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Angus Gorrie

My 2014 adventure to the wild rivers of Papua New Guinea left me wondering one very interesting thing. Why, no matter how much literature you read or how many anglers you talk to, do plastics not really get a mention in regards to black bass? Black bass (lutjanus goldiei), are after all closely related to our more staple estuary brutes the mangrove jack (lutjanus argentimaculatus) and we all know that jacks have a serious taste for plastics. It was with this thought in mind when packing for my 2015 expedition to Baia Lodge in the remote wilderness of West New Britain that I carefully selected and packed a variety of soft plastics and jigheads to put them to the test.

Our destination was the internationally acclaimed Baia Fishing Lodge, owned by none other than Riccard Reimann, a true pioneer of Papuan bass fishing. It was many conversations with Riccard in fact and our discussions about the potential of soft plastics in rivers around Baia, that got me to overthinking the possibilities in the first place. Most anglers who visit the rivers of West New Britain to fish are often armed to the teeth with large lures, heavy lines and big reels. No doubt this is often required as the black bass does not get its reputation as one of the hardest fighting fish for no reason. However, much of the black bass and other local species diet consists of smaller prey. On a daily basis this consists of poddy mullet, archer fish and small jungle perch and every month during specific moon phases, prolific white bait. These more common smaller mouthfuls really convinced me that some 3 and 4 inch plastics could be the go.

Baia Lodge itself is located in one of the most isolated coastal parts of West New Britain, causing it to be a truly pristine and beautiful location. One of the standout features for me, in comparison to other black bass trips I have researched, are the crystal clear waters in most of the surrounding rivers.  It is accessed via Kimbe, the capital of West New Britain, where a stopover at the Liamo Reef Resort breaks up the trip nicely. The reef fronting the lodge and the natural harbour make it probably the most ideal location possible for such an establishment. One of the really noticeable and endearing features of Baia Fishing Lodge is its connectivity with Baia Village located adjacent to the lodge itself. Most of the guides and staff at the lodge come straight from the village and many local projects including the school and the church were funded by the lodge itself. These factors are no doubt responsible for the incredibly warm and welcoming feel you have as a guest arriving on the sandy path leading from the pier to the lodge itself. It certainly kicks the trip off in a very positive light!

The first day we arrived we were off to the Torio River, a relatively brackish river about a 45 minute cruise from the lodge itself. To be blunt this day proved my plastics hypothesis from the get go. The morning bite was not overly hot for the guys casting large hard bodies but carefully presented ZMan 4" DieZel MinnowZ lobbed under the multitude of overhanging mangroves and pandanus fast began to produce. Mangrove jack seemed unable to resist these offerings, with New Penny and Houdini being the standout colours. Various other bycatch such as javelin fish, speckled cod and archer fish were also bagged using plastics in the river, while the hard bodies were doing it tough.

Jighead choice was dependant on the time of day as the flow did rip through at times. This lead to a logical rotation through 1/6, 1/4 and 3/8oz TT HeadLockZ HD jigheads to ensure that the plastic could swim appropriately through the current. Although slow rolling the plastics was a successful option, giving the plastic short hopping movements to get some more dramatic action out of the paddle tail also produced some good reaction strikes when the bite was a bit slower.

While talking to the guides about why more people do not use soft plastics, one logical answer was presented that often the gear people bring is too heavy to throw plastics all day. This was a fair point as often black bass are only tamed with the application of 50lb main lines and 80lb leader. However, being a light tackle nut, I usually opted for one of two set ups. Either my Nordic Stage Cheater 6-14lb rod matched with a Shimano Sustain 4000 and 16lb line, or a Nordic Stage Cheater 10-22lb rod matched with a Shimano Stradic 5000 with 30lb line.

Like jacks, black bass seem to fight harder the more hurt you put on, but if played properly can be subdued on lighter tackle. The above two set ups have claimed their fair share of decent bass. I am not even going to suggest you will never get smoked by some of the beasts that inhabit these rivers on such gear, but with trust in knots and locked drags you have a much better chance than many people think. These respective combinations are also ideal for throwing medium to heavily weighted plastics around all day. Hot tip: Leave the rods rigged for the run home as it is far from uncommon to see large schools of tuna and dolphinfish busting up in the blue water between river and lodge. Quite a few decent pelagic fish where landed casting into such a school with ZMan 5" StreakZ.

So the proof had been had, plastics worked in PNG. But what about on bass? Although a lot of fish had been caught on plastics over the course of the morning, thus far an actual black bass had eluded me. This was all about to change with the tide. As early afternoon of the first day approached we were flicking a large rock bar when my 4" DieZel MinnowZ in New Penny got clobbered. After a short but vigorous fight a black bass was landed. Truth be told it was the smallest black bass I had ever seen but this was ok in my books and gave me the enthusiasm to continue. It was only a short time later while casting a likely looking snag that my plastic was once again smashed, this time properly smashed. After a much more brutal fight and some hairy moments one of my bigger blacks was landed, pinned precisely in the corner of the mouth with a TT 1/4oz HeadlockZ jighead. Satisfaction was an understatement as every angler knows that feeling of putting a theory to the test and coming up trumps.

So the moral of the story... Plastics are definitely a viable option when travelling to PNG in search of the mighty black bass. As always we learnt so much more this trip and I look forward to applying new tactics with plastics next trip. A lot of our trip was spent using surface lures and I am certainly keen to give some ZMan Pop FrogZ and Pop ShadZ a good go on our 2016 adventure!

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