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Revenge of The Zerg - Vakuta Reef January 2018

January 22-29 saw the return of our group to PNG for the third time, this time to mount an expedition to Vakuta Island in the Milne bay province to fish the surrounding reef systems. The group consisted of 9 anglers, with 7 returning anglers in Chief Jimmy Sow, Oktarianto Prsetyo, Jack Ong, Bruce Wong, Zer Ken, Darren Low and Han Soh with Leonard Wee and Winston Chong coming along for their maiden voyage with the K2O and SFPNG.

We boarded the K2O in perfect weather conditions. The sea was calm with the sun shining down, looking like it would be an incredible trip. We spent the journey out setting up our gear, with the back deck looking like it could possibly be a tackle store on its own in no time. Dinner was served with Chef Alex yet again outdoing himself with a whole steamed coral trout with rice, crayfish pasta and chilli mud crabs. It was early notice that we were all going to put on weight on the trip.

Day 1 of fishing dawned and conditions were bright, hot and windless, leading to a day of fishing in waters so calm and clear that you could pretty much see the fish coming up to your lure, and if you were jigging in less than 20M of water, could almost sight jig for fish. Bait was everywhere and the topwater bite was hot in the morning, with Jack and Jimmy both scoring 30+kg Napoleon Wrasse on the cast.

Guide Fikai, who is normally stoic and silent even leapt up and showed off Jack's wrasse to the camera with a huge smile on his face and a roar of celebration. I was fishing with Winston and Leonard for the day, and had the opportunity to witness Jimmy hooking and landing his fish barely 100m from us, and the celebration on deck as soon as Captain Jed pulled the fish on board was ecstatic, leaving us a little jealous and we motored on with Moli at the helm to find ourselves some nice fish. Next thing we know, we were casting at the reef, when a big dark shape materialized under Leonard's stickbait. Next thing we knew the water exploded with a sailfish flying out the water with the stickbait in its mouth. Unfortunately, the hooks did not stick, however, the moment would pretty much hook newbie Leonard to the sport. Day one ended with a myriad of reef species and a bunch of GT landed, with Bruce and Han posting their PBs at 35kgs plus each. Jimmy, Jed, John and Zerg even managed to witness a HUGE napoleon wrasse of at least 100kgs swim up to the boat before turning away. It was big enough to be surrounded by pilot fish, remoras and the like, leading Jimmy to comment "the #$*&ing fish had its own #$*&ing ecosystem around it!"

Day 2 was more of the same conditions, GTs were landed by almost everyone, and Winston also managed a beast 33kg doggie on popper, which went on a couple huge runs, nearly railing him in the process.

Multiple wrasse were again sighted but the bite was more timid, missing the lures time and time again, Zerg hooked up one that would have probably been a 50+kg fish, but the hooks did not hold. These two days firmly cemented our belief that PNG is truly one of the final frontiers where wrasse are still running rampant as we saw that many without even targeting them, as we were aiming for GTs and doggies instead! Sharks were also rampant in the area, with Jimmy alone landing his personal record of easily over 20 sharks on stickbait and popper in one day with the rest of the anglers having quite a few sharky incidents as well. The number of sharks in the area also went further to prove the general health of the reef system.

Day 3 dawned and the conditions had changed overnight. A north westerly had started blowing in, bringing in heavy rains in the morning. We still braved the weather and headed out and were still rewarded when the weather turned at around noon and the sun started shining again. Again multiple GTs and reefies were landed on a great topwater bite window but just like the first two days, jigging was more quiet. Another sailfish was raised on popper and followed it all the way to the boat fully lit up before turning away and inspecting another stickbait before swimming back down to the depths. A sight to behold indeed.

Day 4 5 and 6 saw a huge low pressure system blow in with the winds picking up and bringing more rain. When we were able to fish we still managed to catch a few GTs and reefies, but the jigging bite did pick up with a few doggies being landed in the last 2 days and of course quite a few unstoppable fish being hooked. Leonard picked up his fish of the trip on literally the last cast of the trip when a 20kg doggie decided to monster his stickbait on a bommie barely 5 minutes from the mothership.

The fight was brutal in the initial stages as the boat was hemmed in by reefs on both sides and could not turn to give him a proper angle to fight the fish, which kept diving under the boat, but he pulled out every trick in the book and landed the fish, putting him on the board on the final day in style. We then had to pack up and punch through winds coming head on for our long steam back to Alotau.

All in all, the trip was fantastic. A big shoutout to the crew of the K2O, Captain Jed Hokins, who even after having a big treble in his little finger due to a very uncooperative shark still punched on and guided through the pain, Guides Moli, Fikai, Mea and Billy, who put us on some good fish, cameraman and expert FG knot tier John, Chef Alex, who kept us all extremely well fed, and crew Solomon, Nagi and Thomas who kept everything clean and shipshape for us (even after a "slight seasickness accident" all over one of the rooms). They all ensured we still were comfortable and having fun even though the weather conditions were less than ideal.

As a side note, on day 4 when conditions turned, two small boats crowded with students travelling from Vakuta Island to Alotau approached seeking shelter. True to the nature of SFPNG, who do a ton of relief work in the country, the crew welcomed them on board to ride out the storm, with some of them seeking refuge for a night before braving the conditions and heading off and a few more riding with us all the way back to Alotau. The crew were fantastic, making sure they were fed, watered and comfortable the whole time they were on board with us. When speaking to the students, we realized that this was normal to them, travelling over 10 hours in banana boats with 40hp engines with only line of sight navigation to Alotau, and another long journey from there to Port Moresby just to attend university in the capital, leaving us more thankful for how our lives have turned out. The locals who were driving the boats even said they approached because they recognized the K2O, as they had in the past dropped off school and food supplies to the island.

Cheers and tight lines,

Han Soh

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