Fly Odyssey UK Director Gilly Bate recently visited Alphonse Island…
Mark Windsor has recently returned from a two week fly fishing trip to Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. His detailed report provides anyone considering a trip to this great destination with a wealth of information…..
I was awake before the alarm went off as usual, it was early and dark or so I thought. The curtains did a great job of keeping the daylight out but not the rumble of traffic from a busy rush hour in Honolulu. 2 flights down one left to go. After a very long flight from Heathrow to San Francisco and a shorter but still longish flight to Hawaii we had stopped over for a break and it was the morning of day two travelling and back to the airport for a 3 hour flight to Christmas Island. On the way of course we would lose a day as we cross the dateline. We would leave Hawaii on Tuesday morning fly for 3 hours and arrive in Christmas Island on Wednesday.
The flight via Fiji Airways is a once a week event and it’s important that you don’t miss it, otherwise you are stuck in Hawaii. Fiji Airlines are fast and friendly but watch your luggage allowance if your one Kilo over your 23kg allowance that will be $60 thank you. So be careful. After a comfortable flight, three hours, 1200 miles later and a lost day we arrive at Cassidy International airport Christmas Island more immigration forms reason for visiting etc and $75 dollars please for your fishing licence. We were on a two week trip otherwise the licence is $50 for one week. The airport is little more than a couple of wooden shacks but that’s all it has to be really. Luggage safely off the aircraft, we are greeted by lots of smiling faces and as all the gear is popped into the back of a truck we climb into another one (watch your head, there is a low wooden beam… someone will hit it I did…ouch).
It’s about 3pm and 28 degrees with a strong breeze blowing. We were staying at the Villages a dedicated camp for fishing and diving enthusiasts. There are 12 lodges each sleeping two with en suite bathrooms. Clean and adequate. The drive from Cassidy Airport is about 40 mins passing by open scrub land, small villages and communities such as Banana and local schools. The palm trees bend in the wind and the smell of salt is in the air. As with all these Atolls Christmas Island is not high with most of it a couple of metres or so above sea level.
On route we pass the Islands general store run by a Scottish chap who has been there since 1969 and it sells everything from spare sea rods and fishing line to Wurther’s Originals and Cadburys chocolate. ( Well its Hershey’ version of Cadburys….not as nice) You can stock up on Castelmaine XXXX and water if you don’t want to pay the bar bill at the Villages. After a welcome from the Village staff which is a series of songs and a brief intro to most of the staff who we will be in contact with we return to our rooms unpack and start the assembly of rods reels and gear with an almost military precision.
Christmas Island offers a mix of opportunities from the flats fishing to challenge of Blue water.
So it pays to come prepared, don’t just throw in your bass spinning rod and reel thinking that will do for the Blue water. Or think that your Salmon or Trout rod will be fine … it won’t. There are big fish out there and it makes sense to invest in the right gear. Big reels, strong rods and heavy braid along with poppers and stick baits etc. Make sure you also have a small bag for wading the flats to carry a few flies and some spare tippet. You can leave the rest of your kit on the boat. You will be on and off the boat a few times as you move around the flats and if you needed something desperately the boat will come for you.
I set up three fly rods 8#, 10# and 12#. The 8 would be fine for the Bones, with the 10 for Blue Fin Trevally, Trigger fish and the 12# for GT’s. Although I later just stuck to two rods a 10# for large Bones, Triggers and Blue Fin Trevally and a 12# for GT’s. The 10 also worked better in the strong wind which hampered us for the entire trip. Two rods makes life a lot easier as well for the guide and generally carrying gear about and juggling rods is faster. We used tapered leaders of nothing less than 20lb for Triggers, Bones and small Blue Fin Trevally. For the GT’s we used 80lb or 100lb Fluorocarbon straight through…..a total commitment rig. Take the right gear and you will have a successful trip.
