Mar 5th, 2015
The fact that virtually every flats fishing angler in North America has heard of Christmas Island is far from coincidence. Amidst the vast inventory of the world’s saltwater flats destinations, Christmas Island is a unique and natural masterpiece that magically combines all the elements critical to fly fishing success. Endless hard sand flats fishing, remarkable numbers of cruising bonefish and trevally, and consistent year-round weather await all who visit this unique atoll.
Expert Interview with Brian Gies
Where is Christmas Island
Just north of the equator approximately 1200 miles south of Hawaii.
How do I get there?
To get to Christmas Island you will need to make travel arrangements to and from Honolulu, Hawaii and also hotel arrangements in Honolulu. Fly Water Travel will make your reservation from Honolulu to Christmas Island
How much is the flight from Honolulu to Christmas Island?
Currently the round-trip cost for this flight usually runs approximately $1150 per person. Airfare is not included in your fishing package
Why should I go?
Christmas Island is the world’s largest coral atoll and a virtual paradise for stalking bonefish. Having almost single-handedly brought the sport of fly-fishing for bonefish into the public consciousness, Christmas Island remains one of the best destinations in the world for both beginning and advanced saltwater anglers alike. The reasons for this are many. First, the Island’s vast hard sand flats enable anglers to wade fish all day in relative solitude. Second, the flats hold great numbers of bonefish that cruise in shallow water, providing anglers with constant opportunities or “shots” throughout their visit. And last, but certainly not least, the atoll’s proximity to the equator (less than 200 miles) has blessed Christmas Island with consistently good weather, which enables a quality fishing experience year round. While the majority of the island’s bonefish average 2-4 pounds, fish in the 5-10 pound class are always a real possibility as are several species of trevally.
When should I go?
Christmas Island is truly a year-round destination. Being that Christmas Island is equatorial, the destination offers some of the most consistent fishing weather found in the world for the December to March time frame. Angler traffic from the states is heaviest during the winter and spring months but this has more to do with anglers looking to get away at this time than the fishing being especially productive. In the summer months Australians and Kiwis tend to dominate the flats and U.S. traffic reduces dramatically.
What about tides and the moon?
The various moon phases of the month have more to do with how the island sets up for your week than any other factor. Anglers looking for a well balanced productive time to fish the flats or want to focus on bonefish should book during quarter moon cycles that provide neap cycle tides and long sweet spots of moderate water depth on the flats. Anglers looking for great opportunities for giant trevally and blue water species should look toward the full moon and new moon periods of the month. These times provide the greatest alignment of the earth, moon and sun and generate the biggest tide swings. Hybrid weeks with either a full or new moon towards the beginning or end of a week provide good opportunities for both.
What fish will I catch?
The prime species is bonefish, but there are numerous other species including giant, bluefin, and golden trevally, trigger fish, sweetlips, and wahoo and tuna off shore
How do they fish?
All of the fishing is done wading the expansive hard sand and coral flats.
How do they access the flats?
They access the flats using outrigger boats as well as trucks. The commonly asked question is can we use boats every day. The answer is yes BUT. Christmas Island Outfitters has kept with the option of truck days because they allow anglers to access the ocean side flats often referred to as “The Wreck” and even more importantly the flats deep in the lagoon. We often refer to this as “The Back Country”. This area now holds the islands best population of trophy bonefish, the best chance at the elusive Golden Trevally and is hands down the best place to hunt for GT’s. You can access this area via boat but tides restrict the amount of time you can spend. With truck access anglers can fish the area all day long. For people looking for the most challenging and rewarding experience Christmas has to offer this area is a must. Angler’s that are comfortable walking all day can do what we call “The Ramsay Trek” for a unforgettable adventure.
How many fish will I catch?
Catch rates vary wildly at this destination. The very best weeks will see good anglers landing well over 100 bonefish but when things get hard landing 4 to 6 a day can be a challenge. All things being equal averaging 6-10 fish a day is quite reasonable. Most anglers also land a hand full of smaller trevally and if you are looking for them you should get between 6 and 12 shots at larger(30 + Pounds) GT’s in a week. If one of these shots ends up in a hooked and landed trophy you should count yourself lucky.
