again to bring in the lure, and then BANG! Suddenly the rod was in a full bend again. I had another fish on. The rod was bouncing up and down again with another big sebarau, but only for a few seconds. The line went slack for the second time. I was flabbergasted! I had the good fortune of having a second chance, only to lose the fish again. That was the other thing; was it the same fish or a second fish that hit the lure again?

To lose two hook ups was totally infuriating. Cranking in the lure again did not yield any more bites, which was of course too much to expect. Getting two BIG hook ups on a single cast is already an unprecedented gift. Upon inspection, the hooks, which had been upgraded to stronger hooks to handle the brutish attacks of sebarau, had been outgunned. Both hooks had been bent open by the rogue attacks. This loss is forever ingrained in my memory and the size of those two sebarau is only as big as my imagination!

Pic 2It was obvious what had happened. The twisting and turning of the sebarau opened up the hook and allowed it to get away. The only question was whether it was the same sebarau that attacked the lure a second time, or another sebarau that pounced on the lure the second time. Based on what I have seen, I am inclined to think that it was a second sebarau.

There have been times when we have seen a second sebarau following a hooked-up sebarau and trying to steal the lure from the unfortunate sebarau. The second sebarau does not know what it will get into if it is successful in stealing a lure. Once I was lucky enough to hook and land two big sebarau when the second one got hooked up too! Fortunately for them they were caught by a catch and release angler.

There have been many tales of big bruisers getting away from the angler at this dam. One of my friends came back from a trip telling me about the powerful hook-up he had. In the end the sebarau spat out the lure and he got it back with the trebles all bent and twisted.

The normal bronze or fine trebles on freshwater lures easily suffer from the hard bony jaws of sebarau. I have even seen small sebarau mangle these hooks intended for more docile temperate freshwater species. If only the terminal tackle that comes with our lures is indestructible, but unfortunately indestructible terminal tackle does not exist.

I can clearly remember another instance where I lost a sebarau that whizzed the line off my reel. This one I can safely guess its size. How? Because I got to see the sebarau in the end, though it initially got away. Chris C. and I had just arrived at a stream mouth gurgling into the main waters of the dam. I was rigged up with light sebarau tackle. Casting my 1/16oz cicada lure to the edge of the bank where the stream waters entered the dam, the lure was suddenly taken and the line ripped off the spin reel in a high pitched yowl! This only lasted seconds and the reel fell silent and the line went slack.

It must have been a poor hook-up; the tiny lure and hooks were brought in and found to be in good condition. Before I could cast again, Chris C. put his lure into the same vicinity and moments later was into a good fish. As it headed into the deep snag-ridden water I was kept busy with the electric motor, keeping the boat away from the snags. When we landed the sebarau, we found that it had swallowed the Halco combat lure completely. The lure was deep down in the throat of the almost 2 kilo sebarau.


After some minor surgery, we successfully removed the lure without doing any further damage. With some tender care, the fish was revived and released. As we watched it swim away, I declared that this was originally my fish! But Chris C. pinched it from me before I could cast again. Naturally we had a good old fishermen’s argument about this, both of us having a good time about my outrageous claim on his catch. I further embellished my right to the catch by claiming to have stirred up the fish with the first hook-up, which made it more aggravated and ready to hit his lure. He, of course, said that this was ludicrous. This happened many, many years ago, but the incident is still very memorable.

More recently, late one evening as it was almost pitch dark, we were working a rocky area hard, managing to pull in a few sebarau before it got pitch dark when a good sebarau was lost. Earlier in the day, Patrick and I had had a good day’s fishing, catching a few sebarau over a kilo and numerous sebarau under a kilo, but things had been a bit quiet for Ong.

He was very cheered up when he suddenly had a severe take on his Sorcerer 52. The line whizzed off his reel and we cheered in delight, but when the fish was half way back to the boat it got away. When he retrieved the lure he found that one of the hooks was missing. Or rather part of the single hook had broken off.

Bent-open hooks or mangled hooks are a common occurrence when tangling with beefy sebarau, but sometimes the sebarau rips and tussles so aggressively, that the metal of the hook fails and breaks. It occasionally happens to good quality hooks but most often happens to the poorer quality hooks, or hooks that have been previously bent open and then bent back. Frequent bending or flexing of the hook causes the metal to fatigue and when subjected to the stress of an aggressive sebarau it fails and breaks. That is why the hook manufacturers do not recommend bending back hooks into shape but to discard and replace the mutilated hooks.

Sometimes the incredible twisting pressure the sebarau exerts on the lure can result in the hook being twisted off the lure. Once I was lucky enough to actually land a kilo plus sebarau with only one hook out of the two single hooks on the lure remaining. When the sebarau was netted, we found that it had managed to rip off the forward hook. That was one of the fortunate times when the sebarau was not lost.

Trying not to lose sebarau does not help when the lure is not of sound construction. I remember one lure type I used to use regularly because it consistently caught small sebarau for me. However one day I discovered a major fault. If a sebarau exerts enough force, it can pull out the tail hook hanger, because one day the lure was hit and came back less one hook hanger and associated split ring and hook. That lure type now no longer occupies space in my lure box though it had a good track record of hook ups. But what is the point of being attractive to the sebarau if not constructed soundly enough to take the pull of a sebarau without falling apart!

At least when the sebarau brutalizes the lure and hooks to escape, we get back the lure, albeit sometimes damaged, but the main cost (e.g. the lure) has been recovered. What is most annoying is to lose both the fish and lure!

These normally make the most entertaining memories. The tall tale will as usual start with how the fish hit the lure like an express train, pulling off the line like there was no tomorrow and then burying itself in a snag pile before the angler can even take a gulp of air. The angler would feel the line scraping against the snag before it parts and the angler is left with a limp line to reel in.

Sounds familiar? I have many such tales, all true. They all really happened. And of course they were really “monstrous sebarau”. They were so huge they must have been close to double-digit figures in metric weight (this part needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Or make that a handful of salt).

There was one occasion when the sebarau that grabbed my lure, powered away, then cut me off in seconds though I frantically tried to get it under control. Winding back the limp line, I mourned the loss of another lure. This was the third lure lost in that one fishing hole in a month. It was getting out of hand. Losing all these big sebarau and lures to boot!


Ten minutes later we noticed a red object floating nearby. It was my flame red poltergeist +8m, the lure that had been cut off. Yippee, at least the sebarau returned my lure. The tail hook was broken. Somewhere, somehow it had broken off the tail hook. Also, one side of the lure’s paintwork was severely abraded. The sebarau had probably rubbed the lure against a rock to scrape off the lure.

We have many more sagas of big ones hooked up and lost, but they would easily fill this issue, but we will not waste the paper on repeat tales with always the same ending. One good thing about these reminders of losing all these good fish is to continue our efforts to be ever vigilant. So when the big sebarau bites, we are a little better prepared and hopefully keep the hook-up all the way into the landing net.



We need to protect and conserve our resources by practising catch and release of our sportfish and protecting the habitat of our fishes.


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