I often feel a tinge of sadness when I pass by the Kelana Jaya lakes today. My experiences growing up with fishing and fish-rearing are inevitably tied to that intimate cluster of ex-mining ponds beside the Damansara Puchong Highway. Today, indiscriminate overfishing and worse, lousy waste planning, have turned the once clear, thriving waters into foul, algae-thickened wastewater pools.
Looking back, there was no better, more conveniently located, place for my father to teach his sons the ropes of fishing basics than the clean, gravel-bottomed lakes that were a short 10 minute drive from our house in Taman Megah. There were so many different fish species and so many different locations in the various ponds that the possibilities of techniques and places to try them were endless.
The earliest memories I recall are those of two ponds amongst the 6 or 7 in that area; the first is the brown-stained pond next to the Kelana Jaya swimming complex and the next is where today’s Kelana Esplanade is (which back then was the backdrop for the now-defunct Kelana Seafood Restaurant). At the former, we often caught small Ikan Hantu (the highly prized Soon Hock or Marble Goby) and I had fun ‘worm-fishing’ for the smaller sand-gobies that would chase down a worm in packs in the shallows. These sand-gobies were no bigger than the worm itself and once the greediest of the lot had stuffed his mouth with the worm’s wriggling tail, I would lift him clean out of the water; his face too full and greedy to let go of the juicy morsel.
Or course, the most interesting catch was the golf club we hauled up out of the water once. Besides the swimming complex, the pond was also adjacent to the driving range, and I figure someone must have had a very bad day indeed.
The Kelana Seafood pond was the place of mythical lore for us. My father fed us the story (which he himself heard from someone else…so the story goes) that years before, the pond had been the site of a growing number of wind-surfing enthusiasts. These were mostly expats who found that the large lake size and windy conditions were perfect for indulging their hobby in Malaysia. Apparently the Toman in the lake didn’t think too much of sharing the lake with them and gave one of them a toothy tattoo on the ankle. That spelt the end of the windsurfing activities. Of course, we were always on the lookout for the distant middle-of-the-pond roll of a mat salleh-chewing Toman whenever we fished there.
It was here too that we were able to see the effect introduced species could have on aquatic populations. Besides the ubiquitous Tilapia and featherbacks, there was a sizable population of what we called Apollo Perch; discus-looking cichlids that came in both black and orange varieties. These were pretty aquarium fish with their banded bodies and scribble-patterned faces and so we had quite a few swimming in our aquarium at any one time.
Along the way, a leaner, more ferocious cichlid which we called Kerapu (for its striking body pattens that somewhat resemble the seawater grouper) was introduced and slowly but surely we saw less and less of the Apollos until one day we stopped catching them altogether. I saw this same pattern many years later in the Subang lake systems when the Peacock Bass was introduced there, but this time it was the Kerapu that were edged out.
My father recycled the top and bottom styrofoam packaging of our new household refrigerator (or some other kitchen appliance) into squarish aquariums, one each for my brother and I. I was proud that mine had a good mix of Apollos, guppies, gobies, fake fighting fish, barbs and even a slimy albino catfish which was bought from the roadside stall in SS2’s night market. I made sure there was a good supply of tufted water weeds and constructed a small cave out of rocks from which the catfish would swirl in and out.
Besides the actual experience of fishing the ponds themselves, I guess the chance of having constructed at that young age a microcosm of their rich aquatic diversity, is what makes me thankful that I was there when Kelana Jaya’s lakes were as they once were.