The Papuan bass (Lutjanus goldiei), also known as Niugini bass, is an extremely dirty and mean fighter. Pound for pound, maybe the strongest and toughest predator which swims on our planet. Papua New Guinea (PNG) is generally known as the place to be to hook one of these monsters (landing them is different story!)

West-Papua – the Indonesian part of this huge ‘forgotten’ island – might hold an even better chance of world record size Papuan bass. A rare and elusive fish which can be found both in rivers and lakes as well as in salty estuaries…

The way up to the river mouth was an hazardous boat ride…

After my previous trips to West-Papua (see part 1 and part 2) I kept in contact with Olivier as I knew he was exploring some other river systems towards Timika. He had found a very good place for barramundi, but he was convinced that some other rivers in the area could hold some monster Papuan bass, which is actually a snapper species. Dates were set and at the end of September I was on my way again to West Papua with some friends; André, Florian and Peter. I had informed them that fishing for Papuan bass could be frustrating in many ways… 

Just before we left home for the long, tiring journey, Olivier came up with some good news. Travelling with a small group of Japanese and Korean anglers he had found a very promising river system. They had lost most of the bigger fish, but they also caught quite a few Papuan bass to over 10 kg and finally one of them landed a monster bass of 17 kg. A fish of a lifetime!

Ready for a new adventure.

Fingers crossed

From my previous trips, I knew that conditions could change within days so I kept my fingers crossed on the 6 hour boat journey. Soaked to the bone by the spray of the boat we finally entered the mouth of the river. In the meantime, the wind had picked up considerably and huge waves were crashing on the shallow sandbanks, protecting the entrance. 

We escaped some dangerous moments but finally, with the longboat half full of water, we had made it and ventured up the river to the small village about 10 km upstream. On our way we noticed that the river was quite coloured, probably from the heavy rains of last week… hopefully it would clear fast! We were welcomed by a big committee of locals and two hours later we had dried our stuff and prepared our basecamp for the coming week in a nice wooden house in the middle of the village. Perfect! 

No tourists venture here, so the locals were very curious… and very friendly!

‘Hopeless’ conditions’

Soon, our high hopes were dashed again. The first afternoon only produced a baby bass and the next day we moved upstream to a small tributary hoping to find clearer water. But the more we went upstream, the dirtier the water got – hopeless! We drifted downstream and fished another small stream and 50 meter from the entrance Peter and I both caught a nice bass of around 5 kg near some sunken tress in a corner… the only spot which produced a bass that day.

All the other, previous ‘hot spots’ on the main river were dead. Were the bass hiding in the sunken trees, waiting for the water to clear up or had they moved?

The next day, the main river was even more coloured, even the incoming tide was bringing dirty water in because of the strong winds. Still, Florian caught an almost meter long barra, but that was it. Olivier was already thinking of a plan B, moving to another river system, but that would be impossible as the wind kept on blowing. Besides that, most likely the conditions were equally bad on other rivers. 

Fishing the main, tidal river…

Hide and seek

The third day it looked like the main river had a tiny bit more visibility and we ventured again upstream to the small, palm lined tributary. There, André and I had some short, hectic action near a big log resulting in two nice bass to 8,5 kg which got me on my knees trying to prevent them getting back to the submerged trees and two nice barramundi’s. So far so good, but fishing proved to be hard to say the least. The only good thing was that so far I had not lost a single fish…

Upstream from the village the water was considerably clearer, but Olivier doubted that we would run into some bass there. On his previous trip they only caught a small barra. Still, we gave it a try, we had nothing to lose, and to Oliviers surprise we were rewarded with quite a few nice barra, mainly on small Halco Poltergeist lures.

We also had a lot of fun fishing a small creek close to the sea with hard fighting mangrove jacks, small groupers, oxeye tarpon and even a couple of barra’s. But our main goal of the trip, the Papuan bass, was still playing hide and seek…

The mall rivers with overhanging palm trees and timber made accurate casting difficult.

The hotspot

Although the weather was improving slowly with higher temperatures and less wind, the water clarity remained the main problem. Luckily, the spot where I had caught my first bass kept on producing bites. 

Some battles to the limit were lost, some ended in triumph for a happy angler. Nice bass to 8,5 kg but I had the strong feeling that the main river and especially the estuary would be the place to hook a monster and therefore I concentrated my efforts there for the final days of the trip, even though not a single bass had been hooked there the previous days…

A young ‘Mike Tyson’!
Deep diving lures and XX-strong trebles.
A promising start!

Huge barramundi?

