What an amazing trip! After a year of planning, hundreds of hours on Youtube, and dozens of trips to various tackle shops my dream trip to PNG chasing the mighty Black Bass has come and gone. I have returned home with a bruised ego and a much lighter tackle bag, but with memories that will last a lifetime.
Flying into Port Moresby the first thing to strike me was how brown it was. The hills were bare and there was nothing green as far as the eye could see. The dry season up there is dry, but this is the prime time to chase Black Bass. Getting through customs was quick and easy, and I was quickly heading to Sport Fish PNG to check-in to my accommodation. A quick trip to Sport Fish PNG's tackle shop made me realise I was about to dance with monsters. Everything there was top-end and extra extra heavy duty, line started at 50Lb and leader at 100Lb.
Jia An Ng, the sales manager for Sport Fish PNG, paid me a visit in the afternoon and went through all my gear. There are no shops where we were going, so everything needs to be taken with us! Reels were inspected, drag checked, rods checked and my 75 lures were reduced to about 20 'good' ones. The attention to detail Jia An Ng showed was incredible, and looking back I can see why. The environment and fish where we were going to will exploit any weakness, and failure normally results in snapped rods, blown-apart reels and straightened hooks/rings. I was told at this point I was fishing 'light'. PE4 (70Lb) line and 100Lb leader is considered light in PNG, the other members of the trip were running PE8 rigs!
The next morning the rest of my tour flew in, and after breakfast we were on the road to Kerema. Kerema is about 5h west of Port Moresby, on a road that makes the Bruce Highway looks like a racetrack. We spent more time driving on the shoulder of the road, rather then the road itself. Arriving at the fishing lodge at Kerema, the locals were out in force welcoming us with a traditional Sing Sing. We also sought, and received permission from the village chief (known as Father) to fish, and he bestowed his blessing upon us. Fishing gear was unpacked, rigs set-up, and we were on the water for a afternoon fish.
The trip to the river mouth was filled with excitement, and a little fear. We sped past structure that screamed fish around every corner, not once stopping as the guide deemed them not worthy of our time. The normal method of fishing up there is trolling along palm-lined banks in 5-8m of water, and flicking lures at the points and shallower structure. The main structure up there is sunken timber and mud-ledges with most of my fish for the trip coming off ledges. My first fish of a trip was a small GT, caught while trolling a Duo FangOps 120dr. My fishing partner Salimi was then introduced to Black Bass fishing in a brutal way.
Salimi's 170Lb (yes, 170Lb!) leader was cut clean through on the strike. The fight went like this: rod bent, rod straightened, line limp. The leader was cut clean through, like it had been cut by a knife. Our guide explained that Black Bass feed more with a 'swipe' action rather then a traditional bite and swallow. So there is always a chance of the leader coming in contact with the gill rakes. Unfortunately, no-one had any leader stronger then 170Lb, so we were already introuble! But for the remainder of the trip, there was no other leader cuts in this fashion. However, the 2 second fight was repeated time after time.
My first Barra was caught retrieving my lure after a trolling pass. Anytime your lure is in the water, it might get eaten, no cast is wasted even if it didn't go where you were aiming. We had numerous boat-side strikes over the week, you can never relax. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful, with just various species of cod getting caught.
Day 2 started with a bang! Francis (our guide for the day) took us to a section of river we had driven past the day before. Francis doesn't like sounders, so we were just using his knowledge and our skills. The first troll resulted in main-line breakage, second pass, straightened hooks, third pass line breakage again. On every pass we were getting strikes, only to loose the fish in the first 5 seconds due to gear failures. Salimi ended up landing a PB Barra, but the Black bass continued to evade us. We had evidence of their power, chewed lures and straightened hooks, but none in the boat.
Day 3 was met with the bad news that the floodwater from the mountains had arrived. The coastal rivers in PNG are fed from the mountains, so even though we are clear skies the water was now dirty and the fish refused to bite. We did however manage to pass a sounder over the productive grounds we fished the day before. There was nothing there, no structure, no ledges nothing at all to explain why they were there the day before. It was by far the more boring stretch of river we fished for the week, but the most productive.
Day 4 was a wild trip to PoPo, carrying boats over logs and dodging sunken timber. Unfortunately, PoPo was in the same flooded condition as the main river. So fishing was very lean.
Day 5 we headed upstream in the hope we could fish above the dirty water that shut-down the mouth. We were met with log-jams easy 40m long, with our guide telling us to cast into the middle because that is where the fish are. Just 2 days prior I couldn't land Bass in open water, what hope do I have in such crazy structure. Many lures were lost, but no fish landed. As we continued up-steam we started to fish the junction of the small creeks being fed by the floodplains and the main river. Youtube videos always reference 'Black Water”, which is the name given to this run-off water. It is clear but has a dark tint to it, and it makes mind-calming patterns as it mixes with the dirty main-river water.
We ended up finding Black Bass on a ledge at a river-bend, and according to the sounder there was dozens sitting there. Frustration set in, as I could not get them to bite. Salimi managed to boat a small 20Lb'er, but we had to return to camp. I would have loved to spend a few more hours at this spot, but we it is not safe to be on the river at night.
Day 6 we changed tactics and tackle. Leader was reduced to 60Lb, and an Old Dog GM100 (Banana) tied on. We spent the day using Aussie tactics on PNG snags. The day was full of Mangrove Jack and Fingermark to 9Lb, various cod species and the ever-present Catfish. We decided to stop on a small beach at the mouth of a small creek, while eating, we noticed a very small branch sticking out of the water. Pulling Jacks and Fingermark out of these sticks, while eating lunch, was one of the high-lights of the trip. I didn't change lures once on day 6, the Old Dog GM100 produced all day long.
Day 7 was the last day, and last chance to get a Black Bass. As the river had cleaned up, we headed back to PoPo. Much like earlier in the trip, the Black bass had other ideas. Despite having a week to refine our technique, the Black bass still won every round with ease! Salimi lost a absolute horse of a Barra, when 3 1/0 BKK RaptorZ straightened! Everything is meaner in PNG.
This trip introduced me to gear and techniques that I can't wait to use locally. I was the only person using a loop-knot, everyone else was using leader to solid ring to split ring to lure, rather then a loop-knot in the leader to lure connection. The reason is they believe the split-ring allows more lure action then the loop-knot. I also discovered that using such heavy line/leader kills the diving depth of lures, lures that should dive 5m, were only just getting 2m. Something to remember in the future, the heavier the line/leader the shallower your lure runs.
While I didn't land a Black Bass, the trip was unforgettable! All the Sport Fish PNG staff were great and the locals are amazing. I can't wait to go back in the future and dance one again with the Mighty Black Bass of PNG.
One final note, Betel Nut doesn't improve your fishing or dancing skills....
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