Black Bass Mecca
AUGUST 8 – 22, 2019
My journey to Papua New Guinea begun when I responded to a Face Book feed by Sport Fishing PNG advertising a position vacant for a Pro Sport Fishing Guide. I new immediately that there was going to be a huge response but I felt confident after spending 5 years in the Solomon Islands that I had a good chance as any at landing this dream position. Fast forward 6 months and here I am at the Royal Papuan Yacht Club in Port Moresby standing on the deck of the magnificent MV K20 mother ship about to embark on my first trip up the spectacular Fly River. I feel Iʼm in good hands with the all MV K20 crew consisting of Thomas the Captain, Fikia first mate / pro guide, Ivan engineer, Billy deckhand / pro guide, Mea deckhand / pro guide, Zeke deckhand / pro guide, Alex chef, Kenny and Charles deckhands guides. Most of the crew had done this journey many times before which left me feeling very much the rookie tour coordinator/trainee pro guide I was.
The logistics behind a tour like this is a brain draining, physical marathon where nothing can be left to a “sheʼll be right” attitude. The whole management of SFPNG and the MV K20 has been a trail blazer in these types of high level sport fishing adventures for many years in PNG. We know more than anyone how important proper preparation is paramount when taking clients with big expectations to a river as remote and wild as the Fly.
The Fly River is one of the largest river systems in Australasia and the second largest in PNG. It starts from its source way up in the central highlands of Star Mountain and flows and incredible 1200 river km to the Gulf of Papua. The catchment area of the Fly River encompasses a mind boggling 76000 square km, mostly made up of Savannah Forrest, swamps, flooding grass lands and lakes. These areas provide a perfect ecosystem for a huge variety of fish life and is home to the most powerful freshwater sport fish on the planet, the Papuan Black Bass.
Having completed the somewhat bumpy Papuan Gulf sea crossing from Port Moresby to the mouth of the Fly River in roughly 40 hours. MV K20 now transforms into a silky smooth cat as she slices her way up the turbulent, caramel coloured water way weaving past huge logs and other debris to our first rendezvous point, the local village and its grass airfield. All the crew are up well before day break and immediately started preparing K20 for the arrival of our first group of 9 sport fishing fanatics, who at this stage are still in Port Moresby with the other half of the SFPNG team making final aviation checks as they prepare the clients for the charter flight to the airfield. On the K20, final checks are also taking place all the sport fishing tenders have been unloaded into the river and had engines and sounders fitted, fuelled up and washed down. Communication and timing now take over to guarantee the 9 clients are in fact on their way and do not experience any delays. At the same time, the boys at K20 prepares the tenders armed with a 60hp Yamaha which is still an hour boat trip away for us.
A PNG sing sing welcomed the guests with its vibrant and colourful display of cultural dancing and singing to welcome new people to their area. Scores of villagers take part to promote peace, happiness and to bring good fortune to the trip. With the 9 clients now on the K20 and enjoying the cold beverage or two, with formal introductions and the safety and trip itinerary briefing completed, a small 2.5 hour window has emerged to let the clients fish the area.
The late afternoon sun was blasting it rays straight down the river lighting up the K20 like the true rockstar she is. All the tenders and the clients began staggering back giving the thumbs up to a fantastic first afternoon of lure tossing, catching and releasing a fine mixed bag of Barramundi and Papuan Black Bass.
This group of sport fishers all made this epic journey from various parts of Australia, with some having experienced the Fly River in the past. Andrew and Raylene, Scotty and Kate are from the Toowoomba region in QLD. Otto and Glen hail from Brisbane, Craig the lone Victorian and Al and Arnie who originally called the Gold Coast home. They all have one thing in common, to test their angling skills against a beast of a fish called the Papuan Black Bass.
Travelling through the night and further up the Fly River we reach our next fishing destination. Day break reveals a magnificent waterway surrounded by thick reeds and fallen timber with numerous barramundi boofing and free jumping in the early morning mist. The guests finish off their hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, hash browns, toast and fresh local fruit then board the waiting tenders with the pro sport fishing guides and all their supplies, then disappeared for the day. Our work on the MV K20 is just beginning as all the remaining crew get busy cleaning up and turning over the cabins, scrubbing the decks, double checking everything as Ivan our engineer inspects the engine rooms.
