Bonefish Heaven

Bonefish Heaven

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Bonefish Heaven on Christmas Island

By Scott Mitchell

If you have been bitten by the fly fishing bug – then you will “need” to chase bonefish at some point. The best place on the planet to get started is unquestionably Christmas Island in the Pacific – not to be confused with the one off the WA coast with the red crabs!

Kiritimati is the rendition of Christmas in Gilbertese, the local language, and it is pronounced very close to "Christmas," with the same meaning. Kiritimati lies 232 km north of the Equator and 6,700 km from Sydney. It is the easternmost of 16 coral atolls which make up the Line & Phoenix island groups. In fact, it is the largest coral atoll in the world at 322 square kilometers with a lagoon about the same size. The atoll has a perimeter of approx 150km, while the lagoon shoreline extends for over 48 km – creating one of the most productive bonefish habitats in the world!

The highest land point is only 45 feet above sea level – with most of the island averaging 20ft, so you may need to expedite your visit if you believe in climate change!  I-Kiribati or Gilbertese people of Micronesian descent, the total resident population is approx 5000 that live mostly in the four villages of Tabwakea, London, Banana & Poland (Wikipedia 2011).

Christmas Island is said to have been discovered by Captain James Cook on Christmas Eve, 1770. After sampling the fishing I can’t imagine how good it must have been back then .Cook wouldn’t have had a reel with enough backing anyway! The fishing potential was realised back in 1978 when enterprising “Big” Eddie Corrie began guiding anglers on the endless flats inside the lagoon for bonefish & giant trevally. Eddie trained other guides and the only modern, air conditioned building on the island was transformed to become the Captain Cook Hotel. The hotel is still running today & includes beach side bungalows that allow you be lulled asleep with the sound of the crashing surf on the reef only a short distance away.

 There has been a number of new lodge’s start up since the Kiribati government passed a law making it flatly illegal for people to net, sell or eat bonefish or bonefish products back in 2008. The fishing has steadily improved from what was already an amazing base to what is now regarded as unquestionably the best bone fishery on the planet!

I lead my first group of intrepid fly fisho’s to Christmas Island back in 1999 through our specialist fly fishing store “The Alpine Angler” when acting as a sub-agent for Angling Adventures. That trip had been a long time in the planning since I had first read Rod Harrisons article in Fishing World back in 1984. I also spoke with Steve “Starlo” Starling who visited Christmas Island a couple of times while working as editor of Canadian Sportfishing Magazine.

Because Christmas Island lies approx 200 kms north of the equator, air and water temperatures are very consistent. Day time temperatures average constantly between 24°C and 30°C year round. Rainfall is quite low with no pronounced seasons other than El Niño and La Niña events. I gave up saying “nice day” to our guides as they just laugh and say “it’s like this every day”.

Christmas Island sees more angling pressure from the US & Japan during their winter months which works well for those of us “Down Under” also looking to escape the winter blues from June through October seeing less fishing effort from abroad.

Our fist trip saw us having to fly via Hawaii which made for a long & expensive trip. Fortunately you can now fly via Fuji with Air Pacific which is quicker & cheaper, not to mention our strong currency & higher exchange rates.

My visits have been based at The Captain Cook Hotel & booked through Gary Barmby at Angling Adventures. I would suggest more Aussie anglers have fished Christmas Island via Angling Adventures than any of the other lodges / tour operators and Gary’s team lead groups themselves every year.

