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Trip Report: Papuan Coast Sept. 8 - 14, 2017

11 months ago, we were contacted by Alessandro Massari from Italy who wanted to tick off the PNG Black Bass off his bucket list of fish around the world. He was joined by his friends Fabio, Enrico and Joseph. This was a very well mixed group as they were also joined by Brett Knowles from Australia and Salimi Mohd Salleh from Malaysia.

Once everyone was accounted for and back at The Madison, I led a quick briefing of the tour plan. It consisted of the fishing plans set out and a backup plan in case the conditions weren’t ideal. We had a massive flood come through 6 days prior to everyone’s arrival, and possibly ruined the entire tour.

After a 5 hour drive, we finally arrived at the camp. We were promptly greeted with a welcoming sing sing ceremony where visitors must receive blessings and approval in order to fish the rivers in their villages’ territory.

There was no goofing around on this trip. As soon as the welcoming ceremony was over, the boys promptly assembled their fishing gear to get the half-day of fishing under their belts. They were all keen to see what the territory is like with their own eyes.

First hour into drifting down at the first of the fishing spots and the barramundi gave us a nice welcoming start to the trip.

Losing a couple of strikes with the mid water minnows, I advised Brett and Salimi to swap their lures to deep divers before drifting further off the bank with the guys launching cast over 40-60m. Within minutes, Salimi’s line went tight & a beautiful specimen leapt out of the water, barely pulling any drag (Salimi had his Komodo drag lock up to almost 8kg) and with little drama we netted and measured the Barra at 74cm.

Managed to release the Barra and set the boat into drift once again, this time round I went in a little closer so Brett was able to launch his lure into the strike zone. Within the next 30min, Brett had a solid Barra strike on the cast, the poor fish had no chance against his setup which was capable to haul back the fish with constant cranking, followed by Salimi’s massive strike resulting to a snapped 170lbs leader with the bass takin his Duo crankbait for takeaway.

Debrief for the day was done and we were all set for the next day feeling confident to try to land a monster sized bass and Barra. Much rigging was done that very night with upgrading of 80 to 100/120lbs leader as most of us had our 80lbs leader smashed up.

With all guides wide awake by 4am to figure out the best possible spots for the day, we were left with the option of fishing the river mouths with the in-coming tide during the morning.

We hit the same river mouth as the day before, but trolling this time down the river mouth while watching the depth & fish finder on the boat to realize that most fish were sitting within the 8-11m depth which put us out of place as we were all equipped with average 5m lures. We swapped lures to the trusty Halco 8m with heavier trebles, dropped the line at least 40m back, driving the lures right down and we were soon rewarded with a couple of sluggish strikes but with no hook ups.

We moved further inland to where the water level and current was just right and I was confident enough to inform Ale & Fabio that they would be getting something from these snags.

Anticipation was building up with Ale & Fabio placing each cast in the perfect spot, while I was constantly re-adjusting the boat position to suit the wind direction to ensure that we will still be on top of the bass upon hook up. And finally, Fabio was ON! Line went tight on the Stella 8000 and within seconds it was all over. The bass managed to bury itself in the snags by the time the rod had a chance to load up.

I quickly moved the boat over the top of the snags to attempt to untangle the fish, but unfortunately – the 100lbs leader didn’t hold against the snags and snapped off. Bass 1 – Fabio – 0!

Day 3 was pretty uneventful. Filled with travelling from snag to snag, bank to bank, we were met with logjams of all sizes. We utilized every trick in the book, casting, trolling, bottom bouncing, but to no avail.

What made it more frustrating was seeing the fish stacked up close to the snags on the sounder. This just adds up to the mystery of the PNG Black Bass’s feeding habits.

Day 4 was blessed by the improving conditions of the main river. I made the decision to venture upstream to visit Fish Creek which is some 3 hours travel. It was the second last day and the entire group was feeling the heat of not catching fish as time is running out with the entire morning with no sign of the barra & bass. Hundreds of cast were made, add on a couple hundreds of last cast call by me. Brett & Salimi managed to turn the bass on with constant casting at a back eddy filled with loose snags.

Salimi’s G87 crankbait was picked up by a bass stripping line giving his FEEDS Jungle rod a good workout with me in the background yelling – Crank harder! Lock your drag, lock your drag! To his astonishment, a 12 lbs bass surfaced, and we successfully brought him into the net. Stoked with his first bass in PNG on the cast (Although not a monster) Salimi was on all smiles for the rest of the day.

Day 5 and the pressure was on, with Ale & Fabio back on my boat for the last day. Both bass-virgins – we were sweating it out as early as 8am in the morning making every cast count with little results as the main river was pushing all the muddy water on the outgoing tide.

We managed to sneak into a creek, jumping over mud/sand bars (was caught up on a mud bar for 5min, spraying mud over everyone) before arriving alongside a deep mud bank with high spirit to catch a bass while drifting down with the current casting away.

Almost close to an hour of hard work, Ale finally had a tug on his lure and I quickly turned the boat around in order to keep the concertation of the casting into the same area. Next cast and finally hooked up, Ale on his heavy set up, the 15lbs bass was peeling drag with ALE having the upper hand throughout the fight.

After a few quick photos, the bass was released to fight another day, with Ale ready to wrap up the day for ticking off (Blackbass, Metery barra, fingermark, Mangrove jacks) on his to catch list for the tour.

Fabio on the other hand, worked his heart out with little success on the bass but was rewarded with a 100cm barra just minutes before we returned back to the lodge to announce the end of the tour.

All in all, expectations were high but reality was harsh to us. Unpredictable conditions added to the black bass furlough made this trip extra tough.

Wrestling with Mother Nature and harsh river conditions, along with bad bass smashing almost anything you throw at them. I believe this trip was an eye-opener for everyone not just for the bass fishing but for the whole experience in itself.

This is truly frontier fishing in some of the world’s most remote rivers and we look forward to catching the elusive 40 pounder on the next trip.

Tight Lines, Jia An Ng

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