In search of Papuan Black Bass

My son Xavier said to me today “Dad, do you remember that time we went fishing with Uncle Troy?” This, after he just let rip in the backseat of the car, and we are winding windows down trying to evacuate the air…

The smell…

The reminder…

The worst fishing trip in the history of fishing trips.

My mate Troy (who should remain surname-less), Xavier and myself took up the offer to borrow our mates brothers river boat to head up to Galley Reach for the L&A Construction/Dekenai Black Bass comp. We should have said, no thanks, but we love our fishing, and there is nothing like spending a couple of days with your mate on the water, talking shit and teasing the youngster.

The week prior didn’t start too good, and maybe that was the sign we needed – but we chose to ignore it. Not only did we not have the basics, fuel, containers, net, a boat… But I had only been up “The Reach” once, and Troy hadn’t been for some 20+ years.

So – we got the boat sorted, mates brothers cousin had it all ready to go, and threw in a net for us. But – the connection was different from 4×4 to trailer. So, a half hour of mucking around and we had a number8 wire solution rigged up. Mates “cousin brother” (PNG Style) then assured us that everything was sweet, new bearings in the trailer, motor was working great etc etc. We even borrowed some fuel containers – so we were good to go!

Saturday morning, 4:30am – and we are off. Lines in at 6am and at least an hour and a half to “The Reach” and home creek where the boat ramp is. A pretty uneventual journey, however the road is potholed to all hell and back, and each village along the way had cut in a trench instead of judder bars to slow you down, which is fine when it is sunlight, but not so great when it is 5am and dark.

Driving without really remembering where the Home Creek ramp was, it was all a bit of a lets see where we got to, and then a couple of landmarks popped out and we were gaining on the dirt road turnoff.

And then we hit disaster #1. Troy turned into the dirt/mud road and then all of a sudden the truck bit in and we shuddered. Getting out of the truck, here was the trailer missing the inner turning wheel, axle in the mud, and back at the entrance the wheel lying there.

We grabbed the wheel, and as we were scratching our heads trying to figure out the next move, but who should appear, our mates cousin brother. He of “the bearings are new” fame. Of course, one look at the bearing in the trailer and he had been duped by some dodgy bastard that just repacked the existing buggered bearings.

The great thing about PNG is that either a local has a bush knife, or a long termer would have one too. So our bro eyed up a big bamboo in the bush, and 10 minutes later we had a sled made up under the axle and Troy is hammering the hell out of his Hilux up the rutted hill to get us to a flat patch and off the road. The bro, drives past and offers us his trailer so that we can put the boat onto it to get down to the creek – another km down the track. So after sorting our shit out, and saying hi to all the boys towing trailers to go fishing (tut tut – bad bearing boys) we eventually get the bro’s trailer and transfer the boat from one trailer to the other. No mean feat, that wee boat weighed a pretty penny. And contrary to what the bro told us “yeah mate, this bloody boat will fit on my trailer, she’ll be right mate” the bloody boat didn’t. Some more number8 wire, and the boat is going to the river stacked on it’s side in the worlds smallest boat trailer. No harm done, but the local families that live down the boat ramp must have thought that we were certifiably long long (crazy) dim dim’s (white men). Lucky my mate Troy speaks fluent tokpisin, the boys gave us a hand to get the boat in the water, hook the motor back on, and then a couple of them hightailed it up to look after the trailer for us for the day so no bugger steals it. Good lads.

We get on the water, finally, thankfully we can start fishing. Everyone else is already out there, having a laugh at our expense (except of course for a couple of blokes from Boroko Motors who were having a rather shitty (literally) time trying to get to Home Creek), and a few stray fisherman who were having a little lie in…

So, we push off, Troy goes to start the motor. Nogut! Em pinis. What the hell! Bloody motor wouldn’t start. Now, Troy could possibly pass as a pretty good kiwi with all the number8 wire fixes he’s been dishing out (I’ll give him the credit) – but he’s an Aussie, a PNG Aussie – so that helps a little bit more 😉 and a couple of minutes later he has figured out how to get the motor started. Just means we have to take the cover off each time to get it going. Meanwhile, our “Bro” is 30km up the Laloki whilst we muck around with a motor “that goes sweet mate, just had it running, no worries – you’ll be right mate”.

We are away, but the river system is dirty brown. This is the first comp of the season, and we’ve had a bit of rain. And listening in on the radio, it seems that no-one is catching anything. Of course, we are all targeting the legendary Papuan Black Bass, the meanest, toughest freshwater fish on the planet – and that’s no idle boast. People from all around the world travel to PNG to try and tick this one off their bucket list, and lots of them go home empty handed. If we are lucky, we might get a nice Barramundi (they grow BIG in PNG), or a nice Mangrove Jack. All three of those fish will bust backs, lines, and gear. Xavier had already caught himself a beauty Mangrove Jack a year beforehand around the 5kg mark so he would love even a little Black Bass, he was on ultra-light tackle too, a mean feat for an 11 year old catching that Jack.

We start traversing the river system, no livebaits as the teams that turned up on Friday used up all the Tilapia (and were hogging the rest). Trolling up the river systems, casting into nasty Black Bass territory, hitting the eddies, and then exploring into the unknown. Nothing.

We decided to head back early, get the boat sorted, and try and get the busted up trailer to Doa Haus (the clubs camp house) for repairs.