Around midday a dug out canoe with two local fisherman appears at the stern of the ship. Alex the chef speaks in their language to reveal their intentions, to sell us fish, not just any fish but 2 solid looking Black Bass, gulp. These are the first Black Bass I have seen in the flesh, I handled the fish and admire their nasty canine teeth and the huge tail. With my sport fishing back ground I have to decline their offerings, but still I give them a hand shake and a coke and sent them on their way. All the sport fishing tenders begin returning late in the afternoon with epic tales of fish caught and lost with lure design and colour dominating the conversations. Fluro green /Black, Gold / Orange, with the deeper diving lures with a reach of at least 4 meters combined with a violent rod twitching action scoring most of the Black Bass and Barramundi caught.
The good fishing continues with Al and Arnie connecting and landing a heap of solid Barramundi and some absolute beasts of Black Bass.
In the mid day, Alex and I had a chance to check the spots within eye shot of the K20 in the remaining tender on our down time so I could gain valuable experience towards gaining my stripes as a pro guide in this area. I managed to catch my PB Barramundi at 92 cm plus half a dozen small Black Bass and a weird looking type of rare Jewfish all caught trolling with a deep diving Nomad lure in a green pattern.
After yet another sensational meal of roast pork by Alex, MV K20 departs for its next destination, which is around 8 hours further up stream and is the main river that flows out of a big Lake. Captain Thomas encountered numerous shallow sand banks throughout the night but his years of experience in this area got the MV K20 safely anchored well before day light. With the smell of bacon and eggs, coffee and toast the early morning light reveals the Main River is running very dirty after heavy down pours in the previous days in the area. Never the less the tenders depart in search of clearer water and Black Bass only to return 2.5 hours later declaring the river un fishable due to water quality and excessive flow. Immediately Captain Thomas summons all the guides to the wheel house on the MV K20 to discuss and implement a new fishing itinerary to get the clients out fishing asap. As Alex prepares a cheese plater and crackers, the pop of beer cans and fishing banter is drowned out by the lifting of the anchor and the K20 departs for our next point of call 3 hours further up the Main River to a seldom visited area near the swamps.
With all the clients back out fishing for the afternoon I pair up with Arnold a local guide,we and made our way into the swamp on the long boat. Arnold being prepared bought his bush knife along which came in very handy as we slashed our way in through thick reeds to reveal an open lake like water way with numerous skinny canals weaving their way through the pink flowered water lilies. Although the clients reported a very slow afternoon fishing with only 2 fish being landed, a Barramundi at 105 cm plus an impressive 30Ib Black Bass and a heap of pesky catfish. I found the area deserved more attention in the future, not only was this swamp void of any local fishing camps, it had the feeling it was rarely visited by humans at all, plus I caught my first small Black Bass ‘castingʼ a gold suspending minnow at one of the numerous run offs draining into the swamp.
Straight after an impressive dinner of roast lamb, veggies, garlic bread and barramundi, the tell tale sound of metals clanking signalled the anchor was being retrieved and K20 was yet again underway and travelling throughout the night for another 10 hours further up the Fly River to an area close to the local village residing there.
Late in the evening the VHF radio crackles to life as a foreign sounding voice makes contact declaring two ships are coming down the river and that the K20 should hug her starboard bank to avoid a collision. Due to the winding nature of the Fly River Captain
Thomas opts to remain in a wider straight section and wait for the ships to approach and pass. Almost an hour later, finally the bright lights of the first ship can be seen weaving its way down stream then appearing like an apartment block of flats as she glides past the K20 honking her horn in appreciation, then 15 minutes later an almost identical ship slides past us. I was amazed at the size of these ships so far up the river but was informed by Fikai that they were servicing the mines further up towards the head waters of the Fly River.
I awake to the sound of the anchor entering the water and already the crew are retrieving the tenders from the tow lines and getting them ready for a long day of lure tossing and trolling even though the morning sun is yet to show.
