Xmas Island (Kiritimati) July 2015

Why and how

In November 2014 after a Frequent Flyrodders club meeting Matt asked me if I was interested in a trip to Kiritimati to go bonefishing.  Matt has fished many locations around the world and wanted to return to Xmas Island, which says a lot about its appeal as a destination.   Why would I want to write an article about it?  Our group of four got home a little over a month ago and as time goes by I realize how good it was and how much easier it might be for others if I wrote about it.Paradise

While discussing the possibility Steve and Gary said yes to the idea so we had four.  A few queries started the steamroller and
shortly after we had to make decisions about going, who with and when.  As it happened things got very busy for Matt at work and he was unable to commit at that stage, it only took a day and Keith was keen to join in. 

Matt had information regarding The Villages on Xmas Island.  The Australian agent for The Villages is Nial Logan who runs Try on Fly.  I knew Nial when I lived in Queensland and was fishing with the guys from Sunshine Coast Salt Water Fly Fishing Club - that is a hell of an acronym SCSWFFC - but at that time they ran one of the best tuna on fly tournaments around and that was the annual Tuna Chase out of Mooloolaba.  Why the Villages rather than Ikari or Captain Cook, well for us Captain Cook entailed much more travelling by truck each day to get to the boats, and Ikari only provides one guide for each two anglers, while the Villages provides a guide for each angler and is 100 metres from the boats, so more help for us newbies and less travel time.

The most common time for Australians visiting Xmas Island is from late June to the end of August.  As first time visitors the neap tide week looked the best as it offered lower clearer water for longer each day, versus the higher tides with less clear water likely due to tidal flow.  This was still November and we weren't going until the following July.  Getting gear together, buying what we needed and tying flies all takes time.  I needed new wading boots, a backup rod and a new Rio bonefish tropical line.  I tied about one hundred and fifty flies for bones and about a dozen for GT's and another dozen for triggerfish and milkfish.  Then I took a hundred older flies I had laying around from a trip to Cocos Island five years earlier.  My good mate Scotty from Victoria had been at Xmas the previous year and sent me over heaps of Gamakatsu SL11-3H hooks and dumbells, I supplemented this with some SL45 and Daichi hooks in size 8 and a pile of lighter dumbell eyes and beadchain in
sizes down to 2.4mm.

Booking for the Villages was easy with Nial, just a deposit and pay the remainder a couple of months before the trip, the cost for accommodation, meals, guides and boats was about $2350 (I think it has gone up for 2016).  You have to add a fishing license ($50), daily tips for the guides of about $30 per day and $5 for the boatman. The local currency is Australian dollars. Add in $50 for the week for the kitchen girls who did a great job of looking after us and then its just your drinks bill (about $4.40 for beers-American only) plus your duty free grog coming in from Fiji and on the way home, plus meals en-route.   Then we organised airfares through Tobaroi Travel in Sydney who seem to be the main agents for Fiji Air.

We all had questions and emailed Nial Logan and Andy Vockler, their advice proved extremely valuable. 
Additional great information was on websites including Nial's (Try on Fly), Australian Saltwater Flyfishing and Untamed Fly Fishing.

We arranged to fly to Brisbane the night before just in case there was a mid winter early morning fog in Adelaide which might have meant missing the plane to Fiji.  In retrospect I would look at going via Melbourne and Sydney.  Anyway a night at the Ibis near Brisbane Airport was serviced by a great shuttle service from Alpha Shuttles which cost only $15 for all four of us each way from and to the airport next morning, much cheaper than a cab given all our luggage.

