A month or so before, we’d received an invitation from Jason Yip and Kori Chan from Sport Fishing PNG to come target the Bass in the Gulf Region of PNG, about a 5 hour drive west of the PNG Capital of Port Moresby.
The PNG Black Bass, or Black Snapper, as the Americans call them, are on the “bucket list” of many anglers. With a reputation of big, bone jarring hits, and dirty, powerful fighting tactics, in tight gnarly structure, Chris and I were pumped!
Although accustomed to fighting fish in tight structure, we are more at home with our light bream rods, tackle and lures. In fact, truth be known, neither of us had used a bait cast outfit before.
On arrival, Jason informed us that the weather had been pretty ordinary. A lot of rain in the Gulf, and the village where we were heading had been underwater only 2 weeks before. “Be prepared to work hard for the fish…” was Jason’s advice to us.
The drive to Kerema the next morning had us anxiously discussing tactics and listening to the excited banter between Jason and seasoned Black Bass “Trophy Hunter” Nick Wheeler, from Singapore.
On his forth trip to PNG, Nick was here for one reason, and one reason only – to catch a 40 pounder! He didn’t care how he did it, trolling, casting, livebaiting… On each successive trip to PNG, Nick has systematically upgraded his gear to cope with the ferocious battle with the Bass. This trip he was armed with “broom sticks” for rods, 100lb braid and 300lb Kevlar leaders! Do you think Chris and I were starting to feel a little undergunned? Especially after he told us he’d lost a Bass on the Kevlar only 2 days before!
We had 2 outfits each. A TMX-G 601H Baitcast rod and Z2020H reel, and a Steez STZ 701 HFS-DA “Hot Dog” and Exist 3000. The heaviest braid we had was 50lb on the z2020, and we maxed out at 120lb leader…
The first afternoon on the water, we witnessed Nick land the first bass for the trip. A harrowing fight, in amongst the snags, that gave him some real stick, and it was only a 14 pounder. Chris hooked and landed one of similar size not long after, and we were starting to think that this was going to be easy pickings.
How wrong we were. We had some mammoth hits that instantly pulled line on locked up drags, and were made to look amateurish by other fish that had us back in the snags before we realised what was happening.
That night we upgraded leaders from 80lb to 120lb, replaced the 30lb braid on the exists, and I had a restless night sleep dreaming about catching my first.
Well I’ve learnt that these Black Bass are elusive. A fish of a thousand casts perhaps (or maybe 5000). Temperamental to the conditions, we spent the next 4 days without a bass. 6am to 6pm each day, casting, with intense concentration, trying to crack a pattern. The conditions weren’t ideal, with the rivers running dirty, and bites few and far between, and often as our concentration was waning.
The cultural experience was exceptional though, interacting and eating with local villagers, and local guides. The local village people are very friendly and we didn’t feel unsafe at all during the trip.
Oh, and the by catch! We caught a smorgasbord of species, Jacks, Fingermark, Trevally, Giant Gourami, and some massive Barra. Over 2 days, Nick caught a 62lb barra, Chris, one of the local guides landed a 55lb specimen, and my first ever barra was 99cm – and that’s just the by catch!
Our last day of fishing was spent closer to Port Moresby at Galley Reach. Although still not ideal, the conditions had improved, and Jason was confident that we’d get into some Bass. He was also pretty insistent that we’d throw surface lures all day. The morning was tough going, though I raised a couple of fish on the Halco Roosta Popper.
All of a sudden, as I was working the popper close to a snag, there was a huge explosion on the surface, and the popper disappeared in the white water. The fish was easily stripping drag off the locked up z2020, something the metre barra was unable to do, and I had my thumb firmly planted on the spool to slow it down. Eventually, Jason netted my first Papuan Black Bass, a 14 pounder, after 6 hard days of fishing. In hindsight, having worked so hard for that fish has made it one of my most rewarding captures as a fisherman.
15 minutes later, Chris pulled another Bass off a nearby snag, on a floating stickbait. Nearly twice the size at 22lb, it was a seriously explosive, frantic battle. I can only image how dirty a 40 pounder would fight.
Then, it all went quiet again! You really couldn’t have scripted it better. As a guide, Jason, did his job, and got us both onto Bass, but he managed to build the anticipation, which came to a head on that final afternoon. To steal a phrase from one of Jason’s Japanese clients, “this is fishing…!”
You can read more from our Papuan Black Bass series here…