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Garry Smith FishTalk Tune in to ABC Radio's Garry Smith at his FishTalk web site for more local fishing news.

Aug 25, 2005 - Volume 9 Issue 2

I have just returned from PNG..........yes, flew up to the Morehead River to meet Capt. Kim Andersen of Mantaray fame. He has been based up there this past 8 weeks and this was the trip to bring the mothership & three dinghies back to TI.

I had the most frightening trip up on a light plane. Left Cairns at 7.30 pm on an 8 seater and travelled to Horn Island (tip of Cape York) in 40 + knot winds. It wasn't the sudden drops of a few hundred feet (in the dark) that was the problem, but the sudden side ways motion that got the stomach churning. Had to do it again taking off next morning, then landing at Daru island to clear customs and then landing on a grass strip at Morehead. Hell it felt good to walk on the solid ground.

The village is on the Morehead River, some 60 ks inland and the natives live very primitive lives. No electricity, no water, no sewage or services of any kind. But they live in neat grass & timber thatched huts, clean and tidy - they put our natives to shame.

They have veggie gardens all along the river with bamboo fences to keep the wild deer out and the ever present crocodiles from eating them while they toil. They travel the river in dug out canoes.

If you know what the upstream Daintree River looks like........well just multiply this by four and you have some idea of how fabulous this place is to the eye, and as for the barra fishing.

I had three casts from an anchored dory at the mouth of a clear stream flowing into the main river and I nearly Sh-T myself. A bloody big barra, the largest I have ever seen came out from the sunken snag and lazily sucked at my lure. It was well over 1.5 metres long and would have weighed over 60 lb.

I was actually shaken and my first thought was "hell, if this hooks up I'm never going to land it"........for the first time in my many years of barra fishing I was a little glad that it has missed my offering, what a strange feeling that was. I kept telling my two companions, Steve from Cairns and Dapa (native guide) "did you see the size of that horse.....biggest barra I've ever laid eyes on and I've seen quite a few over 50lb". Dapa has been a river guide for a over three years and has worked the famed Bensback River to the west for a couple of seasons and was no stranger to big barra....Big Lazy Barra?

In the course of the next half hour I hooked up to a very respectable 30+ lb fish that had me doing the quick shoe shuffle as she led me a merry dance off the bow of the boat. The hooks pulled right next to the gunwale and I could not believe that I had lost another one.

About half a dozen casts later another 20+ lb fish hooked up, but pulled the hooks almost instantly. Hmmmmmmm!.........something was not working for me (more on that later). I landed a couple of small barra, rats of only a few pounds and missed another 30+ lb fish before we called it quits and headed back to the Mantaray.

The main purpose of this trip was to bring the Mantaray back to Australia so I really had limited fishing opportunities. Capt. Kim could see that I was struggling with my inner desire to go and tackle these monster barra and let me off the leash for another few hours early next morning. My native guide, Dapa, and I headed upstream for a quick assault on some fabulously looking weed beds. These huge expanses of swamp grass had 100's of metres of overhanging / floating mats which lined the river banks and held plenty of bait and predators. Casting to small eddies and pressure points was the go and it wasn't long before another "horse" sucked at my lure......and again failed to hook up.

I had a 40+ lb barra come off the grass, nail my lure, spit it out, nail it again, spit it out.......four times in about 20 feet and still it did not come up tight. What was going wrong.

In about one hours fishing I had lost three monsters, coupled with another four monsters that I lost the previous day and I was becoming a little frustrated.

We up anchored and headed downstream to the next village (name forgotten) and we put the pick down for the night. Kim has developed a fabulous relationship with these natives and quickly arranged for a deer hunt. The wild Russa deer are a delicacy for the locals and they hunt them on foot, running through the swamps with their bows and arrows, hunting dogs at the heel. When they sight a heard grazing the succulent grass on the river flats, the hunt is on and several natives try to chase the fleeing deer into the river where other hunters are waiting in dug out canoes. Its a simple trap and a well laid plan for quality food to feed the villagers and visitors alike.

Kim could see that although I was enjoying the hunting experience, my casting arm was twitching uncontrollably (well almost) and instructed Dapa to give me another shot at the barra. Are you sure its OK I said, heart pounding furiously with excitement as I tried to remain calm and non plussed..........Yeah sure!

We tried the creek junction again.....now a half hour trip upstream as we had relocated the mothership, to no avail. The big mothers had moved on and only landed a rat of a few pounds. Time for a re think.