Finally our day of departure and Fiji Airways booked all of the luggage straight through to Xmas Island for the four of us under Keith's name, which seemed weird.  Then we had time to get some breakfast and on the plane to Nadi.  On arrival in Fiji we made a decision to stay in the terminal for about six hours rather than check out our luggage and go through customs and then go to the pub for a few hours.  The Saltwater Flyfishing site said going to the pub was best but we thought going through customs/immigration was an added complication.  This proved to be a mistake as we would find out later, also there is not a lot to do in Nadi Airport.  I think we paid $55 Fiji for a pizza for dinner and bought some duty free to take to the island.  Don't buy duty free alcohol in Australia as it will be confiscated in Fiji.  Anyway as we were to find out later the Raffles Gateway Hotel where we stayed
on our return trip was only about 500 metres away with a free shuttle and very nice surroundings along with a good bar and cheaper food.

Departure was near midnight and the trip went quickly, arriving at Cassidy International Airport at about 6:30am on Wednesday morning.  Nial and the crew were there to meet us and we went through the customs and immigration procedures and bought our fishing licenses and went to get our bags.  Things deteriorated for Steve at this point as his bag was nowhere to be found.  With only one flight a week from Australia and Fiji, and one chance that his bag was still on the flight to and from Honolulu it didn't look good.  He thought he saw his bag on a trolley but the officials would not let him go onto the tarmac and out to the plane to check, which seemed churlish.  It would not have been much of a security risk to let him have a look in the luggage hold.  This was the mishap we had dreaded, as the plane leaves in an hour to go to Honolulu. Here at last

Steve and Nial did as much as theycould, leaving Steve with only the things he had in his hand luggage.  As we could not bring reels or flies in hand luggage he did not have a lot.  Also he had our combined emergency medical kit in his suitcase so if any medical emergencies occurred we could come up short.  To say Steve was despondent was not an adequate word to explain his anguish at not having his gear.  None of the flies he had tied for the trip, nor his new reels and rods were available after eight months of planning.  He wanted to go home on the afternoon flight. 

At last, warm weatherNext time I go I will be checking out luggage in Fiji, going to the pub and rechecking in again.  It was Independence week on Xmas Island, and the previous week had seen celebrations in Tonga so the flight from Nadi to Xmas Island and on to Honolulu was overbooked and they were looking for fifteen or twenty people to voluntarily get off the flight.  So perhaps our decision to book straight through and get our boarding passes in Brisbane and stay in the airport meant that we were not as likely to be offloaded.  Its not like you can get another flight the next day, its that flight or the holiday is over.

There was nothing else to do but go to The Villages which is about a forty minute truck trip, passing the Captain Cook Hotel on the way.  We got there and settled in to our units and immediately people began offering Steve rods, reels, flies, wading boots, hats, shirts and anything else we could think of.  We freshened up and went and had breakfast, got the gear together and went fishing for the first day, which is classed as a half day but we were on the water by 10am and fishing by 11am.  The boats are only 100 metres from the lodge so there is no time wasted getting on the water.  Some lodges require a truck trip every day to get to the water.

John with a nice bonefishThe fishing is great, usually easy but I had one tough day out of eight (we paid extra to fish a half day on the departure day).  I changed flies more than twenty times and my guide was ready to pull his hair out as the fish just would not take.  This continued on the first flat the next morning, so we called the boat and changed flats and then it was eleven fish on the trot on one fly ( a George Bush) until there was nothing left of it.  One of the things I was not expecting was the number of times the guide would say ten feet one o'clock.  I was not prepared for the shortness of some of the casting, a little roll cast or flip and the guide would say strip - strip.  A bit hard when the leader is inside the rod.  Strip striking is needed here as a trout strike will often pull the fly out of the fishes mouth.  The weather for the week was variable, we had some great almost windless mornings often developing into heavy tropical showers after lunch, some mornings cloudless and others overcast which made spotting much harder.  We had none of the strong winds so often reported in other years, but there had been a lot of rain and there were thousands of large brown dragonflies and a few mosquitos.  Our boat

I had never fished with a guide before and it was amazing how many fish they saw that I could not, especially in cloudy conditions.  Examples I remember include one guide saying to another angler who couldn't see the fish fifteen metres away that it had a large black spot on its nose, and when I pulled a hook out of a fish about ten to fifteen metres away in cloudy conditions I suggested I had broken off, but no said the guide, I can see the fly is still on - he was right!  The only thing I missed was perhaps some of the camaraderie of fishing right next to mates, but we had plenty of that when catching up on the boat or back at the lodge.