The Offshore Blue water stuff was a heavy popping rod casting weight up to 180g about 7-8ft long and a Stella, Saltiga or Penn reel loaded with 80lb braid and 100lb shock tippet. No messing around there are big fish out in these waters GT’s, Tuna, Wahoo, Marlin and heaven knows what else and you want to give yourself the best chance if you hook one of them. These fish straighten hooks and pull line off a reel with the heaviest drag setting… they are ruthless.
As with all these trips the days start to melt into one, breakfast at 6.15 on the boat and away from the shore before 7am. Thankfully at the Villages the beach is only a 30 second walk from the accommodation and then you can load up the boat and off you go. The only time you need to take a truck ride is visiting when the Korean Wreck which is a long drive at the opposite most remote part of the island and is about one hour forty mins or so. Also if the tides are neap the guides will drive you to the Reserve, otherwise its boats all the way.
The usual set up is one guide to one client so we each get dropped off onto a pancake flat or beach depending on where we were fishing and what you want to fish for. There were only four of us staying the first week and then in the second week another 5 guys arrived. You tend to allocate four or five to a boat with your guides so it helps to be in agreement as to what you want to do before setting off. But there is flexibility to mix the days up to suit the party and what you want to do.
So go chasing Bones as we did for the first day or so with some nice fish in the 3-4lb bracket but also a few smaller ones. We were slightly hampered with a 25-35mph wind all day and night that was relentless for the two weeks we were there and made accurate casting with light rods challenging at times. But most of the casting was in the 30ft from the rod tip range so we didn’t have to make huge long range casts to catch fish. The pancake flats are scattered all around the inside of the Christmas Island Athol with deeper channels between them. So it’s often a case of being picked up and dropped off so that you can fish a few different flats.
It is worth letting your guide know what you want to fish for as some of the flats have more Coral and are better for Triggers should you wish to torment yourself chasing these curious fish. But they are great fun and immensely strong. I had a few tangles with breaking them off, hooks pulling you name it. But stick at and you will eventually make a good solid contact and they pull like a train long steady powerful runs a little like a Bonefish but with so much more power and weight. There is no doubt they are addictive.
Other flats have more Bonefish so if you’re a numbers person then fill your boots. Specimen fish take more hunting down so don’t expect to be to be casting to a dozen double figure Bones in a day. We did see several large double figure fish. They are not easy and are often shadowed by smaller Bonefish who rather annoyingly can nip in front of the bigger fish to get the fly first. So be patient. I had several shots at the bigger fish but failed to get a good hook up whilst Steve locked horns with a really good fish on a trip to the Korean Wreck. This fish had him down deep into the backing and we mean deep into the backing in the blink of an eye and following a tough ‘too and fro’ battle it sadly cut him off on the Coral. .. gutted
That is one thing there is a lot of in Christmas Island and that is the Coral. Check your knots and leaders all the time. If you’re unsure change it or re-tie the knots. You will hook a good fish and then lose it and it happens. Also make sure that you have good solid wading boots, the coral is hard work and will soon tear apart light weight wading booties and also give your ankles a work out so go ready with the right gear, remember its looks like paradise but it is a tough remote coastal environment.
If you want to chase the Trigger fish then you will be spoilt for choice some of the flats are littered with them. It doesn’t make them any easier to catch and you will many casts before you hook one and if you’re like me, you will hook lose and then break off before you eventually crack the code and then as I did land a beauty Yellow Margin. They are like nothing you will have ever hooked, strong, independent and with a set of teeth like nothing you will have ever seen. They love crushing hooks and will destroy your fly. One fly per fish but it’s worth it. The guides are very patient and have seen it all before. You just need a feeding fish and you have a good chance but stick at it and don’t give up. It will happen. Some of the guys were lucky and literally caught one the first time they tried but the rest of us just slogged it out until eventually it all comes together.
