The Toughest Fish in Freshwater

Al McGlashan is a well seasoned angler that can get anything to the boat……….well almost! The Toughest Fish of Papua New Guinea is one fresh water species that tests him to the limits!

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There is no other fish quite like it and it is widely considered the meanest M#$$%ker in freshwater! Found only in the rivers of Papua New Guinea this fish is the largest member of the Lutjanid clan, which includes other freight trains like the red bass, mangrove jack and golden snapper. However despite its fearsome reputation it is in fact a species that is largely shrouded in mystery and we know very little about them.

No other fish has amazing tales of desperation about anglers going to extreme lengths to land one, from guys using pliers to tighten their drags to absurd stories of guys strapping a bent butt marlin rod into their tinny and then almost sinking and still no stopping these beasts. Even today with all the technology we have, black bass still win more battles than they loose.

When you consider that this is all going on in freshwater it really makes you wonder what type of steroids these bass must be taking. If you have never tackled bass then this may sound far fetched but believe me its not, they pull that bloody hard stopping these things is all but impossible at times.

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I found this out first hand when my old mate Jason Yip suggested I head over to PNG to check out some new rivers he had just gained access to in the remote Western Province. Jas runs Sportfishing PNG, which is arguably one of the best operations in the country. It had been years since I had caught one of these bad boys and even though my memories were of broken rods and smashed spirits I still jumped at the opportunity to head back into the wilds of PNG. It was time for redemption, or so I thought! The silly part is that the more a fish hurts you the more you want to catch it, talk about stupidity. Black bass are right up there at the top of the list as far pain is concerned and for some reason anglers love being hurt both physically and mentally.

It had been several years since I had fished for bass and I think I may have forgotten just how hard they are to land because my re-introduction was nothing short of devastating. One minute I am hanging on to a 100-pound outfit checking out the scenery admiring the surrounding jungle then the next I was literally ripped over the side. Seriously railed I couldn’t even get my footing as the fish ripped line off the reel like it was in free-spool. Desperately I tried to stay in the boat while not loosing the fish in the process. It was a force like no other yet somehow I stayed attached and managed to get the fish out of the snags. Admittedly I think this was more by luck than skill!

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With the fish out in open water I started to think I had the upper hand, but you never ever can guarantee anything with black bass. Well clear of the snags I eased up a bit and then the fish surfaced. It was a proper one and I had him, or so I thought. Seconds later it charged back towards the snags, I jammed my thumb on the spool and the line snapped. Confused I wound in a limp leader; the bloody fish had crushed the lure and bitten through monofilament in the process. It seems almost absurd that a 120-pound leader that you’d employ for the likes of gamefish like marlin and tuna could break in a freshwater environment, but that is bass fishing.

Things didn’t improve from there either, and on the next snag I was brought to my knees again. Even with my thumb on the spool I didn’t even look like slowing the fish down despite the locked up drag. We even drove the boat to physically drag the fish out of the snags but it made little difference and I got cleaned up again. Next pass was even worse I got cleaned up in a nano second. It was so frustrating; seriously what do you have to do to catch one of these things. In the end I upgraded to 150pound leader, the same stuff I use for trolling offshore, only to get drilled again!

The problem with black bass is that they are ambush hunters who hold up in the snags and they don’t like coming out under any circumstances. The moment they hit a lure they are already on their way back in to the snags.

Endemic to PNG waters the black bass can grow to more than 25kilos but it’s not just the fish that proved difficult to catch. The biggest hurdle is reaching the rivers. The western province of PNG, which is bass heaven, is extremely remote. There are no roads and the only way around is by air. On top of this you need permission to fish. All the waters are owned by the local villages and at times it can be very hard to determine who actually owns what. In other words you cant just turn up and going fishing. You need local knowhow and that is why Sportfishing PNG are so good. They are in with the local tribes and are really working with them promoting sustainable fishing.

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It’s difficult to describe the frustration you feel when you just keep getting blown away by these fish, they are literally unstoppable. There is only one way to win and that is with sheer brute force and still it often ends in tears. It took five passes with five loses to finally beat a bass. Passing a drowned tree my Halco Poltergeist got hammered but this time I gave it everything I had. At first it came out but then it dragged me back and I felt that sickening feeling as the line was ran through the timber, not again. This time I was lucky and managed to turn the fish and it came free.

At just 8 kilos it wasn’t a monster, but after all the bust offs I was stoked because finally I had won. However my elation was short lived because on the very next pass I got annihilated again. When it comes to sheer strength and brute force the PNG black bass has few rivals.

If you ever want a challenge like no other in fishing that will push your tackle and fishing skills to the limit then you simply have to take on black bass. Having said that it is anything but  fairytale endings believe me!

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Traveling to PNG

In the past, PNG has had a bad wrap with wild tales of hold ups and murder but in reality it has really improved in recent years. Sure there are still safety concerns which is why you need to go with someone like Sportfishing PNG because they host you the whole time. However ironically on my return to Sydney I was greeted with a drive by shooting in Western Sydney and a murder so suddenly PNG wasn’t looking so bad after all!

The only way to fish PNG safely is with a guided operation, because the locals own the water so you need permission. Not only do they have the Wild Rivers Lodge but they also run the magnificent K20 mothership, which has opened up a whole world of opportunity. The great thing about PNG is that it is just a few hours flight making it really accessible. You will need a visa but it’s cheap and easy to obtain and once you arrive Sportfishing PNG will greet you at the airport so it’s pretty much smooth sailing. Mind you while the guys will look after that all stops with bass, they are mean mothers who love to destroy your tackle, steal all your lures, and basically decimate you confidence!


Previous PNG adventures with Al McGlashan
Next Getting Kids into Fishing

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