Chasing monsters in the waters of Papua New Guinea


Chris Peel joins a river expedition in search of the legendary Papuan black bass.

Jackson Atkins with his first Papuan bass. Credit: Chris Peel

In early 2018, I started hearing stories about a shadowy beast; a fish that breaks lures and can pull boats around when hooked.

The fabled fish is the Papuan black bass and it has attracted anglers to Papua New Guinea from all over the world.

So, imagine my excitement earlier this year when the skipper of the PNG Explorer, Andrew Rigby, invited me to explore the wild rivers of New Britain.

Rigby has spent 13 years at the helm of the PNG Explorer and is known worldwide for pioneering and finding many of PNG’s best surfing breaks.

He mapped out his river plan to me (which he is keen to keep secret) under the dim light of the chart table, and I instantly felt the rush that an expedition into the unknown in PNG brings. Goodbye mobile phone reception and hello adventure.

On the boat

I wake on the first morning on the boat to the sound of the espresso machine and my two new friends, Beau Wilkenson and Jackson Atkins, readying their fishing gear.

Story continues after advertisment...

Rigby is on the back deck, talking with three elders who appear to be landowners in the area. I think they are just as surprised to see us as we are to see them in a place so remote.

We are anchored where the sea meets a gigantic river system. From a distance, it looks like the opening scene to Jurassic Park, and once we enter it feels like a whole new world. Crocodiles and a couple of hornbills are some of the first creatures to greet us.

After a few minutes the first line is cast with our surface lures, then a second and a third.

‘We are all in disbelief. After just five minutes of fishing, he has landed a 13.1-kilogram black bass.’

Then Atkins casts over to a small branch sticking out of the water. He flicks the rod a couple of times and suddenly it bends, and he is almost pulled out of the boat.

He manages to hold on to the line and after a few minutes reels in the fish. Screams of joy come as this monster is netted.

We are all in disbelief. After just five minutes of fishing, he has landed a 13.1-kilogram black bass. While we are quickly removing hooks and getting a photo before releasing this beautiful fish back to where it belongs, Wilkenson’s lure is hit with what ends up being another black bass. This one comes in at 11.7 kilograms.

We move on, and 15 minutes up the river we are greeted with the rare sight of spot tail bass schooling under snags.

With the first cast, Wilkenson hooks a fish, then Atkins hooks another.

Wilkenson yells to me to put my camera down and to throw in a line. The camera goes down and the line goes out.

We all share our first spot tail bass together with a triple-hook up. They’re not huge but make for a great fight. The day goes on and more fish are caught: mangrove jack, giant trevally and a few more big black bass.

Over the next few days, each river we visit seems to get better than the last. For the last river on our exploration list we hold high hopes of finding the mega fish we have been looking for. Shaun Keane, from Nusa Island Retreat in Kavieng, joins our boat on the day we visit this river. He has never fished for black bass before and is along for the ride. Atkins is a seasoned angler and lends Keane a hand and gives him
a few tips on what to do.

This is an excerpt of the article ‘Chasing Monsters’, which was first published in the September-October editions of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini.

Leave a Reply