Jul 18th, 2018
Christmas Island Outfitters
Of all the places I’ve traveled, the feeling of being truly welcome in a foreign land is the strongest at Christmas Island. It’s the attribute about the place that connects me most to it. It’s baffling to me how a locale so far away and different from anything I know can somehow still feel so much like home. From the giddy bouncing children swimming in the boat harbor to the villagers tending their chores; to the guides and their families, the lodge staff and even the boat drivers, they’re all genuinely happy you’re there. In a place where locals live day to day with so very little and merely surviving takes a concerted effort, it’s a life changing experience to arrive here and feel the embrace of a community that truly wants nothing more than for you to have a great time and enjoy the island they call home.
Christmas Island is a strange and wondrous saltwater seascape that seems to have been infinitely blessed by the fishing gods. It is a vast matrix-like network of endless hard sand flats, lagoons, channels and reefs spread out across the Earth’s largest raised coral atoll. The main lagoon harbors the world’s most expansive system of productive shallow water flats. Bonefish, trevally, trigger fish, sharks, snappers, puffers and milk fish patrol more than 100 named flats perfectly designed for wading fly anglers. Finned creatures of all shapes and sizes cruise a skinny water angler’s ideal of a utopian flats world, looking for bite size morsels in the sand. Whether it’s stalking the flats, trolling the blue water, teasing for reef dwelling giant trevally, plying “The Wreck” or hiking the back country, Christmas Island is a veritable wonderland for the saltwater fly angler.
Where in the World?
Located approximately 1400 miles due south of Hawaii and 144 miles north of the equator, the tiny coral dot of Kiritimati (pronounced kiri-si-mass as a Gilbertese respelling of the word Christmas) lies squarely in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Captain Cook landed on the island on Christmas Eve in 1777 and I can only imagine what a great holiday it might have been if he had packed an 8 weight and a few Gotchas.
Blasted by high-altitude, British H-Bomb testing in the late 1950s and again by the United States in the 1960s, Christmas Island and its magnificent population of sea-birds got a front row view of the inception of the atomic age. Remarkably there were few, if any ill effects on the island itself (the few villagers living on the island were evacuated and later returned to the island unharmed), as steady trade winds dispersed the radiation downwind. The island is essentially a harsh, salt infused landmass that lacks enough viable top soil and the nutrients needed for agriculture. The island’s population is supported by a large cargo ship delivering commodities, food and supplies once every five weeks. The only natural resources available are essentially coconuts and fish and the country earns most of its revenue selling off-shore fishing rights to Asian nations. The last census report estimates 5,000 plus people were inhabiting the nation of Kiribati’s (pronounced kiri-bas) largest land mass.
A Target Rich Environment
There was a time in Christmas Island’s history when literally everything alive (including bonefish and giant trevally) were on the local menu. From puffers to snapper, milkfish to sharks, if it swam or had fins, it was a food item. Thankfully in 2009, residents agreed to enforce long-term regulations to protect bonefish from commercial harvest in the lagoon. Today we are seeing the benefits of this as well as an incredible array of additional species to throw a fly at. Bonefish and giant trevally are really just the tip of the iceberg. Black trevally, golden trevally, bluefin trevally, triggerfish, sweet lips snapper, wrasse, parrot fish, black-tip sharks and milkfish can all be targeted while wading. Together they can make for over-heated drag systems and eye-popping catches of species you will not find readily available anywhere else. Additionally, the blue water is home to turbocharged species like wahoo, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi and sailfish. It’s a truly a target rich environment these days and when it all comes together, walking the flats can seem like a wade through a skinny water aquarium with fish scurrying around your knees in all directions. Often you may not know exactly what it is you’re throwing at but it certainly will not stop you from trying!
The Main Attraction
Without a doubt, the main attractions on the flats of Christmas Island are bonefish. These metallic drone warriors set out across the flats in all directions scouring the coral and hard sand bottoms for crustaceans, shrimps, crabs and worms. Indeed the most special aspect of this fishery is that 100% of the fishing is accomplished on foot. There’s nothing like stalking the flats in full predator mode and hunting them down with your rod at the ready. Whether it’s your very first bonefish or your thousandth, it’s always a thrill to present your fly to a hungry bonefish, watch him speed over to investigate, engulf your offering, and zip out 100 feet of backing in a flash. Additionally, the beauty of the Christmas Island bonefish experience is that these scenarios unfold at close range. Rarely are you asked to make a cast longer than 40 feet. Moreover, the most experienced Christmas Island anglers catch fish all day long by gently walking the flats and laying out precision rolls casts of no more than 20 feet.