Can I arrange for a private guide or private accommodations?
Yes, private accommodations can be arranged in advance at an additional cost. Private guides can be arranged in advance or on site, for the whole trip or single days at an additional cost.
Where do we stay?
Christmas Island Outfitters now has a brand new lodging at Chrystal Beach Lodge. Located on a Beautiful secluded section of the beach this lodge has absolutely the best location on the Island. We consider all accommodation on Christmas Island as basic but the new rooms at Chrystal Beach Lodge are clean and airy and have million dollar views.
How is the food?
Let’s face it; this is an island in the middle of the Pacific with no soil and very little water. They do not have a culture incorporating fine food. Prior to boats shipping in rice and ramon noodles the fare was fish, coconut and breadfruit. Then consider they were a British colony for quite a while. This might have helped them understand a few things but am certain it did not advance their culinary aptitude. That said, there is no doubt that Kata ( the cook at the lodge) is the best on the island and he works absolute magic with what supplies he can get his hands on. I will not go so far to tell anyone that they are going to have great meals but if you go down with very simple expectations you may be pleasantly surprised. That is by everything but the lunches. I have hit this from every angle possible but it is the total week link. My advice; granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc. Bring snacks because lunches are, and will remain, weak.
What about Bugs?
I have seen a good number of reports from disgruntled anglers about bugs in the rooms. Let me explain. Christmas Island is a coral atoll in the middle of the ocean and the only fresh water on the island sits in what they call shallow lenses. These lenses are only approx 5ft – 10ft deep. Thus harsh pesticides are not allowed on the island. You will see that the staff cleans your room every day but totally keeping the bugs out of the rooms is next to impossible. They come and go. You might have two or three days with nothing and the next evening come back to the room and there has been a hatch. If this happens just let the staff know and they will spray (they always have cans of Raid) your room while you are out fishing. This will typically keep them at bay for a few days.
Should I bring my non-angling spouse to Christmas Island?
The setting on the island is that of an extremely rustic, remote and sub-world locale. Unless your partner is very much willing to “rough it” for the week it is generally not a good destination for spouses that are not interested in fishing.
Is there internet and cell service?
There is not cell service or wi-fi.
Does the lodge provide equipment?
No. Anglers must bring everything they will need with them for the trip.
What is your favorite rod(s) for the trip?
We prefer a fast action 8wt for bones and a 11wt or 12wt for GT’s even more important is the reel. Our favorite brands are Bauer, Hatch, Abel, and Tibor.
What are the physical demands?
As all of the fishing is on foot you do a fair bit of walking. Most of the time you will be on a particular flat from an hour to two hours so you always have time to rest and hydrate in between flats. Also it should be noted that the guides are extremely helpful. Over the years we have had people with very limited walking abilities have great experiences on the island. The guides know where optimum traveling lanes are and can get people into great fishing with very limited walking.
Can I fish the blue water at Christmas Island?
Yes! Anglers that agree to give it a try can fish the blue water for a half day very easily without additional charges in most cases. The edge of the island drops into deep blue water very close to shore. Wahoo, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi, GT’s, and even billfish can be caught within one or two miles of the beach. This means that on good weather days anglers can head out on the ocean for just a few hours and then return to fish the flats all in the same day.
Dangers and annoyances:
Although travel to Christmas Island is quite benign should a medical emergency arise getting off of the island to receive medical attention is extremely difficulty. To this end anglers are strongly advised to purchased a membership to Global Rescue. Global Rescue provides thorough and 100% reliable assistance in the case of an emergency.
