Adventure into Wild West Papua: Exploring the Rugged Reefs

A leading fishing journalist encounters monsters over untouched reefs around the unexplored coast of West Papua, New Guinea.

April 20, 2015
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There be Monsters

Recently, you saw part 1 of Arnout Terlouw’s amazing adventure to the jungles of West Papua to fish for the legendary Papuan black snapper (aka “black bass”). Now he’s back with the rest of the story, photos taken when his group of explorers relocated to the wild, rugged country’s coast to sample the teeming, untouched reefs. The experience and results show in these 31 of Terlouw’s photos. If you want to organize a group to fish West Papua, contact outfitter Olivier Helloco at Papua Specimens. — Ed. At left, I struggle to hold up nearly 100 pounds of giant trevally before its release. No fish is a tougher opponent on rod and reel.
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Desolate Coast

West Papua, the Indonesian part of Papuan New Guinea, is mainly known as an exclusive, top diving destination. But the crystal-clear blue, waters, teeming with fish and dotted with numerous limestone islands surrounding this massive island, offer fantastic fishing opportunities for adventurous anglers looking for virgin fishing grounds with aggressive predators intent on one thing: destroying your poppers!
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In from Jakarta and Out to Base Camp

After a tiring journey from Jakarta, Indonesia, we’re ready for the next adventure. Here, we Load the longboats for a long ride to our first base camp on a pristine island.
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Paradise Found

The coastal zone around West Papua is breathtaking, with small limestone islands everywhere, surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and steep rock cliffs facing deep blue water.
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Home Sweet Home

No lodges or hotels here! One of our simple, unadorned base camps on a small, sandy island — with fabulous fishing just minutes away.
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Strange Fish-Catching Devices

Preparing our tackle for the first day of fishing; there’s a good chance that we are among the first anglers to ever use sport-fishing gear here and cast poppers to many of these virgin reefs!
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Curtains of Rain

On our way to the first fishing spot. Weather is unpredictable here, though even in the “dry” season, September into December, you can expect a rainstorm every day.
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… And so It Begins

Right off we found the action nonstop, often double and triple hookups.
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Muscled Away from the Coral

While gangs of hungry, aggressive GTs in the 10- to 25-pound range were everywhere, there were plenty of shots at much bigger fish, in the 70-pound range (like this one) and up — if you could keep them out of the razor-sharp coral and rocks.
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Red Bass Galore

On the reefs, we found not only GT, but many other species. One day, fishing with medium-size poppers, we caught nine different species including these red bass (snappers — Lutjanus bohar).
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Beautiful Bluefin

Bluefin trevally are numerous; they put up a great fight on medium tackle, as do rainbow runner and jobfish (long, predacious snapper), which you’ll also find here.
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Another Kind of Monster

I was watching for a big trevally when this enormous Malabar grouper sucked in my popper.
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Another Popper Surprise

Next up: A blacktip shark, always on the lookout for an easy meal, as a popper appears to be.
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Massive Lure Muncher

The barracuda that hang out around Papua reefs are, not surprisingly, big and aggressive.
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Shallow-Water Wahoo

Still another surprise was finding wahoo chasing our plugs only a few hundred yards from our base camp in very shallow water.
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Steep, Current-Swept Drop-offs: Where the Big Boys Prowl

When the tide was right, fishing areas of strong currents and deep water had us hooking up on poppers with fish determined to pull our arms out of their sockets.
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Junkyard Dogs of Papua Reefs

Even though there are plenty of other predators around, GTs are the junkyard dogs of these reefs, going after whatever interests them. I caught three of these bad boys — all more than 70 pounds — before lunch one morning.
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Dogtooth Attack

Steep dropoffs here are patrolled by marauding packs of big dogtooth tuna, though smaller fish (of 30 to 45 pounds or so) as here can be numerous over shallower reefs.
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Maw of the Mackerel

A main attraction around the reefs were the big narrowbarred Spanish mackerel, with razor-like teeth and amazingly acrobatic jumps.
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Missile Launch Site

The “missiles” mentioned are Spanish mackerel, which are particularly likely to be keying on surface bait late in the day when we watched them frequently launch themselves with lightning speed some 25 feet high, and that’s not an exaggeration.
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A Mack in the Hand

We hooked many more Spanish mackerel than we landed, losing many to bite-offs and to their wild aerial acrobatics, but we landed a few nice ones like this.
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Suffering Stickbait

Though mackerel readily grab poppers, in deeper water, a fast-sinking stickbait such as this one made by Olivier Helloco, organizer of this trip, often brings better results, especially with a wire leader.
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Mild Mackerel: Sashimi Surprise

Not only are “Spaniards” a blast to catch, they make superb sashimi, as we found out.
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Hangin’ with the Locals

While we often camped on the idyllic, empty beaches, we also had opportunities to spend time with indigenous Papuans in small villages.
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Out of the Rain

Staying in a cabin in a village gave us a chance to dry out and get a respite in the daily rains.
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Room with a Water View

We relax and await a drier weather window.
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Close to Home

No matter where we established a base camp, seldom was there a need to run more than a few minutes for big-fish action.
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Tricky but Rewarding

Fishing beneath steep ocean cliffs could be a bit tricky, depending upon the weather, but rewarding. We even saw marlin swimming here just 50 yards off the rocks.
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Unseen Leviathan

In the calm seas off West Papua, we hooked many gigantic fish, the identity of which we could only guess at as we tried to stop the unstoppable.
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Massive Mackerel

One of our better narrowbarred Spanish, this mackerel went at least 65 to 70 pounds.
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Making Friendly with the Sharks

A great way to end a great trip — swimming with two massive whale sharks for a half hour!
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About the Photographer

Arnout Terlouw labels himself as “a Dutch sport-fishing journalist and globetrotter.” Articles on his fishing adventures to far-flung waters including those in Egypt, Kazakhstan, Uganda, India, Malaysia, most South America countries, and, yes, New Guinea, have appeared in many fishing magazines. Anyone interested in contacting Terlouw can do so via email:[email protected].

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