FISHING With Alex Julius
I’m just back from a fabulous PNG fishing trip aboard the luxury mothership K20.
There were nine of us and we fished the Fly River, starting practically on the border of Irian Jaya.
Everything went like clockwork, and the fishing was pretty damn good.
We caught about an equal number of black bass and barra (nearly 300), although everyone got dusted many times by brutal big bass in the snags. But plenty of great ones were still landed.
The size of the barra surprised me: the majority were high 80s and 90s, and there were three over a metre, including a 125cm whale of a fish.
What all these big barra were doing more than 300km upstream on the Fly River in pure, non-tidal freshwater had me baffled. Were they breeding? Or were they just following the tucker?
It'd been about 15 years since my last foray to PNG, mainly chasing black bass, and I can tell you they are still the pig dogs of the freshwater.
Locked up drags with heavy pliers on Shimano TranX 300s and Calcutta 300s - loaded with 65lb FINS 40G - sure exposed weak points when 15-20kg-plus bass banged your lure. As we were mainly fishing snags, landing the monster bass was just too bloody hard!
I had at least four that destroyed me within two seconds.
It seems those bass up to about 14kg (30lb) could be stopped as often as not, but the bigger ones gave no quarter.
It's certainly renewed my love affair with this amazing member of the Lutjanid family, related as it is to golden snapper, mangrove jack and red emperor.
As I explained back when I first filmed black bass in PNG half a dozen trips and 20 years ago, these fish have vital organs twice the nice of other Lutjanids.
The lure of choice by a country mile was the Classic Dr Evil; the bass couldn't resist them, and the barra were all over them too.
At times, I trolled Dr Evil a short cast behind the boat, so it kicked along nicely at 4-5m depth, bouncing over the snags. But put it out a long cast away and it swam down to more than 7m... an incredibly versatile lure that I'm going to use a lot more in our big Territory rivers.
It was comfort-plus on the K20, and the meals were top notch.
The crew, all eight of them, were simply awesome and focussed on the guests… as it should be. People pay a lot of money for these trips, and sometimes guides lose sight of this, and just worry about themselves. That sure wasn’t the case on K20!
There are making spring tides this weekend, which is always good for finding a hot bite somewhere.
Regular readers of this column would know my preference for making tides given that currents increase and the aquatic food chain accelerates.
With barra in the estuaries, invariably the fishing improves as the variance between high and low tide increases.
I prefer Saturday to Sunday for a fish – simply because there is a full moon on Saturday night and, from my experience, the day or two after a full moon is not as good as before.
With low tide just after lunch, Saturday’s 2.53m tide presents an ideal opportunity to lock into Shoal Bay, either up the Howard River, in King Creek or at the famous Rock itself.
There’ll still be plenty of time to get back to the Buffalo Creek ramp before dark when the tide floods back in.
Inland, the billabongs are all still fishing quite well, and there are quality fish to be caught amongst the rats.
1. The PNG black bass is the undisputed pig dog of the freshwater, and inhabits similar country to barramundi. Geoff Doig’s ripper bass from a recent mothership trip down the Fly River was caught on a Killalure River Rat.
2. Both barra and bass were all over the Classic Doctor Evil lure which should find a niche banging over deep snags in our big tidal rivers.
3. Paul Wiesenekker’s 125cm whale of a barra was the biggest fish of the trip.
4. Catching a beast of a Lutjanid – the black bass – 300km up a big river is definitely a bucket-list experience… AJ with a freshwater “pig dog” that devoured a Classic 120 Ghost lure.