by Mark Harris
I had been in contact for some time with Sport Fishing PNG, mostly to monitor their amazing progress with targeting the almost mythical Papuan black bass. With the arrival of their very impressive mothership K20 earlier this year, it became clear that these guys wanted to seriously tackle remote blue water fishing as well as the rivers and swamps of PNG.
As soon I saw their intention to undertake an exploratory trip to the Eastern Fields reef system, the email flew out almost instantly. From the outset it was clear that I was dealing with a very professional outfit. Arrangements were made efficiently and it was all systems go with the exploratory trip. On November 18th I joined the Sportfishing PNG team plus a couple of their friends in Port Moresby to pour over maps (such as they are, much of Eastern Fields remains uncharted or incorrectly charted). Intel is very limited and mostly from the odd trolling boat that has been out there. The sense of excitement and anticipation was huge as we prepared for the 100 nautical mile journey.
Before reporting on the trip itself, I think it is worth explaining a bit about the wider operations of this company. A lot is made of the dangers of being a visitor to Port Moresby and there is no doubt that this city has its problems. I was though expertly looked after from the moment I walked through customs at Jackson’s airport to the moment I did the reverse trip 7 days later. Owner Jason Yip has a substantial and very well established business operation in Port Moresby, and you could not be in better hands.
Having read a bit about it, I was also keen to see first-hand more about the charitable works of the organisation. Again, this was most impressive with major operations to bring education, nutrition and healthcare to some of PNG’s most remote village communities. Very well done guys - you are doing great work for the commuity. Spending money with this operator means you are offering significant support to some extremely under-privileged communities. A very refreshing atttitude compared to some fishing operators
After a splendid dinner at the Port Moresby yacht club we all boarded K20 for the overnight sailing out to Eastern Fields. One look at K20 and it was clear that we would not exactly be roughing it. This is a superbly presented and maintained vessel with six guest rooms and full air-conditioning throughout. A walk-in fridge and an espresso machine will give you a good idea of the on-board standards.
Upon arrival the following morning at the truly vast 400 square mile reef system it became clear just how daunting a prospect it was to figure out where to target fish, where to anchor the mothership etc. This was not made any easier by the weather – solid 15 to 25 knot southeast winds. Anyone who has fished the Coral Sea will know that winds of that strength in that quarter make for some serious challenges!
Over the next 6 days we fished hard and we fished as widely as the wind would allow. Unfortunately our plans to fish the obvious pressure points on the outside of the reef were scuppered by the wind and 95% of our fishing had to be inside the reef. That being the case, we still did very well. GTs were everywhere. I have forgotten the boat total for the trip and I suspect it was miscounted anyway. I certainly forgot some of the fish I caught and I am sure the same is true for others! The reef was every bit as pristine and healthy as I expected. It was a constant battle to get past the truly incredible numbers of large coral trout, green jobfish and red bass – a sure sign of health of the reef.
On the very limited occasions we could get outside and target the windward size of the reef, the number of fish was even more remarkable. I will never forget the sight of GTs lined up in the high breakers and the frustration of not being able to target them due to the conditions.
Sharks were a constant problem as expected. Not only were they taxing our catches (especially green jobfish….. they seem to love green jobfish!) but also hitting stick baits. One in particular nearly broke me in half after taking my bigfoot 180.
I can’t emphasise enough just how many reef fish there were. The shallow reefs were thick with big coral trout, green jobfish, thumping red bass, bluefin trevally and a host of other species. Although these got annoying when using the GT gear, I personally had huge fun with these fish on the PE3 casting set up. Several large Napoleon wrasse were seen but sadly, none caught. Another sign of just how healthy this reef system is.
On the jigging front, the largest doggie landed was 30 kgs with several smokings by larger fish. Again, the pinnacles outside the reef would surely be doggie heaven but we could not safely reach those areas. But even inside the reef in shallower water, big doggies made their presence known.
personally lost 26 small jigs mostly to barracuda. When I got past the barracuda some fine fish were landed – red bass, coral trout, paddletails, various emperors and groupers, bigeye trevally etc. Fantastic sport on the PE2 gear. Slow, longfall techniques were especially productive.
After 6 days of this intense fishing for 14-16 hours each day exhaustion was certainly setting in but personally I could have stayed longer…… the fishing was that good. As we set sail back for Port Moresby the only thing on my mind was arranging a full blown trip back to this amazing place as soon as possible.
Some tackle notes….. given the nature of the terrain, PE10 is the most sensible set up for GT fishing at Eastern Fields. I had two PE10 setups and one PE8 and the former made me fish over the reefs with more confidence. On the jigging front, I went heavy with PE8. Don’t underestimate the world class nature of the lighter fishing – it would be nuts to go out there without lighter setups.
Big efforts were made ot release fish in as healthy a state as possible
I would like to personally thank everyone who was involved in setting up this exploratory trip – Jason, Angus, Moli, Jia An, Marty, Brendan and Robert. You guys are legends and made me feel very at home and part of the team.
I hope that the very small selection of pics which follow will give you a feeling for the fishing that is available at this most remarkable reef system.