An Expedition to Find Papua New Guinea’s River Snapper

An international group of anglers heads for the remote rivers of West New Britain Island in search of one of the world’s toughest infighters among gamefish.

One of the hardest fish to land? Given its habitat and strength, yes, say enthusiasts of Niugini black bass. Even smaller ones like this that struck a bright Halco Poltergeist deep diver are a challenge to bring to the boat.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

An Ultimate Bucket-List Inshore Fish
While many saltwater anglers have never heard of Papua New Guinea's black bass, for some it is an ultimate bucket-list inshore gamefish. It's not a black bass at all, but a true snapper (similar to a cubera), found only in some parts of PNG and nowhere else, dwelling exclusively in lower rivers. Most often called Niugini black bass or Papuan black bass, Lutjanus goldiei may reach weights more than 40 pounds and is widely reputed to be the hardest-pulling gamefish in the world, dwelling around sunken snags in heavy currents.

I finally got a chance to travel (for two days) to West New Britain Island north of Papua New Guinea and fish for these black bass recently with Baia Sportfishing. Look for the full feature article in 2020; meantime, this gallery will share that experience.

The 72-foot luxury Ultimate One, with its wave-piercing hull, served as home base for six anglers on this trip. Here, it's anchored in a deceptively quiet bay (most of the trip we had to hide from brisk winds).Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Not a bad place to spend a few days. The ice-cold air throughout the Ultimate One offers a welcome respite from the relentlessly steamy equatorial weather.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
A counterpoint to our ship, just off its stern, a local tribesman in a dugout canoe grasps a good-sized emperor that he caught on a hand line.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
The other river snapper found the same waters as the black bass, but often farther upriver, is the hard-fighting spot-tail bass (known officially as freshwater snapper). They’re less numerous than black bass, so Singapore angler Leonard Wong is happy with this, his first of the trip.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
A trophy Niugini black bass in the Via River is hefted by Tiana Reimann of Baia Sportfishing with Aussie angler Mal McCully on this, his eighth trip for bass with Baia Sportfishing.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Unexpected! Florida angler George Large in no way expected to hook a big giant trevally upriver in muddy estuarial waters but he released this 50-pounder.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Another surprise catch for Large was this Pacific tarpon. While not big by Atlantic tarpon standards, in fact this is close to the maximum size reached by its cousin in the Pacific grows.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Frightful grin: Saltwater crocodiles live in all these coastal rivers, powerful predators that may grow to 16 feet and larger.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
An outstanding spot-tail bass for Tyng Wey “Yogi” Leong of Singapore that slammed his popper near the banks.Leonard Wong
This bream (actually a Pacific seabream) that I caught impressed my fishing partner, Scott Thomas — editor in chief of Australia's Fishing World magazine — since (a) it was unusually large for the species and (b) it struck a lure, a deep-diving Halco. Typically they feed on mollusks and crustaceans.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
As proof of the bream’s normal diet of shellfish, check out its crushing dentures. A mouth good to keep fingers clear of!Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
A tribal family camped on a riverbank.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Like a ladyfish with deadly jaws, this wolffish gave George Large something to remember.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
A fingermark snapper offers a tasty dinner. While river snapper (bass) are customarily released, fingermark — common around Indo Pacific reefs and estuaries — are likely to be kept and eaten.Yogi Leong
Aggressive white-spotted grouper offered welcome bycatch whenever they beat the snapper to our diving lures.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Scientists know little of white-spotted grouper (Epinephelus polystigma), which appear to limited in range to a limited area of the Indo Pacific that includes Papua New Guinea, where they seem to be numerous in lower rivers.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
We visit a village on a remote island where Tiana Reimann (upper right) is surrounded as she hands out supplies including picture books and some very utilitarian shovels.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
George Large and a new friend in the same village. The villagers proved uniformly friendly and gracious, allowing us to walk freely on their island and performing ritual dances in costume.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Unique treat: Tiana Reimann collected this seaweed from rocks, added chopped peppers, onions and dressing to make a salad unlike any angler on the trip had ever tasted.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
We also fished “outside” on reefs and around islands. Wahoo, like this one that hit a trolled Halco Laser Pro, proved to be abundant.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
A dogtooth tuna is gaffed on the fantail of the Ultimate One.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Portrait of dogtooth reveals a glimpse of the rather untuna-like dentures that account for the species’ name.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Casting a Halco Roosta Popper paid off for Riccard Reimann, owner of Baia Sportfishing, with a handsome bluefin trevally.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Pugnacious snapper known as red bass, abundant predators throughout the Indo-Pacific around shallow reefs and passes, are great game fish for anglers throwing lures.Scott Thomas / Fishing World