Indonesia is a huge country, a giant archipelago with over 17.500 islands, small and large, surrounded by numerous unexplored reefs. Anglers from all over the world have already discovered some of the fantastic fishing Indonesia has to offer. The coast, reefs and strong currents of Southern Indonesia with its islands Komodo, Flores, Bali, and Lombok are famous for their big GT’s of 50 kg+ and good jigging options. 

However, there are still almost virgin places to discover, far away from the beaten track. One of these places is West-Papua, the Indonesian Western part of New Guinea.

It consists of vast reefs and beautiful coral islands with untapped potential for adventurous anglers. Here, you can still have the place to yourself and fish waters almost no one else has fished before.

10 years ago, I got in contact with Olivier Helloco, a French guy and special character who has been living in Indonesia for quite some years, building wooden lures (poppers), fishing and guiding Japanese anglers, mainly around Komodo. But now he was focusing on the untapped potential of the reefs around West-Papua. A new adventure beckoned….

Popper paradise… untapped potential for adventurous anglers!

Frustrating start

The initial plan was to fish a couple of days around an area called Runi before moving on, but once ashore on the island of Runi it proved to be quite difficult due to the huge tides. Our base camp was right on the far side of the island with a small guest house, big tent, icebox full of cold beers and even a shower and toilet! Not bad!!!

The first afternoon was spent casting poppers and plugs around the reefs close to the island. We had perfect conditions, with little or no wind, but also not too much activity apart from some small GT’s, a bigger one lost on the razor-sharp edge of the reef, and a small but beautiful wahoo for my buddy Juul just before dark!

Getting ashore on the island of Runi proves to be quite difficult during low tide…

The next morning, we headed out to a yellowfin tuna spot where the water is 2100 meters deep! On arrival after a 2 hour boat ride, we see a boiling surface with thousands of small tuna’s! Hope is high and Olivier was sure that the big ones would surface as well, taking part in the fiesta. Until then we tried speedjigs and livebaiting. To cut a long story short; there were no signs of the big mama’s that day, although we witnessed the local commercial fisherman catch two nice tuna of around 50 kg on a setline with livebait.

Back at the camp some cold beers and a nice diner of cooked giant coconut crabs (amazing, weird creatures!) soften the frustration for both of us and especially Olivier who knows from past experiences how spectacular and arm wrenching this fishing for giant yellowfin can be on poppers or stickbaits. We agree to leave the yellowfins for another time and concentrate on the reefs to the west, towards the island of Supiori.

You won’t see any other tourists here!

Perfect day

After a 45 minute boat ride the next morning, we arrived at the eastern part of the Supiori reefs. Soon we noticed big schools of baitfish on the surface, occasionally disturbed by predators from below or scared by the sound of our big poppers. Within 5 minutes Juuls popper (made by Olivier of course!) is nailed by a big fish. To our surprise it turns out to be a giant barracuda of close to 20 kg. Not a bad start for the day! We then took a gorgeous coloured bluefin trevally and two decent GT’s of around 10 kg, but then things slow down. We took an early break and headed for the shore of Supiori to have a look at our next camping place for the coming days, strategically positioned in a sheltered bay, close to the major reefs. The place was stunning, right next to a small waterfall, a perfect natural shower with an endless supply of freshwater! There was even a small wooden hut for us to use.

After a refreshing bath and early lunch, we head out again to the same reef, although Olivier is convinced that the sun is still too high for a good bite. Luckily, we proved him wrong. Fishing mainly with smaller poppers we hooked quite a few fish in a couple of hours, even though there is hardly any sign of baitfish in the oily, flat calm sea. We counted eight different species which were actually caught before returning to Runi; numerous GT (to 20 kg), barracuda, red snapper, bluefin trevally, Spanish mackerel, jobfish, rainbow runner and… (two small) dogtooth tunas. Back at our camp on Runi we were treated to a farewell dinner – the locals had slaughtered a pig to make some delicious babi pangang. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

A pleasant surprise just before dark close to the island; a small wahoo for Juul on his light spinning rod.

Airborn mackerel

The next day we moved to the camp on Supiori. The weather was unpredictable with a lot of rain and big winds at times, but it never lasted long. The fishing proved to be difficult; sudden bursts of hectic action followed by longer periods of slow fishing. Our local guide, Constan, thinks the (big) GT’s are ready to spawn and therefore not really active. We tried some deep jigging with little to show for it (although we are broken off a couple of times); the reef is huge and also for Olivier new terrain with no GPS-points marked in his fish finder. Trolling however was much more productive with some nice Spanish mackerel to 15 kg+ and again some dogtooth tuna, although not the monsters we had hoped for. 