"Dapa, take me to the weed beds on the other side of the river" - back home in the Daintree we land a lot of barra in these locations and I could see no reason why it wouldn't work in PNG. I was soon rewarded with a hook up on a quality fish, she jumped and jumped - fought back and forth in the warm waters and was soon swimming lazily beside the boat. Dapa tried hard to knock her off the lure with the landing net before I politely demanded that he land her head first (something to note). At 75cm she was a lovely fish, not the monster that I had hoped for but a quality barra all the same and I was stoked to finally put one in the boat. It was with some sense of relief and satisfaction that I swum her beside the dory and watched her kick defiantly and swim away.

Time to head back to the Mantaray as we had a pre arranged feast of deer and tarrow back at the village. Kim had set up a portable generator, TV and DVD player for the village and about 60 people from wide eyed children, babies in arms, mothers and fathers sat eagerly and excitedly as we showed them a couple of movies. The highlight was a amateur documentary of a previous charter, some of Kim's clients had put together a fabulous DVD of their trip back in June and the locals were thrilled to see familiar places and faces on the small screen - have we changed their lives forever?

Next morning we were off to the mouth, anchored up at the village of Bulla (Dapa's sister lives here) and waited for the next high tide to beach the Mantaray high up the mud banks. Kim had hit a floating log a few weeks before and part of our task was to remove the prop and straighten the shaft before we headed out to sea and across the Torres Straight back to OZ. On the way down Kim let Dapa and I have another go at the barras and we zoomed ahead to fish "the swirling water" - a prominent back eddy a few k's from the mouth where they had caught barras during previous charters. On my third cast I was slammed by a quality barra and after a spirited fight, and a re education on netting a big fish, had a 83cm gleaming salt water barra in the boat. This one was kept for dinner and the frame was even taken ashore by Dapa to feed his sisters family.

The villagers had been busy hunting mud crabs for us and presented a woven basket with about 20 succulent big muddies tied up with palm frond strips.....just love them crabs.

I had one last session in the Morehead. After straightening the propeller shaft, and waiting for the return of the high tide to float us off, Kim gave me one last chance to go fishing in PNG. Like an excited school boy I slipped over the stern (scrapped my shin on the exposed rudder), plodded through knee high black oozing mud and climbed into the dory. It was the last of the run out tide so I headed downstream to try my luck at some snags just inside the river mouth. In about one hours fishing I landed another three small barras but lost another monster when the hooks straightened.

In all I landed 12 barras, the two biggest went 75 & 83 cm. But I missed another 9 monsters of well over 30 lb that I had actually hooked up at some stage of the fight and saw another nine fish (including the 1.5 m horse) suck at my lures and not hook up. Now this surely represents a problem for an experienced barra fisherman and guide of over 15 years experience - AND I KNOW WHY! I WAS USING A "SHORT STROKER" G LOOMIS ROD THAT HAD BEEN SHORTENED AT LEAST THREE TIMES BY VARIOUS BREAKAGES.

I was using 30lb braid and 35lb twisted leader. And the reason for all those lost fish and failed hook ups on quality barra - THIS SYSTEM HAD NO GIVE OR STREATCH!!! The short stroker is quite stiff and although I just love using it (casting is a breeze) there is no "shock absorber" effect of a soft tip when using non stretch braid - those big mothers were actually pulling the hooks on themselves OR / AND their sucking action (barra's don't bite lures) on the original strike was not enough to allow a solid hook up.

The slogan for this trip - LONG ROD - BIG BARRA - MOREHEAD! - what d'ya reckon on that one.

The trip back across the Torres Straight was a nightmare. The strong South East winds were still blowing fiercely and we pounded our way south to the shelter of Possession Island. We had a few problems with water penetrating the bow hatches and limped into the Island lee at approx. 3:00 am.......a very tired crew settled for a few hours sleep before the relatively uneventful journey down to Thursday Island as we now had some protection from the winds & chop by the numerous islands and reefs that dot the straights.

  • I have had an experience to remember.
  • The most frightening light aircraft flight of my life
  • The roughest boat trip the skipper and crew can remember
  • The biggest barra that I have ever seen - if so briefly
  • The interaction with the natives of remote PNG
  • The generosity / hospitality and enthusiasm from people that are basically self subsisting
  • The hunting skills of these wonderful people
  • The beautiful rainforest and surrounds of this unspoilt land
  • I will be back and next time I will take that LONG ROD.

See you on the water,
Les Marsh



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