Nice bone for SteveFor the bones anything from a six to an eight weight rod will do, with fluorocarbon leaders from 8 to 15lb and 9 to 14ft.  For the giant trevally 10 to 12 weights, I used 6ft of 60lb leader straight through.  How many bones did we catch?  I don't know because I stopped counting after the first day but I do know I caught about forty on the last half day.  Other species included triggerfish, trevally species included giants, golden and bluefin, giant herring (they call them ladyfish), goatfish, redthroat emperor and yellow snapper.  We had no luck on the milkfish.

Keith caught a big giant trevally and Gary a large one as well.  Keith's big GTI only had a couple of shots at large GT's and missed both so never got to stretch out the 10 weight although my guide gave it a go on a shark.  I now understand the attraction of the triggerfish, I only had a few shots for the week.  I sighted one tailing and got the cast in close on 14 pound leader and was ignored, cast again and ignored, third cast and twitched it.  He hit it hard and was on and running across a clean sand flat on a radius where neither of us was gaining.  I thought this is good, the fish is heading for open water.  Then it disappeared straight down a hole that I didn't even know was there.  The guide laughed, went to the hole and snapped the leader off, he wasn't going to put his hand in there.  I found out why when another angler was holding his trigger up for a photo and it swung sideways and bit the end off of one of his fingers.
Keith with a good bonefish
We fished a lot in the back country of the lagoons because the neap tides were much higher than forecast and there was a lot of rain as well, we had a lot of good sight fishing with 
bones tailing sometimes .  One problem when stalking and casting to larger bones was having the smaller fish come crashing in and get the fly first, what a problem to have!

The week went quickly, bottled water is supplied for everything, the food was Good triggerfish for Garyadequate and you won't go hungry after bacon and eggs with pancakes for breakfast, you make your own lunch of sandwiches and fruit.  Returning to the lodge after fishing we enjoyed beers and sashimi of fresh yellowfin tuna or wahoo, the yellowfin was the best tuna I had ever tasted.  Then a dinner of curry, chicken, tuna steaks, sometimes tropical lobster grilled, maybe a small dessert and it was time for a relaxer and off to bed to do it all again.  Breakfast is at 6am, in the boat by 7am and back at 5pm.  Be prepared to be out of touch with the world with no radio or television, just good times with like minded fly fishers and total immersion on getting what you want out of fishing.
Good GT for Gary
You just have to remember that Kiritimati (Christmas Island) is a third world country with little medical service available, with medical evacuation to Honolulu the only recourse for serious illness.  Would I go again? you betcha.

On our last day we could have kicked back until 1 or 2pm, but we had the opportunity to hire a boat and two guides for half a day so we were off just after 6am and back at midday, we fished some nearby flats which are regularly fished by locals but you wouldn't know it.  There were heaps of fish up to 48cm and it was a great way to finish the trip.  Off to the flight back to Fiji, where we finally
How it looks found Steve's bag waiting for him but alas too late.  It had a small split in it but the gear was intact but now redundant to its intended purpose.  We headed off to the Raffles Gateway for a cold beer, a good shower and a feed.  This is a good hotel and I would happily stay there again, rather luxurious after the more spartan life on Kiritimati.  We spent two nights in Fiji as the morning flight had been delayed twelve hours for aircraft servicing, so we hired a car and went for a drive down the Coral Coast.  Then back to Brisbane next morning, a few beers, buy some more duty free then home.  It all went very quickly, so maybe two weeks next time.   We

Air Fiji to date have not to date made any reparations for Steve's ruined trip even though they have been repeatedly contacted.

Regards from John Pethick © Copyright 2015.