On the way back, we could see a large front bearing towards us. And before any of us could get rain jackets on, we had a wall of water hitting us. Visability was down to a boat length, and we weren’t keen to be banging into anything and falling out. We had already spotted a big crocodile in the water earlier in the day – none of us wanted to be dinner. Although truth be told, we only ever saw one croc, but we did hook a croc line with a big mean hook on it…

If you have ever been in a monsoon rain, you will know that it hits hard and leaves fast. What you normally don’t see, is that the force of the rain into the river bounces water up a foot. It’s hugely impressive, and you can see why some of these little river boats have auto bilges etc.

We finally get back to Home Creek, tie up the boat, and go get the Hilux. One of the old fella’s comes up apologising “Sori Boss!” Aww shit, what’s happened now? Apparently, some bush people came and broke into the back of the Hilux and tried to steal everything. But the local villiage boys ran them off and got our things back… Well, Troy and myself can smell bullshit faster than the bull can shit. The locals wanted some money for ensuing the safety of the truck and our stuff. Lesson learnt by us… No one has had gear pinched from there according to our mate, and the locals were having us on. They still got looked after anyway as we left the boat with them to look after, and would sort them out on Sunday when we were leaving as long as everything was looked after.

We take the bro’s trailer up to the busted trailer, and with the help of the boys looking after the trailer, we put one on top of the other and set off to Doa Haus.

A trip back to drop off the bro’s trailer before he got in and we were back at the Hauswin listening to the tales of woe, broken rods and blisters. Luckily, one of the Boroko lads had some bearings for the trailer, and declared that we were lucky buggers, but as he had the bearing, we had to replace it. With no idea, and under the guidance of “he who cracked the whip” and with a bit of help from some lads who never made it onto the water, but managed to water themselves, we got the busted bearing replaced, and the other side checked and cleaned and declared fit for the drive back.

A beer or two later, and our bro, he of “she’ll be right mate” fame turns up with a beauty of a Papuan Black Bass, and stories of the one that got away. A wry smile and a shake of his head over the boat, trailer and our tales of woe.

The great thing about Port Moresby, and PNG all over. Is the time sitting with mates, or mates of mates having a yarn, a beer or two, a good feed and a few more stories. Doa Haus and the fishing club boys make everyone feel at home, no matter how good you are, or how bad you are, we all pull the piss and had a great time.

With what we thought were our troubles now behind us, we decided on a 6am start. The boat was already at the ramp, we just needed to get the motor on and our gear in. So an early checkin to bed before the snorers hit the rooms (Doa Haus is very much communual mattress on the floor or a bunk – first in best dressed).

Sunday morning, and we are off again. First on the water and we try our luck at the rocks, a close by spot that catches a few fish, but no joy. We head on up one of the rivers where we got a little bit of action with some barracuda (some 15km inland), and then Xavier got absolutely smashed by some monster fish. We were fishing 15kg line (targeting Black Bass – you need it), and something tore through Xaviers line and a big bust off. It was either a big cuda, or one of our target fish. It made us pretty happy to finally have something happen, but sadly we lost one of our prized lures in the process. Lunch under a tree full of ants for the second day in a row had us swatting and ducking for cover, and then it was time to call it quits. Not before sliding to a stop on a sandbar and then finding out how many rocks there were at the Rocks when the tide is out. (We punted onto them to retrieve another wayward lure).

Getting back to Home Creek, you could rightly say we were buggered. Xavier had almost passed out at one stage as the heat on the water really sapped him, but a bit of a feed and plenty more fluids kept him going. The trick we found, was to put a “buff” into the chilly bin/esky and then put one around your neck and another under your hat. Really keeps the heat down. A bit of mozzie spray around your hat helps with the bugs. And of course, we are in long trousers and shirts, all lightweight fishing gear, beats the hell out of getting sunburnt…

We loaded up, sorted out the team at Home Creek and headed back to Moresby. The plan being we would be in Moresby by about 5:30pm before dusk. Oh how plans can change…

As we were cruising along, we started smelling something burning. Nasty burning. Poor Xavier in the back started covering his mouth, it was really not good. A few stops trying to ascertain what was wrong. Trailer was fine, truck not so much. We gradually limped to the Brown River bridge, and hoped like hell that it was clear – we weren’t stopping in the middle of nowhere, and things didn’t look too good.

Breaking down in some parts of PNG and Port Moresby could easily be a complete disaster, or bring a nice bunch of people to help. But now hitting 6pm and dusk, this is not normally the time for people that would normally help to be out – but the buggers that will take advantage of the situation. I could tell Troy was getting anxious, and I know I was too. But we also knew that our mate was still behind us, and if we got in the shit then he wouldn’t be too far away.

We finally got to 9 mile settlement, and at this stage, we are doing about 20km/hr – the diff feels like it’s gone, we’ve got grinding and crunching and a steady stream of smoke out the back. 9 mile settlement at 6:30pm is not a good place to be, but we limp past grateful that the Hilux is tough as. Just down the road, and our mate “beep beep” and a wave, roars past. “I wondered why you were going slow” he tells us later that week…

We make it back to Troy’s yard, and he reverses the Hilux, there is an almighty clunk, and that’s the end of that.

We shake our heads, never again. Fishing trip from hell… No real fish caught, a lot of money spent – but some great memories and something to laugh about over a beer or two.

Thankfully, we didn’t get the NAFA award. That went to the Boroko Motors boys that towed a boat all the way up the reach and never ever put it in the water.

And, if you have read this far. Our mate Ado, and his cousin brother Marco (the bro) – cheers boys. You may have thought your names were never going to make the story – hahaha.

#PNG Best of Times. #goodmemories