Trip Report: Papuan Coast Oct. 6 - 12, 2017
Welcome to Papua New Guinea : Home of the world's pound for pound strongest fighting freshwater fish.
Growing up as an avid freshwater angler, you would have probably heard about the infamous Papuan Black Bass that live in the rivers of Papua New Guinea, which is arguably the strongest fighting freshwater fish.
And if you doubt if the experience is as brutal as what everyone else suggests, here’s the latest report about our last tour of the 2017 season to the Papuan Coast.
Chasing The PNG Black Bass Dream
Steve, Joe, Kristian and Sean's love affair with the PNG black bass began some 20 years ago, growing up in Australia when Rod Harrison widely promoted this fish to the world as the toughest , meanest and most challenging fish to catch in PNG. With the recent increase of popularity for fishing these brutal species, the party of 5 anglers thought that it was about time to join us on a black bass safari instead of indulging in others' tales of how this magnificent beast earned its bad-ass reputation as the wild-river Mike Tyson.
The opportunity took over 20 years to present itself to the world, and the calling finally turned into motion after watching our recent videos on Facebook & YouTube.
It is not easy fishing, but you can be sure that every single fish waiting to be caught could possibly be your trophy of a lifetime.
Arrival in Port Moresby
Straight off the plane, the party is safely escorted to The Madison (our poolside guest house) by our friendly staff, then onto a tour briefing by yours truly.
In front of me were 5 anglers with over 25-30 years of fishing experience under their belts and is as keen as mustard to have a crack on the big bass in the rivers.
I also asked the guys to line up the tackle that they plan to use, so we can make last minute adjustments. Tackle selection and preparation is crucial in PNG Bass fishing. All the little details matter, from split rings, hooks, and how you tie your knots.
During the discussion all I could visualize is snapped rods, screaming anglers, destroyed reels and perhaps a 40lbs class trophy landed.
Grinning to myself after knowing that we are all equipped with the right equipment for the job, I hurried went home after dinner with the boys just to packed a couple more rolls of 140lbs leader and throw in 2 more reels into my suitcase knowing that it would come in handy during the tour.
The Bass Shack
Starting the tour right, with cooked breakfast and sandwiches packed in our eskies, we embarked on a 5 hour off-road drive towards the shack on our 4X4s at dawn.
Buzzing through villages along the misty Hiritano highway at 6am in the morning was something I look forward to, with greetings from young kids and old folks which made us feel like part of the tribe, but it wasn’t too long before the scorching sun pushed its way to almost 33 degrees by 10:30am and threatened to melt everything in its way is something most anglers have to take note of as this is what it’s like for fishing near the equator.
Nothing is more critical compared to hydration when fishing especially during the dry season here in PNG. You’re nowhere near a clinic/hospital, so avoid getting caught up with dehydration which might force you to sit out the entire tour.
Here in PNG, it is common practice for visiting tourists to attend the traditional welcoming Sing Sing as a gesture of appreciation and to get approval to fish in their tribal protected rivers.
Shortly after receiving individual’s flower rings and blessings from the village members, it was game on with no time wasted. All guides in their respective boats, engines revved up and ready to go!
Took us over 45 minutes to reach the first spot of the day, named the "Noodle Boy Spot" by Sean for some reason... Kristian and Sean wasted no time and started casting out their lures, placing each cast carefully in the right spot before working them with subtle twitches to entice the first bite of the week.
Wasn’t too long before Sean managed to hook up with a bass. The initial strike took him by surprise and it took him a split second delay before recovering from the shock with me yelling my head off in the background : LOCK YOUR DRAG UP!
The angry looking 11 lbs bass was landed with 80 lbs gear, making him think if the setup he brought could handle a big 40 lber.
Fishing tip: Not as easy as you might think it is, Black Bass Fishing - You’re going to put in a lot of time hunting them down and make hundreds of casts at one snag in the humid tropical weather.
But even with up to 10 hours per day and a week on the water, there isn’t any guarantee that a big girl is going to play fairly.