After a quick continental breakfast the clients zoom off in the tenders well before Alex and myself can prepare the lunches of fresh ham, salad pita rolls, fruit, biscuits, chips and chocolate, oh well we can find them later in the morning on the 2 way radios and deliver it UBER EATS style which we did. But first Alex and myself must go to the village and meet with the Chief, a we respected man with a welcoming persona to announce our arrival to his area, plus to get his blessing to allow the MV K20 to drop anchor and remain for 3 days.
Carrying with us are a number of packages like school items, building materials, Medical supplies and clothes from different associations like the Rotary Club, Project Cure, and even from SFPNG clients that has helped a lot of people here in Papua new Guinea and really made a difference on their lives. The community welcomed us with a big smile on their faces and a firm handshake.
Right on que we can see the K20 from his hill side village moving to a more appropriate anchorage within the swamp closer to the clear water fishing area away from the caramel coloured main river. Some time later as I admire a tribe of large Archer Fish that have congregated at the stern of the ship, the first tenders start returning reporting good fishing with almost 60 Black Bass and Barramundi caught and released by the time they all returned, well maybe a few Barramundi got given to eager locals in their dugout canoes to feed to their families.
The Barramundi and Black Bass tally continued to rise with even a couple of Saratoga getting in the action. Gibo our loan Victorian charger was not only getting his fair share of Black Bass on his proven fluro green Oargee lures but also experienced some spectacular bust offs to the un stop-ables. In-between all this action I was busy getting to know and increasing relations on behalf of SFPNG with the local village by handing out clothing bales and building materials plus talking “story” with the local villagers and kicking the footballs with the hyperactive school kids. Andrew and Raylene caught and released a heap of Black Bass and Barramundi, even freakishly hooking the same Barramundi that scoffed both of their trolled lures.
Raylene's meter Barra.
After 6 days of fishing over 250 Black Bass and Barramundi were caught, it was also a huge learning curve for me on how to handle situations concerning K20 especially when venturing to such a remote location as the Fly river. We are continually bettering ourselves and the whole operation by trying our utmost best to anticipate and solve any
problems before they occur, to never give up and always serve the best service to our clients.
This challenging yet exciting experience was far from over, as the K20 yet again ups anchor and begins the all too familiar after hours dash, to a village and its grass airfield some 10 hours away. The K20 crew were not only bidding farewell to our previous 9 sport fishing enthusiasts but picking up another 8 lure tossing maniacs with Papuan Black Bass firmly tattooed on their minds. No sooner had the small charter plane departed and the traditional sing sing completed their awesome performance, the K20 was once again steaming up river in the dead of night as our new clients enjoyed many an SP beer while mingling with the pro guides talking lures and tying FG knots. Armed with an impressive arsenal of fishing outfits from Shimano, Daiwa, Abu Garcia and PNG Raskol rod stables, all designed to take on the might of the Papuan Black Bass along with any other aquatic
wannabes, these guys had defiantly done their homework. Coming from all over Australia with a passion for fishing and beer, this mob consisted of Sam, Nev, Rohan, Craig, Darren, Kyle, Stevo and Deano who where all mates from a time when the Fly River was not even on their sport fishing radar, yet. With the fishing so hot during the previous few days it made sense for the K20 to make a bee line back to this huge maze of swamps and rivers with untouched bays and inlets to let the lads lose to satisfy their sport fishing addiction. Like clock work the crew on K20 were all busy well before day light loading up the sport fishing tenders and sending this eager group into this fishing wonderland in search of their prize, the Papuan Black Bass.
On the groups first day, the lads returned late in the afternoon with a hefty Barramundi catch but only 8 solid Black Bass, but still pumped with their first days lure tossing effort. The beers flowed freely into the humid night until the aroma of roast lamb lured the group indoors to the air conditioned comfort of the MV K20. Heavy rain throughout the night gave way to a steamy hot morning begging for some breeze that eventually did arrived around midday. Once again I ventured out for a quick lure trolling session with Alex to gain valuable experience navigating this vast water way and in the process managed to lure up 2 small Black Bass along with a huge Tilapia on a deep diving gold RMG scorpion.
