Journey To a Lost World to Catch The Planet's Toughest Fish

An amazing fishing adventure into wild West Papua, New Guinea, estuaries in pursuit of Papuan black bass

Arnout Terlouw (at left with a big Papuan bass that hit a Rapala X-Rap) has traveled the world to catch game fish in salt and fresh water.Florian Läufer

Is This the World's Toughest Game Fish?

Editor's Note: The Papuan bass (Lutjanus goldiei) is not a bass at all, but a snapper, found only in New Guinea estuaries and lower rivers. Although widely called "bass," it is more properly a Papuan black snapper. The very few anglers who've ever caught one generally agree that these fish are incredibly difficult to land; they have all the power of a big cubera snapper and live in swift currents of dark waters full of trees and snags. And of course one must get_ to _them to fish for them, no simple task in this isolated, primitive land. Arnout Terlouw has traveled the world to catch game fish in salt and fresh water; you can read more about him at the end of this gallery.

Here, Terlouw shares with Sport Fishing's audience in photos and comments what it's like to venture into the very wild land of West Papua in search of a wild game fish.

For more information on trips like this one, click here. — Doug Olander

CONDITIONS LESS THAN IDEAL

Steamy rains in this equatorial jungle can color the river so visibility in the water is nearly zero. While waiting for the water to clear, we had the option to fish off the coast for giant trevally.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

HOLDING ON FOR DEAR LIFE

In few fisheries does the clichéd phrase of being hooked to a freight train apply more. The only way to land a big bass is to stop it cold — which is no easy task.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

LIGHT AND DARK

These snapper vary considerably from fish to fish in their shading. Some are a dark chocolate brown while others are a light silvery/yellow. That might have something to do with spawning, but in fact this species and its life history remain nearly a complete mystery.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

Foreign anglers preparing for a day of fishing offer the inhabitants of a tiny village along the river quite a show.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

HOME SWEET HOME

Base-camp accommodations for our group.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

SPORT-FISHING FLEET

Most river transportation remains long, narrow, hand-made wooden boats, at anchor here on an idyllic calm morning.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

THAT JURASSIC PARK THING

It's tough to ascend rivers and tributaries here in search of fish and not get that Jurassic Park feeling, as if a tyrannosaurus could be towering over the low trees around the next bend.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

BARRAMUNDI INTERLUDE

Black snapper don't jump. But barramundi do, as did this one, that I hooked on an X-Rap Magnum. Papuan bass share these waters with barra.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

TROPHY BARRA

Big barra proved exciting when hooked but not quite so unmanageable as Papuan bass.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

TROPHY BASS

I didn't want to take any chances with this monster's welfare, so we released it without a confirmed weight. But best guess, including length measurement, suggests close to or possibly exceeding 50 pounds. (That would have very possibly made this fish a new all-tackle world record, since the standing IGFA record is 46 pounds.)Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

TEST OF TACKLE AND ANGLER

Many battles were lost in the first few seconds of the fight, when anglers and their gear — spinning reels with 80-pound braid and locked-down drags — were tested to the limit by big black snapper.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

MANGLED

It became quickly evident that 3X trebles aren't nearly sufficient against big Papuan bass. We did better with Owner 4X hooks.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

IT AIN'T EASY

A gorgeous bass of moderate proportions. Part of the key to success in fishing these was making accurate casts to place lures near shore or snags, but in the smaller, palm-lined rivers, that was a challenge.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

ANOTHER BASE CAMP

This camp was situated at the mouth of the river. Nothing "luxury" about these accommodations, but it worked for us.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

TWO WORDS: HOT AND HUMID

We never did find the switch for the air-conditioning. But hours of cranking deep-diving lures and occasionally doing battle with bass and barra left us tired enough to pass out quickly once inside the hut, on our cots.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

LOST WORLD

The river was home to tribes who still hunt with spears and travel in dugout canoes as they have for centuries.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

LITTLE COUSIN

When we fished down near the coast, we hooked more variety, including small Pacific tarpon, groupers, barramundi and handsome mangrove jacks (as the equivalent to the gray snapper of the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean is known).Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

ACTION ON THE "OUTSIDE"

We caught more barramundi along the outer coast than far upriver, particularly on very deep-running lures like this X-Rap Magnum.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer

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: arnout.terlouw@kpnplanet.nl.Arnout Terlouw and Florian Läufer