Expectation vs reality: Many anglers out there who have yet to visit our rivers dream of seeing a huge Black Bass smack a surface lure, topped with the fight of a lifetime. But reality isn’t quite as similar due to the fact that Black bass in our rivers lurk deep and many a time water clarity pose a major challenge to coax a bass from 8 meters deep to the surface to play.
So basically, topwater bass fishing was pretty much out on the radar due to the greenish murky water available at the time of visit and instead deep diving crankbaits such as the DUO G87 were strongly recommended for its castability against strong winds and also the ability to dive up to 5 m and jumping over snags without its hooks being caught.
Sending deep diving lures right down to the snags helps satisfy this dream more often than any other suspend / surface method hence we have been on a lookout for quality divers that do the job for black bass hunting.
Casting or Trolling:
You may be under the impression that we have a higher troll than cast, which is far from the truth. It is just that trolling is essential when searching for the bass' hideouts as we need a consistent amount of "swim-time" wherein lures are down close to where fish lurk sometimes at depths of 6 meters up to 13 meters.
Catching a Black bass on the cast takes commitment, perseverance, and lastly patience. To work the lure effectively, make a long cast beside the snag, then hope that your terminal gear would hold when the fish hit.
The bass usually take you by surprise with either a goalkeeper upon a cast or right beside the boat when you are just inches away from the surface. And should a beast swing and grab the lure on the end of your line, whatever you do, don’t stop the retrieve / allow beast to peel more than 5-10 meters line off your spool from the 100% lock down reel.
Steve learned this the hard way on our third day of fishing, after an estimated 40 lbs trophy bass took a shot and peeled over 10 m from his locked down concept 13 reel before snapping off a finger from his BKK raptor treble hook.
Day 2: Having suffered from small fish syndrome the entire morning (only manage a couple small jacks / fingermark / BLACKCOD~~), and the unbearable heat from the sun were draining Joe / Steve and myself away slowly before we decided to take a break under the palm tree for a good 30 minutes to re-energize for the afternoon session. Steve, after the nice break under the tree, later broke his personal best Barramundi. From 106cm to 118CM, after 15 years. The moment upon hook up to landing of the fish was amazing, as we had the 118cm Barra take full flight out of the water upon hook up and leapt across the hull of our boat and spat a couple smelly dead bait towards us. A quick photo session under the belt, and the trophy fish was released unharmed.
Day 3: Both the estuarine and freshwater rivers offer miles of structure-rich waters, suddenly becoming everyone's nightmare by day 3 due to cut off leaders and snapped braid which is supposedly all Bass casters’ dream, everyone spent a good chunk of time throwing different colored lures at every possible snag and structure. Moving from spot to spot, we finally found the honey hole which happened to hold a good number of bass. A total tally of almost 12 bass caught within a span of 50 minutes before we were all reluctantly forced to retreat back to the main river system due to the outgoing tide.
Day 5: Just hours before we wrapped up the tour, all guides decided to make a bold move to hit up the river mouths in hope to catch the last bit of the outgoing tide for Big barra and bass.
The gamble was worth it, with 10 metery barra caught in the short 2 hour session to seal a happy ending of the last Papuan Coast Expedition of the year.
Jungle Tackle Line up:
Casting 80lbs outfit all day, all week
30lbs PNG Blackbass is the benchmark which makes targeting them with light tackle close to mission impossible hence everyone is recommended to be on the side of heavier tackle, which you’ll also need to wing and work the large lures these fish smash. We threw heavy-action 7-foot baitcasting sticks matched with low-profile Abu Garcia Revo Beast / Shimano Tranx / Okuma Komodo / Concept 13 reels; upgraded carbon drags packed with cranking power that would winch these hard brawling fish to the boat.
There is no fair fight in Blackbass fishing, there is no half time / scoreboard. It either you win or you lose hence we were all running minimum 50 – 80lbs with up to 150lbs leaders.
Terminal tackle failure:
Not too long after BKK introducte the Raptor Z which I personally took a liking for due to its profile and sharpness, this particular treble hook is fast becoming most blackbass angler’s favorite (To-go) hook for their fishing.
However on this tour, we have manage to encounter several unstoppable beast which leads to terminal failure such as pulled 120lbs split rings, snapped hook, broken rod and smashed up Daiwa Lexa.