Towards the evening the wind died off and suddenly we saw some big Spanish mackerel go airborne and attacking schools of baitfish, they launched themselves at least 5-8 metres vertically in the air! In a crazy hour we hook several big Spanish mackeral on poppers and subsurface stickbaits. We were unlucky to miss or lose most of the real big fish of well over 20-25 kg (Olivier has caught them before here to over 30 kg!), but still we managed to catch some nice Spanish mackerel, together with two dogtooths of around 15 kg for both me and Hans. We were excited and wanted more of this amazing action but we had to wait for the next morning.

A nice red snapper on a popper, one of 8 different species on the poppers that day

Horizontal jigging

Discussing the missed and lost big Spanish mackeral that evening in the camp, I came up with the idea of using the speedjigs in a different way (we still have plenty left!). Instead of dropping them deep to the bottom, why not cast them a long way (with ease!) over the shallow reef and spin them back at high speed to target the ultra-fast Spanish mackerel? I have fished like this before for bass on wrecks in the North sea, but here it would have to be even faster and much more horizontal because the depth was only 5 – 15 meters. A sort of horizontal speed jigging – a new concept is born! But would it work in practice? Olivier was a bit sceptical, but we were all convinced that it would work. 

After trying another part of the reef the next morning, we headed off again to ‘Mackerel Reef’. First, we tried again for GT with big poppers. Our first cast to a big group of baitfish resulted immediately in two strikes, with two nice GT landed. But after that, action slowed down again and to our surprise there was no sign of active Spanish mackerel this time. We tried trolling for an hour which was quite productive with another small dogtooth and some nice Spanish mackerel to just under 20 kg. But we like to cast and hoped that towards the last hour of sunlight the wind would die down and that the Spanish mackerel will show their spectacular, acrobatic performances again.

The waters of West Papua are famous for their acrobatic and big Spanish mackerels which can grow here twice this size!

I cast my 160 gram pink/silver Butterfly jig 60 meters far, just behind a big school of rising baitfish. I let it sink for just a few seconds, clearly feeling the jig fluttering down. But before I had the chance to start winding the handle one turn, a big hit rips the rod almost out of my hand! Spanish mackerel? No, a nice GT, well hooked in the corner of the mouth! In the next hour I caught another 6 GT’s and one Spanish mackerel, all on the horizontal fished speedjig, while the fishing with poppers and even subsurface lures stayed quiet, very quiet!

Most of the hits took place in the first seconds while the jig was fluttering down, probably imitating a wounded baitfish which falls to the bottom. Most of the fish were hooked on the single assist hook on top of the jig. I am sure that if more active Spanish mackerel were around, I would have caught even more fish, probably taking the jig at full speed!

Horizontal speed jigging proved to be very successful if they didn’t want poppers.

Final GT bonanza

The initial plan was to spend the last two days at a small river towards Biak, looking for freshwater Papuan Bass, which can grow to over 15 kg. But as Olivier is convinced that the small rivers here will probably not produce a fish of nearly that size, if any fish at all, we agreed to concentrate our efforts on the Supiori reefs, hoping for some monster GT’s, Spanish mackerel and dogtooth tunas. 

The weather stayed unstable but we managed to fish a couple of hours on the nearby reefs each day. Fishing remained on and off with some hectic, spectacular moments, followed by slow fishing for an hour or so, chasing schools of baitfish. We caught our share of nice GT, mainly between 10 to 20 kg, which made for good sport on our medium popper outfits. But Olivier is surprised that we haven’t caught some bigger ones, although we missed and lost at least a couple of clearly bigger GT’s.

Aggressive bull!

The last afternoon, while we are having a rest at midday, Constan tells us that we should go out again, that the tide is right in one hour. Quickly we grab our rods, heading out again for the outermost reef. After a 40 minute journey we arrive at the spot and to our surprise there are schools of baitfish showing everywhere. The third cast produced a decent GT of around 15 kg, before we move on to the next school of baitfish. Before I can cast both Juul and Hans are almost dragged out of the boat after a simultaneous strike from two angry big fish! My first reaction is to grab the camera, but decide to cast first one time.

On hitting the surface my popper is instantly attacked as well, missed and grabbed again. I was hooked up too!  I had no plans to fool around with this fish and put maximum pressure with my Stella 20000 and 80 lb braid to keep it clear from the reef 10 metres below. After 5 minutes, I have my fish ready beside the boat while Juul and Hans are still fighting theirs. Mine was a good fish of around 25 kg, but how big are the other two? Next is Juul’s fish (hooked on a ‘horizontal’ speedjig!), which is even a little bigger and finally Hans fish is safely landed which was the biggest of at least 30 kg. What a way to end this exciting, adventurous trip!

What a way to end this exciting, adventurous trip!