Nestled in a fairly remote and undoubtedly overlooked area in South East Asia, West Papua is one of the poorest yet most fascinating provinces of Indonesia, located in the Western edge of New Guinea island. It is home to the world’s probably most beautiful and richest marine biodiversity and it is covered in a luxuriant and mostly untouched tropical rainforest. You would not find it in the list of the safest countries in the area as poverty is still a major issue and venturing in remote and unaccessible parts outside town can quite easily get you in touch with local tribes, which are not necessarily welcoming towards outsiders.
Getting there is supposed to be fairly easy if everything works out just fine, however it just takes underestimating the tide a little and you can get stuck (like us) on a beach for two days, with the boat unable to move, waiting for the tide to rise again. We were supposed to fish for 5 days but due to this and to a delayed flight we ended up fishing basically just two full days.
Nevertheless, it was an epic journey through majestic rivers and tiny villages mushroomed on the banks, on tiny wooden boats to get lost in time, in this silent and mysterious land almost forgotten by modern society.
Fishing guides are quite rare but they know their way around to navigate intricate and at times insidious waters delving into the middle of the forest. We were warned that we would have to stop and just detour in certain points due to the presence of rival tribes contending that stretch of the river, something you don’t want to get caught in between.
Our main targets being barramundi and most importantly Papuan black bass, we were quipped with 80p braid and 100p leader, casting crankbaits right under the mangroves and working them at 3-5 meter deep.
We start off fishing the river mouth and despite the murky water, we manage to get some solid bites from the very beginning, landing small GT. We work our way up the river, leaving the sea behind and slowly entering a different and quieter environment, with the sound of the sea being progressively replaced by that of the birds and the local fauna hiding among the thick vegetation.
A large meander opens up in front of us just when the tide is about to change, the guides tell us it’s worth spending some time fishing the entire area as there is a bunch of sunken structures where fish normally lurk in ambush.
In order to cover as much water as possible, we cast all over the place, working our crankbaits at a very low retrieve speed, just as much as needed to feel them vibrate, being able to perceive all the structures hit during the retrieving.
A couple of small fish show up, not exactly what we flew down here for but it’s still comforting knowing that fish are there and the lures we are casting are working. We gave ourselves a break, munching our fried rice on the boats.
We pick our rods back after a short time, trying another drift through the meander, we can feel that somehow something has changed, anticipation is building as all of us become slowly silent and focused on our casting. As the boat is about to turn around for another drift, a strong take on my lure drags me forward, engaging me in a fight I will dream about for a long time. It heads straight into the sunken logs and I need to pull hard to get it out, but once closer to the surface the real splashing begins and the fish is massive. There is no stopping it when it points head down towards the bottom, but I am ready and the gear responds swiftly. When I see it in the net I can breath again. It’s definitely over 10kg.
The excitement on the boat is evident as we take pictures and release the fish back where it belongs. Did not take it this long before I got what I came here for – I think. The afternoon sees us fishing around the same area scouting for more big fish. We keep getting bites and landing 3-4kg bass. As sunset approaches and shadows of the trees lengthen, another over 10kg bass attacks my lure, making me the most spoiled and likely envied angler amongst the group.
The way back to the mother boat is filled with teasing remarks and old fishing brags murmured in the silent of this wild night, under an avalanche of stars watching over us. First day was awesome and tomorrow is a new day on the water.
We wake up at 7am to an outcast day and everybody is ready to go in one hour after a quick breakfast. Superstition can be a real game changer to some anglers and this is the reason why fishing mates on the boats get swapped, everybody heading to new spots up the river. Today we are fishing mostly topwater on a narrower stretch of the river after traveling half hour upstream. I am looking at no more than 5mt. from one bank to the other, plenty of sunken structures even in the middle. I alternate walking the dog with topwater lures and some of the crankbaits I used the day before.
After few hours of covering most of the spots, gently moving upstream, without any active fish in the area, we decided to move all the way back to the river mouth and regroup with the rest of the crew on the other boats. Fish are moving and are active, we can see them breaking the surface chasing bait fish so we cast at them, but our lures are too heavy and too big to work their magic here.
We still have one hour before sunset and we agree to move back and fish the first stretch of the river where the big fish were caught. There is no time to cover much water, so I focus on a big sunken tree some 5m away from the bank, where I start casting my crankbaits and retrieve them very slowly, the rod tip slightly moving and perceiving all the little branches and structures hit by the lure. It takes 20 minutes for two black bass nested underneath the tree to show up, roughly 8kg each, one of whom gifted me with an amazing fight to drag it out of that tree.
Maybe it was karma after all the good luck, one of the boat engines broke down and it took us 12 hours to reach Kaimana where we would take our flight back. I could not anyway ask for more from these two days cast in the middle of the jungle.
The important fishing lesson I take from this trip is about strategy. I wanted to fish like I did, I had planned the lures to use, the colours and the retrive even before departing. I stuck to it even when other anglers had already changed to different lures because it was not working. Maybe they could have been right in other circumstances, we never know. But catching these monsters on my terms was even more rewarding to me.