Down By The River (Fly River)- 2017

Where do I start? Probably just jump in at the beginning I suppose. This is going to be a long post.

Like all of us, the PNG Black Bass was at the top of my bucket list, a dream fish. Id seen the vids of Rod Harrison tightening up his drag with pliers and getting smoked, heard the stories, read the articles about the worlds hardest hitting fresh water fish, I just had to do a trip. About 14 months ago I started the process with John from Sport Fishing PNG, a heap of emails and phone calls to and fro, and I booked for the October 2017 Fly River trip on the K2O mother ship. I put the call out, and Pete and Nath signed up with me, and then the long wait began.

We used this time to research, pouring over Youtube vids, emailing the lads in PNG, getting gear together, and by sheer luck hooked up with Tez via Facebook who was on the trip last year, and had re-booked to come on the same trip as us this year. Tez was a goldmine of info, and a great bloke to boot.

Finally fly out day rolled around, we met up with Tez at Brisbane International Airport, and 4 very excited fishos boarded the plane for the Qantas flight up to Port Moresby. John met us at the airport and ushered us into the mini bus for the 10 minute trip to their compound for the overnight stay, prior to flying in-country the next day.

We met the rest of the lads as they came in, 6 fishos, and 2 blokes combining hunting with a bit of fishing, all up 6 Aussies, an American, and Ralf who shared his time between Germany and Canada. There were 3 repeat customers, and 5 PNG newbie’s. Quite a few beers that night, as you do, before an early start and big breakie cooked up by the lads, and we started the next lot of flights. A PNG Air Dash 8 flew us from POM to Mt. Hagen to Tabubil, then onto Kiunga, where we off loaded for the small charter flight further in.

I’m guessing there’s not much to do at Kiunga, the locals spent all their time hanging off the chain wire fence watching the planes comes and go. A wrecked airplane from 18 months back that cost 12 lives was still piled up next to the runway, a sobering reminder of what can happen in these places.

Nathan, the Aussie pilot, gathered us up here, sorted our luggage, weighed everything to make sure we were under the 16kg limit per person, weighed each of us - bit of merriment here folks - and loaded us onto his small 8 seater for the final flight to the little village of Aiambak, where we were to tender over to the K2O to start our on-water time.

A picturesque flight of around an hour in the little plane opened our eyes as to just how massive this river system is. We skirted the edge of Lake Murray, flew over K2O and landed at the little riverside village of Aiambak. Huts on stilts, skinny mongrel dogs, friendly locals with big red smiles from chewing the nut, shit's getting real now.

The lads from K2O got us on board the tenders and over to the big boat, frosty bevvie waiting for us as we unloaded gear and settled in. Moli, the lead guide, ran us thru the briefing and introduced the crew and 3 other guides. We had Thomas skippering, Alex the head chef, Solomon his off sider, Fikai, Mea and Billy guiding with Moli lead guide and general problem solver.

The big boat was a cracker, 2 persons per room (or upgrade to a stateroom with personal ensuite if you wanted to), all air conditioned, indoor dining and kitchen, outdoor deck area, accessible beers, everything you needed. Alex and Solomon just smashed us with food, I think the first night was Lobster and pasta, welcome aboard. It was cereal and toast each day, every second day a cooked brekkie, wraps and snacks in the fishing boats for lunch. Dinner was just a mountain of food, one night we had baby Cassowary cooked in the pressure cooker for a side dish, another night Venison done in a mild curry, taken by the hunters. Plenty of fish, steaks, the list goes on and on and on.

2 longboats and 2 solid tinnies were the fishing boats, all with 60hp 4 stroke yammies, and Lowrance HDS 7 side scan sounders, that the guides used to max advantage. A big esky loaded with cold drinks and your bevvies for the day, bogas, weigh slings, everything you need. The big arse landing nets were nearing the end of their lives, the harsh environment, a lot of big fish, and Bass chewing on them meant cable tie repairs, and the boys back in POM said they were being replaced ASAP. We slipped the anchor in the fast flow, and started steaming that afternoon, and into the night up stream, heading for a tributary into the Fly near Manda Village. Most of the boys hit the sack early, Pete, Nath and I stayed up, having a few SP Lagers and soaking it up, and were rewarded with the sight of the local croc eyes shining back at us out of the grass bank as the boat dropped the pick around 9pm. Tomorrow we fish!

Day 1 Fishing Up at 5:00am, coffee on the back deck, breakfast, rods on the boat, and our first day fishing was on! Something I'd tossed around myself a lot was what lure to tie on first, in the end a 5m RMG Scorpion was the first victim, uhh, I mean lure to hit the water. I was fishing with Tez today, Mea was our guide. We had the morning session, then a visit to Manda Village around lunch time for a greeting and sing sing, then the arvo sesh, all in front of us.