How I got involved and insights into the people and culture:
I clearly remember one of the first pieces of advice I received when I made the decision to sell saltwater trips. It was: You have to go to Christmas Island. No matter where you go in the world Christmas Island will be the bar against which everything can be measured. Sixteen years later I can say this was an absolute truth. With its massive size, great populations of various flats species, and consistent year-round weather, it has served as portal for thousands of anglers entering into the world of saltwater flats fishing. In the same breath, it is place that folks react very differently to. 70 percent of the people we send to the island absolutely love it and many return year after year. The other 30 percent will never return. This essay is aimed at reducing the 30 percent contingent, as most always the cause of disappointment was a basic lack of understanding of how things actually were, and thus, expectations were not in line with the realities of how people live and operate on poor island in the middle of the pacific.
For the past eleven years I have been deeply involved with Christmas Island Outfitters. It all started with a letter from one key guide, Biita Kairaoi. Biita really wanted to start his own business and so he sent a letter home with one of our clients and asked if I would come down to the island and make a plan with him. At the time I was surprised and flattered that he would ask me to be his man in the states. I had only fished with Biita for a total of 6 days and although Fly Water was starting to sell more trips to the island, we were by no means a major player. So in May of 2004 I made the trip down to see if I could help him make it happen. The first question I asked him was “why me”? In rough terms, this was what he told me. When he made the decision to start the company he put all the business cards of agents and fly shop owners he had met and guided on a big table. After looking over all of them, mine jumped to the top because of a Puffer fish. The first day I met and fished with Biita I caught a really big Puffer at the end of the day. He asked if I objected to taking the fish so he could eat it that night. I was fine with that so he began cleaning the fish and explaining how he had to be very careful because the fish has a poison sac and the meat could be lethal to eat if he did it wrong. That night I asked if I could eat the puffer with him. He said “yes” but was concerned that I might be worried about the poison. My reply was that I trusted that he did it right. So we ate the puffer. Tasted like chicken. He said when he was looking at the cards he thought Brian trusted me with the Puffer so I think I can to trust him with my business. Last I checked this method is not published in any business books.
So here we are eleven years and a few thousand anglers later I can say I have a deep relationship with Biita and the island in general. As a whole we have had a great relationship and I know the operation has made wonderful memories for a great number of anglers. However, like any long term relationship it has had its ups and downs. The whole thing about men and women/Venus and Mars has nothing on US vs. Kiribati culture. I would like to say that I have a total grip and can understand how and why the Kiribati think and make decisions but as hard as I try, I suspect I will need many more years and to get there. Once you visit the island you will understand why. When fist time guests return home I often greet them with, “welcome back to earth”.
What I have learned is that the Kiribati people are truly warm and hospitable by nature. When I asked one wise elder why the people were so friendly his reply was because they have all struggled. Their country is one of the poorest on earth. In general they do not plan or worry about the future. The most important thing seems to be whatever they are doing at the moment even if that thing is just lying around. They are also non confrontational. Actually they do not even have the word “no” in their language. They are quick to smile and laugh and have a very strong desire to take care of and please their guests. I have been ill while on the island and the fretting and fussing over me would have made any grandmother in the US proud.
Even though people may think of the island as a tropical paradise it is actually an extremely harsh environment to live in. There is virtually no soil, they get very little rain and when they do get rain, it often comes down in buckets. There is no industry, no farming, and virtually no jobs. This means things we take for granted, like food, are not a sure thing for these people. One trip I remember arriving to have the guides tell me there was no rice or sugar left on the island. When I asked when it would get there they just shrugged and said when the boat from Tarawa shows up, but no one could say, nor really cared, when that would be. I can tell you that I gained a new appreciation for each and every meal that week.
I suspect these factors, and others I do not fully understand, make these people who they are, and also contribute to why anglers tend to be affected so strongly by their visits to Christmas Island. The number of returning guests that ask us what gifts they can bring to the people on the island is staggering and fivefold higher than any other destination we work with.
So with all the above said, what does all this mean to the traveling angler in a practical sense? Well, understanding the people and the culture should help set realistic expectations about what to expect from the island. The bottom line is the island may change you, but over time we have learned that we are not very effective at changing the island.