The 4th day I was fishing again with Peter, and after we had drifted fruitlessly for an hour or so just downstream from the village, we headed again to the estuary on the sea-side. The other boat with André and Florian was just disappearing around the corner, probably towards the hotspot, indicating that nothing had happened again on the sea-side. It looked like the current was just slowing down and we noticed also that the water was clearing up a bit. So far, we had been fishing with pretty small deep diving lures, so for a change I chose a bigger, even deeper running lure: a new UV coloured X-Rap Magnum. Cranking it down in the still pretty fast tide was hard work but I persevered until we were halfway down the 400 meter long drift. We had just passed a small side creek when out of the blue my X-Rap was nailed with unbelievable, brute strength. 

I almost tumbled out of the boat trying to hold on with the drag of my Daiwa Saltiga 4500 tightened up to its max, hoping the 100 lb braid would not break. I had never seen my trusty Westin Edge medium/light popping rod bent so much, expecting it to break every second as a seemingly big fish tried to reach some snags close to the bank. Luckily my guides reacted pretty quick moving the boat out of the danger zone and in the process the fish came up, going berserk in the surface with huge boils. ‘Maybe a huge barramundi?’ was my first thought, but there was not much time to think things over as the fish was diving deep again. 

Florian with a nice barramundi.
The mangrove creeks produced all kinds of species including those lovely snappers.
Our small house in the village.
Basic, but at least dry!
Papuan bass love places like this.
A snag in a small tributary was holding a lot of medium size bass.
The first few seconds of the fight are crucial!
This battle was lost…
Hotspot for barramundi… and huge Papuan bass

Monster bass!

I knew that the bottom was covered with snags so I held on, not giving an inch. Time after time the fish dived down under the boat, seemingly not tired at all. Finally after a grueling 10 minute battle we saw the first glimpse of the fish – a very dark coloured bass of immense proportions…a monster! We experienced some scary moments when it took Peter several attempts to get a good grip with the boga –  the lower jaw was too big! But seconds later the fish was safely hauled in the boat. What a fish!

The 15 kg boga grip was bottomed out, it was clear that this fish would weigh well over 20 kg! The scales and sling were in the other boat but I wanted to release the fish as soon as possible. We measured the fish which was 103 cm long and took some pictures on a beach nearby. Holding the fish and looking at the impressive fish which was extremely broad and deep bodied, I put a weight on the fish of 22 kg+, maybe even close or over 25 kg (50-55 lb), but we will never know for sure! 

First I was thinking I had hooked a huge barramundi when it came to the surface…
Even the locals never had seen such a monster!
My monster Papuan bass of 103cm… maybe a word record fish.

Fish of a lifetime!

20 minutes later we were back on the spot and I was still shaking when my X-Rap got nailed again by a big fish! Was I dreaming? This fish stayed deep all the time but finally it surfaced under the heavy pressure. A good fish but in the boat, it looked a ‘baby’ compared to the previous monster… still a beautiful fish of just under 12 kg and 83 cm long! Back in the camp Olivier could not believe his eyes seeing the pictures of the monster on my camera – he had seen quite a lot of big bass over 15 kg and even one of 23 kg (!) and according to him this fish must have weighed well over 25 kg. Whatever the weight was, it was a fish of a lifetime! 

The last two days of the trip the sea-side estuary produced some more action. But only after I had miraculously found my ‘lucky’ X-Rap which I had lost in a snag the day before! It was the only one I had with me and I felt really handicapped after I had lost it… I lost another good fish of 13-14 kg because it got unhooked seconds before we could land it, but we caught some more bass and barramundi to 10 kg. All in all, we ended this adventurous, tough trip with around 25 Papuan bass and 20 or so barramundi’s in our pockets. A very special trip, once more. Thanks to Olivier!

World record?

Back home I did some research and examined some other pictures of big Papuan bass and with the kind help of Sport Fishing PNG I know a bit more about length measurements of other big Papuan bass. The current IGFA world record of 47 lbs 8 oz (21.55 kg) was not measured as far as I know, but the former record of 46 lb of Jason Yip was exactly 100 cm long and another fish which was said to be 50 lb was also 100 cm. Some other recorded fish over 40 lb were all between 92-98 cm long… It would have been nice to know the weight of my 103 cm monster, it might have been a new world record but who cares!? 

Tackle used to catch the monster Papuan bass:

Rod: Westin Edge 3776 Popping 120 gram

Reel: Daiwa Saltiga 4500H 

Line: 100 lb Power Pro

Lure: Rapala X-Rap Magnum UV wahoo colour

Trebles: Owner 66T 2/0

Back on the same stretch after catching my monster bass, within 10 minute I caught another brutal fish of 14 kg. How lucky can you be?
Another battle won…
The river mouth… anything could turn up here.
In the river mouth we also caught some very nice barramundi’s.
Jason Yip of Sportfishing PNG with his monster Papuan bass of over 20kilo.
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