By Peter Furber
I had been researching trips to Papua New Guinea and Luke Wyrsta’s outfit Rock Expeditions for some time before I booked my trip with them for the first two weeks of February this year. The major attraction about the destination and the outfitter was the isolation and the fact that they offered an expedition not a fishing trip/holiday.
I have travelled to and fished at many destinations including the Amazon basin, Nicaragua, Oman, Sudan and Gabon, and two of the attributes I seek are isolation and remoteness. The feeling that you are one of a few people to fish that area excites me.
Rock Expeditions delivers exactly that. If you are looking for comfort and being waited on, this is not the trip for you. If you are looking for adventure in a remote location with unrivalled beauty, this is a must do trip!
Getting to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from South Africa is a fair mission. I flew via Dubai to Brisbane, where I spent two nights with an old school friend and did some catching up. I then flew to Port Moresby where I met up with my fishing buddy Neil Waddell who had travelled from New Zealand. We stayed at The Gateway Hotel in Port Moresby which was great. In the morning we flew to Misima Island where we were met by Luke, his team and the third angler, Bob Daly. Bob is a well known angler from America. He has a very impressive résumé, being one of the pioneer fishermen who ventured into the jungles of Brazil in search of giant peacock bass. He has concentrated mainly on fresh water and is now starting to test his skills in the salt. He too is a fan of expeditions, not fishing holidays.
After all the introductions we went to the local supermarket (similar to a rural spaza shop) and bought some beer and local rum — Warrior Rum which certainly has a kick.
We then boarded three pangas loaded with all our supplies for the next eight days and started travelling into the open ocean. En route to our destination we passed a few isolated islands. One of the spectacles of PNG is you have the traditional sand/palm islands and then you have the volcanic islands rising out of the sea with sheer cliffs and dense foliage, ringed with coral reefs in the clearest water I have ever seen. This creates a spectacular vista.
We arrived at our first island stop — Mwanewa — after a fairly wet two-hour boat ride. The island is about 800m long and 300m wide and has a resident population of about three families. Their village is on the opposite side of the island to where we stayed.
On Mwanewa we had a hut to sleep in with camping mattresses on the floor and there was a freshwater tank where limited water was available for a rinse off only. All washing was done in the sea. The ocean was crystal clear with soft coral beaches, and you couldn’t ask for a better bathroom.
The “kitchen” consisted of a fire and a table. The meals were made up of homemade doughnuts and jam for breakfast, noodles for lunch and fish and fried banana chips or pasta for dinner. Drinks were limited to about two beers and two cokes a day and then lots of water. There was no electricity apart from a small generator which was used to provide lighting and to charge cameras. The area has no cell phone coverage but Luke has a satellite phone which is used for emergencies and weather updates.
Target species were GTs, dogtooth tuna and the elusive Napoleon wrasse. The usual suspects like giant bluefin trevally, coral trout, bohar snappers and ’cuda were there in numbers. We didn’t target any, but all the pelagic species are there as well. All fishing is with lures, with anglers operating off the pangas.
We fished the first three days in the vicinity of the first camp where there was endless water and numerous reefs to fish. The current in these areas is insane! I have never ever seen a current like that, and as a result of the strong flow the fish are extremely fit and test your back properly.
On the first day we were popping towards the reef as usual when I decided to throw away from the reef into the boiling current. Second pop, bang and the rod was nearly ripped from my hands. My Stella 1 400 loaded with 80 lb braid and a 2mm leader was screaming. The initial run peeled off my line at breakneck speed. I fought the fish for about 30 minutes then I thought I had it, but unfortunately only landed the head of a doggie. At first I thought it had been taken by sharks, but on closer inspection we saw the bites were too ragged and we concluded it was taxed by another dogtooth tuna. We caught a variety of species that day, and everything there seems to be oversized and on steroids.
The following day I fished with Bob and Luke and early in the day Bob caught two decent GTs on a Sebille popper. I was using a new Amberjack popper from Jigstar which I cast onto the shallow area on the reef; second pop and splash, bang, I was tight.
The fish didn’t feel big, and I thought it was a bluefin so I horsed it a bit. As it came over the edge of the reef it suddenly woke up and once again the Stella was screaming. Luke and I looked at each other and said, “What the hell?” Suddenly everyone was concentrating, positioning the boat and shouting instructions while I was just holding on, retrieving line whenever I could. This was a big fish! Slowly I gained ground and finally a shadow appeared. Luke was in the correct position and shouted, “Napoleon!” I think I nearly wet my pants. I have been after one of these magnificent beasts for years.
For me the true mark of professionalism of an outfit is how they handle the fish. Well Luke was absolutely amazing. He briefed us on what was going to happen before the fish was loaded. The deck was washed down and water was going to be poured onto the fish the whole time it was out of the water.
My heart was in my throat at this stage because we were fishing barbless (compulsory) and my dream fish was still in the water. Finally the fish was loaded and placed on the wet deck, the hook was popped out and the fish was hydrated. While we were setting up for a maximum of five photos, the skipper was steering the boat to shallow water. Straight after the photos were taken I jumped into the water and the fish was passed to me. Luke also got in and a few more photos were taken with the fish in the water. This magnificent animal was then released to swim and maraud the reefs of PNG once more. My trip was made.
After another day fishing in the vicinity of the first camp, the pangas were once again loaded and we set off for a 70km trip to another island called Panarairai. Luke had spent a lot of time researching currents, drop offs and other aspects to identify the best fishing areas. The entire area was so expansive and so isolated that on the entire eight-day trip we did not see anyone else fishing. The reefs are as virgin as you can get, and Luke says there are a maximum of four recreational fishing charters operating in PNG. We did not see any commercial fishing of any form while we were there.
The second island had no facilities at all and a tarpaulin was erected over some trees and dead branches for our shelter. There we slept on the beach with the boats moored right in front of us. How much more do you need?
We fished various atolls and drop offs for the next four days catching a variety of fish. As with all angling, you work for your fish and have hot and cold spells, but when it’s hot, it’s really hot. According to Luke, this area is only fished for about three weeks out of an entire year. It is pristine. I don’t know many places on earth like that.
The crew that came up with us were amazing and helped whenever possible, and they all spoke English which was a great help. We travelled a great deal over the eight days and ran out two 44 gallon drums of petrol.
Eventually we sadly had to break camp and head back to the first island. I fished with Bob and Luke again on the last day. I was jigging with a Stella 20 000, 100 lb braid and a Blue Rose rod when I went vas. I thought I had hooked the bottom as I couldn’t lift the rod at all, then suddenly the bottom started to move. Unfortunately this story didn’t end well; ater a solid 45 minute fight, applying as much pressure as I could muster, I was spooled, but that just means I have to go back. What a way to end a trip, with the fish showing us who is boss!
The last night was spent reminiscing about the trip over a few beers and rum.
If you are into adventure, angling, isolation and untouched beauty, this is a must do trip.
• For further details contact Luke on <firstname.lastname@example.org> or contact the author on +27 82 654 4553.