The Thug and the Tug
Call them what you will. I’ve heard them affectionately referred to as thugs, marauders, maulers, brutes, beasts, bullies and worse. But irrespective of the name calling, hooking and landing a giant trevally (GT) is among the greatest accomplishments a saltwater fly angler can hope for. Furthermore, the Christmas Island populations of these incredible fish represent the largest, closest and most affordable opportunity for anglers traveling from the United States and Australia to tangle with a GT.
Few things will prepare you for the sight of a 60 pound giant trevally smashing mullet on a shallow flat with a full 12 inches of its back protruding from the water. Seeing them on the hunt is a sight that will be forever burned in to your fishing consciousness. It seems impossible that a fish so large and powerful can turn on a dime to chase baitfish in concentric circles at 30 plus miles per hour. To catch one while stalking the flats requires a mix of skill, perseverance and a lot of good luck. At times anglers with a bad GT habit will specifically hike the flats for a week or more, letting hundreds of bonefish pass them by, all for a once in a lifetime shot at hooking and landing a true monster on foot. Similar to targeting permit, anglers that dedicate themselves solely to GT’s stand the best chance at landing a big fish during a week long trip. It’s hard to imagine bypassing all of the other various species that Christmas Island has to offer in the pursuit of one single magnificent fish. But for the select few that do make the commitment, the rewards can be amazing and the accomplishment can be well worth it.
A World Away
Arriving at Christmas Island feels a little like someone determined the location of your trip by having a kid throw a dart at a map of the Pacific. Anglers pondering their first trip to the island frequently ask me about things such as rental cars, guided island tours, cell phone signals, wave runner rentals or shopping opportunities for wives and kids. I have to inwardly chuckle and the conversation usually turns quite quickly to a discussion of exactly how remote this place is. The island and its villages are essentially sub-third world locale and it’s important for first timers to understand the reality of life in this faraway place. For the fishing outfitters and population on the island obtaining basic food items, supplies, equipment, and tools is a massive challenge.
Ultimately, the lodges do the very best they can with what they’ve got, but when a spark plug breaks off in a motor block, the island runs out of sugar or a door handle snaps off, the closest hardware, grocery or auto supply store is an 1800 mile away voyage across the wild Pacific ocean in a slow moving cargo ship that departs every five weeks. If ever there was a destination where traveling anglers were required to “go-with-the-flow”, Christmas Island is it. If you cannot wrap your brain around spending thousands of dollars to visit a place where you may on more than one occasion be required to smash a cockroach with a flip-flop, fall asleep to the click-clack sound of a hermit crab crawling across your room (or leg), or spend 6 days eating white bread and processed cheese sandwiches for lunch, then likely this is not the place for you. If by contrast you appreciate adventure, the skill and kindness of some of the most talented flats guides found anywhere, and the faraway beauty of a prolific saltwater environment; then a finer place is hard to find!
Meals at the lodge remain pretty good overall considering the remoteness of the location. Coffee is on early in the morning and breakfast typically consists of simple eggs and bacon, a couple of pancakes, some bread and a little jam. Lunches remain very meager. We always recommend that anglers bring an assorted collection of salted nuts, jerky, energy bars and various snack items to supplement lunch. Having a few electrolyte powder packets to mix in to your water bottles while out on the flats also are a great idea. Dinners are usually very good and consist of a lot of fresh fish, rice, poultry and pork. Sometimes pasta is served or even barbecued steaks when the lodge can get their hands on fresh beef. It’s a tradition in the evening before dinner to have sashimi and some of the freshest wahoo and tuna imaginable is served every night. It’s not uncommon to find yourself daydreaming of the sashimi smorgasbord while out fishing each day! Overall, it’s best to think of the meals and accommodations on the island as more of a fishing “glamping” adventure, rather than a luxurious fishing vacation.
What’s on Your Bucket List?
Words frequently fail me when trying to describe Christmas Island to someone who has not been there. The sights, sounds, smells and intensely brilliant array of sea life radiating out in all directions simply has to be seen to be believed. This foreign land that has such a knack for welcoming its guests works hard to provide them with what we would consider “the basics”. For anglers that can look past the grizzled exterior of the island’s villages, do not mind “roughing it” and can embrace a go-with-the-flow attitude, this trip can be life changing. For those that feel compelled to visit a destination and come back with a long list of things that can be improved upon, save yourself the trouble and the paper. Christmas Island simply isn’t for everyone. But for the right anglers seeking a true adventure, there are few places on Earth that can deliver on so many levels.
For more information on Christmas Island, give Dylan a call at 800.552.2729