A feisty little tilapia on a Halco Scorp
Back on the K20 Alex and Kenny were busy preparing fresh fish and chips with salad, Barramundi of course, as I was making contact with SFPNG in Port Moresby getting the latest weather report plus plotting our next move ina couple of days time. With all the tenders and fishos now safely back at K20 after yet another action packed days fishing, “big Sam with a beer in hand” announces to the group that not only did he catch a heap of fish with his mate Nev but managed to land a horse of a Barramundi at 121cm in 1.8m of water on a green and black Riedys lure. A roar of disbelief erupts but is soon replaced by frantic scratching, only interrupted by the pop of beer cans, as the remaining group dig deep into their tackle bags searching for a similar lure. On the final day at the first spot, the group managed to catch and release almost 60 Barramundi and Black Bass with Kyle and Steveʼs guide Billy scoring big time at a location away from the main group luring up 35 fish for his clients. As the sun sets rapidly there is no time to spare as the crew on MV K20 make final preparations and pulls anchor for the long 10 hour dash to another Black Bass haven. Having already experienced this area before with the previous group gave me a lot of confidence that with the gun local pro guides the Black Bass would put on a good show and they sure didnʼt disappoint. On the first day ‘big Sam with a beer in handʼ was at it again, guided by Fikai late in the afternoon in fading light saw his green Reidys lure slammed by a Black Bass that whipped the scales to an impressive 41lb at 93.5cm.
Sams Barra that measured a whopping 121 cm!
Sams 41 pounder Papuan Black Bass!
The K20 Big Fish Score Board exploded with a runaway leader who was now un-backable unless one of the remaining hot shot sport fisherman pulled off a miracle, but they didn’t. ‘Big Sam with a beer in hand had accomplished a dream result where all the planets aligned in his favour. After a superb dinner of steak and barramundi the group celebrated well into the night in preparation for the following days fishing. Around mid-morning after 2 days, local deer hunters approached the K20 in their dugout canoe just curios as to why we were in the area. With their limited English and my pidgin English just confusing them, I managed to communicate thru laughter and crude sketches that they wanted to trade deer meat for rice and sugar. Arriving at their bush camp later in the day with Alex I was confronted with a raw sight to behold. Numerous deer were strung from the trees in the process of being skinned, crocodile heads cooked on the fire as their skins covered in salt and were drying out in the afternoon sun. Betel nut stained smiles welcomed me as I cautiously wandered around their camp impressed by the bow and arrow set ups, spears and the huge bush knives used to hunt their quarry plus the dogs looked very well fed too. With half a deer in the long boat we made our way back towards the K20, but a quick troll was on the cards at a likely looking snag that had produced a few fish in the past. In quick succession we caught 2 nice barramundi for the table plus a huge freshwater Pig Nosed turtle that had me convinced was a world record breaking Black Bass! After releasing Mr Turtle we shot straight back to K20 and begun preparing the deer meat and barramundi for that night’s dinner. All the guests reported yet another fantastic days fishing with barramundi dominating the catch rate along with some humbling bust offs from massive Black Bass only fuelling their appetites to land just one of these colossal fish.
With the end of this tour up the Fly River approaching, the decision was made for the K20 to make its way to the local village down river to allow the group to meet us there to explore and fish the many swamps and creeks along the way. This tactic did not disappoint with the highest score in both barramundi and black bass achieved, although Steve did managed to snap his Venom rod to a huge Black Bass right next to the boat which he wore like a badge of honour even though the big fish swam away grinning. On the final night with the MV K20 now safely anchored close to the airfield Alex and Kenny produced a 5 star BBQ to end the tour with the clients inviting all the ships crew to join in and relive the past amazing 6 days fishing. The following morning turned into a hectic affair with the planes departure rescheduled to the earlier time of 8:30am, never the less all the group made it on the plane and departed to a sea of waving locals.
Back on the MV K20 final preparations went underway for the long trip back to Port Moresby. Watching the anchor chain being retrieved had me reminiscing the first time as a 15 year old reading about the Fly River in a Fishing World Magazine penned by the legend Rod Harrison. Back then I had no idea that one day I would experience the wild and amazing Fly River, its culture and people,plus a fish called the Papuan Black Bass.