It didn’t take long, Mea got the big tinny on the plane for maybe a minute, backed it off, I looked at Tez, and we were at the first spot, the benefit of staying on a mother ship. This spot was red hot, a massive color change between the clean dark water off the tributary piling hard up against the murk of the Fly River, all being funneled between a couple of grass islands, so as you do, we named it No Secret Point. One of the boats was casting the point, and it was a Barrathon for them, we trolled, and I had my first Black Bass encounter, a brutal strike and run on locked up 80lb that lasted all of 3 seconds, and straightened the middle ST66 treble on the Halco. WTF?? I said to Tez, who just laughed at me. We continued trolling, and the fish started coming, Barra and Bass, hard to remember everything, I know me and Tez had a Bass double hook up with 16 and 18 lbers, there were a couple of smaller Bass, more Barra, plenty of dropped fish, a great little session. It was here I learned the K2O rule, even if your mate has a good fish in the boat, stop talking and keep casting, the guides maximized every second of every day trying to get you a fish. “fish here 4.2 meters”, “cast cast”, “work work” were to become a familiar mantra as the week went on.

We headed off from No Secret, looking for bigger fish, and smacked a few, nothing outstanding, when it was time for the run back to visit the village. As we came down the river we noticed 2 other boats still fishing, one hooked up to another Barra, so Mea called a quick troll along a fast flowing bank that had a small drain flowing into it. My trusty Halco was absolutely nailed here, Mea gunned the boat out and sheer tug of war between me and fish ended in a 38lb Black Bass hitting the deck. To say we were pumped is an understatement, a 38 on Day 1, I was stoked, and would gladly have put the cue in the rack right there.

This fish was short and muscular, it looked like it had eaten one of the village lik liks, a mean angry fish that just eyeballed us thru the release. We left the fishing and visited the village for the welcome, another massive culture shock, and one I’m so glad I experienced. Cant remember much about the arvo session, no doubt there would have been Bass and Barra. Numbers for the day were 56 Barra and 19 Bass between the 4 boats, most of the Barra around 90cm, best Bass my 38lb. Not a bad start for a 3/4days fishing for some newbs I reckon. Day 2

This day was simply off tap! With a full day in the boats, we headed off, smacked a few at No Secret just to warm the arms up, and then all the boats spread out. Today I fished with the American, Scott, and Fikai was guiding. We worked our way up river, eventually finding a heap of crazy Barra sitting in a pressure point eddy upstream of a 2 meter rise in a fast run off, just going nuts on anything we threw at them. I dropped my biggest Barra of the trip boat-side here, one of those ones that only gets its head and shoulders out and you just know is a horse. Just when I thought it was a Barra only spot, I bang a little 14 lb Bass from amongst them. We moved off looking for Bass, and found a spot we named Coke Can Island. The Bass here were sitting in the big weed bommies off the edge of a small timbered island, and the rattle from a gold Gaddens Clasic pro just drove them mad. Scott was watching on not getting a touch, so I gave him the same lure and he was away into them as well, mad spot. We would troll hard up against the bank, get smashed, Fikai would gun the boat out, and we would try and keep them from getting back into the undercut where all the nasty stuff was, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I remember Scott casting down the throat of a drain that ran back into the main river, 2 cranks on the handle and a big Bass smashed him and just smoked straight out the drain, Fikai tried to drive the Bass out and it busted him off, classic stuff. It was here Scott broke his second rod in 2 days, still landed the fish tho, even if it was only a 90 Barra. lol.

My best day numbers wise, 20 Barra and 8 Bass, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 20 and 21lb, awesome day. Got back to the K2O, and all the boys had smashed it, Nath and Pete had parked the boat up on Croc Island (small grass island we named because of the nest full of little crocs we could hear in the middle), and just smashed fish, 79 Barra and 10 Bass between them, as well as a massive bust off vertical vibing a snag on the way thru. Numbers for the day 114 Barra and 32 Black Bass, 3 boats fished full day, one boat hunted half day fished arvo only. Happy crew on board that night.

Day 3

Another early start, up at 5, on the water around 6, hot, damn hot, and humid. Today I fished with Nath, and Billy guided us. Billy is, to use Pete’s words, a mad lad, he was a cracker to have in the boat, and once he figured out we were there to gave a good time as well as fish hard, it was game on!

As usual, first spot was No Secret to stretch the arms a little, then we headed down stream exploring new water, some nice jungle banks and fast run thrus, with not a lot of joy. We ended up downstream of the Village, and started smacking Barra in some channel type country. The village wanted 5 Barra for their feast, and we were happy to help out. Highlight of today’s fishing – we pulled up over a nasty snag just off the bank to drop a couple of vibes, Naths on the spin gear and as he lifts up he gets a tap, then is fully loaded up in a straight up and down brawl that was over in 5 seconds, awesome to watch. The other highlight for the day - we were trolling along the main river bank, and cut the corner into a channel run thru. Just as Naths lure cut the corner, he is smacked, and a super charged Bass hits the after burners, ploughing him straight into the bank side vegetation. Billy hit the motor, but it was to late, and Naths braid popped. Nath knew it was a good fish and let rip with a couple of damns and buggers, when Billy sees the braid floating on the surface. He guns the boat in, we all go arse up, and we handline the fish out of the jungle at close quarters. A ripping 27lb Bass to Nath, and well deserved. Billy must have hands like leather gloves.