Trips are booked Wednesday to Wednesday at the time of writing to connect with the weekly Air Pacific flight service from Fiji – although I always end up wishing the plane is delayed. During your week at the Captain Cook you will have your days divided up into truck & boat days – with both offering endless wadeable flats & experiences. The fishing will be done exclusively on foot no matter how you get to the flats. Guides are generally arranged to share their eyes between two anglers, although you can book your own guide if required. I actually found it very rewarding to fish alone once I had got my eye in after a few days of fishing. Truck days will take you way back inside the lagoon to fish what appear to be endless lakes all draining in different directions depending on tide. It is an amazing landscape that often has you thinking about the nuclear testing that was also carried out here back in the 1950’s. The guides have names for the more popular flats like Huff Dam , Paris Flat, Go Like Hell, Smoky, Whisper, Koito and the famous Paris 1, 2 and 3 to name a few. Nine Mile Flat – runs about as far as the eye can see, its brilliant white broken only by fringing channels of deep turquoise. You may even get to fish the Korean wreck which is located on the ocean side at the Southern end of the atoll on a wave swept, mixed sand, coral and rock beach.  The water is extremely clear and the big bones really stand out – although they take some stopping in the rough terrain.

The tides are a little over analysed on Christmas, it is that true certain tides will cause some big fish to school up on Paris Flat just after a full moon, but what you won’t be alone. The overall fishing is much more dependent on other factors you can't plan for such as wind and sun. When we have compared reports from weeks with big tides against weeks with small tides, the results are often simular.  Big tides tend to give you hot fishing for a few hours while neap tides provides more consistent fishing.  There are low tide flats, incoming tide flats, outgoing flats and flats that are only good around a full moon, there are flats that are still incoming while another flat has been outgoing for an hour.  The lagoon is vast and interconnected with cuts and channels that can lag by several hours. No matter what tides you have – you really need clear skies & sunshine to have it at its best.

The majority of the bonefish here run in the 2-4 pound range, but larger ones, even double digit fish, can be caught by fishermen willing to sacrifice numbers for size. Bonefish flies for Christmas are generally tied sparse in sizes 8 – 2 in light colourations with favourites being the Christmas Island special, Gotcha’s and a selection of crazy Charlies in tan & pink. Keep them all fairly light as most of the fishing will be in skinny water with the exception of targeting the larger spawning aggregations at Paris flat which can be in waste deep water with current.

Outfits for Christmas Island bones will vary depending on personal choice however I like to use a #7 wht in the back country / skinny stuff with a #9 wht being better on the deeper flats when casting large/heavier flies. A floating fly line will cover all of your flats options with Scientific Anglers Shark Skin Bonefish taper and Magnum Tropic being personal favourites. I also use SA’s 9ft bonefish tapered leaders, adding a 3ft 12 lb fluorocarbon tippet.

The guides are all great company & can often see the fish well before you will, with many conversations going along the lines of “Eleven o’ clock, 50ft, moving right, see im? I answer “No”, straining to pick up on any movement in the calf deep turquoise water. “Forty feet now – you got im?” As hard as I tried to look into the crystal clear water and identify what my guide could obviously see only 40 ft feet in front of me – I still could not make any thing out! “Just cast 12 o’ clock 30ft .... That’ll do, let it sit – now long strip – long strip. Stop. I still couldn’t see anything. “Strip, slow, long-strip, long strip, he’s on it, stop, short strip ... he’s got it – strike!” With that I felt my line tighten – I continued stripping until the line was ripped through my fingers and I finally saw the grey ghost vanish again from the flat. With the fly line on the reel it was not long before backing departed at an alarming rate. I held the rod high to clear my line from running across or around any coral. After more than 100 metres of backing had left my reel, the bone slowed and sat out in deep water. “Move out, keep the rod high, “my guide Teiaa suggested in order to keep the angle of my line off the sharp edge of the channel. Half way back onto my fly line and he was off again, only running 50mmetres this time. Another couple of short bursts and finally I had him swimming in ankle deep water where Teiaa picked him up for me.”Good bone, good bone”. At 28”inches, it was around 8lbs, going off the local fish scale. How good is bone fishing!

Now Christmas Island is not all about bone fishing – although they are hard to ignore. There are also HUGE giant trevally up on the flats with a number of world records being captured in excess of 30kgs! You will also find Bluefin trevally, golden trevally & milkfish on the vast flats. And if you are a massacrest you also Wahoo, yellowfin tuna, sailfish & marlin to be found around the entrance to the main lagoon as well.

One thing is certain after you visit Christmas Island – It won’t be your last trip!

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