As the flats are surrounded by deeper water the GT’s make appearances mostly on the flooding tide. You will see them black against the coral often with other fish such as Triggers or rays moving swiftly between the deeper water and the shallow flats as the tide floods in. If your after one then keep the 12# ready and forget everything else. Otherwise you will be distracted. Strip as fast as you can and the guides like you to tuck the rod under your arm and use both hands to strip the line back. Not only does the fly move faster but also there is less chance that you will miss stripping the line which can happen when using one hand and with it the chance for a hook up.
The biggest we had off the shore was about 30lb but a few were around the 12lb which still put up a good fight.
One of the party Duffe hooked up to a 30lbr and was thrilled as it was his first and he was just stoked after that. He talked us through sighting two fish with the guide and then running past a coral outcrop to get ahead of the fish, making a cast that was behind some smaller GT’s but in front of the bigger ones. With the guide giving instructions they waited heart beating out of his shirt he could feel his breathing heavy, hands and arms shaking in anticipation then there they were, two GT’s, the guide shouts strip, strip, strip, strip Duffe said he went into a blur of line pulling, a frenzy of activity then… BANG the bigger GT just hammered the fly and took off Duffe said he just hung on as the line was ripped from his hand and he did all he could to keep the line from snagging the reel or rod rings and thankfully it did.
Then it was a question of simply hanging on to the rod and maxing the drag to stop the beast. In Duffe’s words it was an attack of such speed and violence that nothing could really have prepared him for the hit. He was worried about setting the hook but the fish hit the fly so hard it was on and there was no stopping him. Then it became a tug of war where you exert as much pressure as you can on the fish giving it no quarter and eventually the fish will slow up. The nice thing about GT”s is that once you have them beat they behave themselves and you can easily pick them up for photos without them thrashing around and wriggling.
But once you have caught one you want more… they are truly addictive.
With everyone catching fish some big some small we were having a great time. We fished the pancake flats, Paris flats and the ocean reef edge, 9 Mile flats the beaches and coral shorelines in the nature reserve and then the coral lagoons of the Korean Wreck. So much to fish the area is vast with so much potential. The coast line along from the Korean wreck offers mile after mile of fishing you could lose hundreds of fishermen and still have room to fish.
Some of these flats may not have been fished for weeks or months such is the scale of the Athol. There are not many places left on earth that you can fish and say that.
Offshore there is a whole new world waiting, From Milkfish to Marlin. One morning we had fished the flats in bright and very hot conditions and decided after lunch to have a hunt for some milkfish just off the shore in the deeper water. We had previously seen and cast to a school or shoal of thousands of large Milkfish literally as far as the eye could see and we cast to them but with no joy and we fancied are chances again.
That afternoon we did find some Milkfish but just not in the numbers that we wanted and fishing for them was not easy. So we decided to throw some poppers at the reef after GT’s.
Cast after cast we heaved the poppers into the waves crashing in and around the reef edge but to no avail there was no one at home. But the boat drifted away from the reef edge and into deeper water so we carried on. Then out of nowhere a GT of 30lb or so smashed my stick bait right off the surface and we were back in the action.
After a short fight we returned the it to the deep and carried on throwing the poppers. About ten ,minutes later a massive GT came up after my stick bait it looked like a dolphin across its back and pushing so much water..it was truly a huge fish, but sadly didn’t get the lure and JT reckoned it was in the 45-50KG bracket.
Now that would have been a fish to hook up and really put the gear to the test. But even just seeing the fish come up gives you such an adrenalin rush. Then if that wasn’t enough shortly after that a huge shark came up again after my stick bait again estimates were around the 9ft long mark 300-400lbs a big fish and again whilst it might have been fun to hook it would have probably smashed the gear up or taken 3-4 hours to land. We were not sure what sort of shark it was and reckon it was a big hammerhead as it was brown across its back although not easy to tell. It was an absolutely huge fish and again you get a massive rush of adrenalin even though I didn’t hook it. I am almost glad I didn’t but this was the next best thing.
During this session we also pulled up a school of Barracuda and had some great fun on small lures and flies.
We chose to allocate a few days to the deeper water and would set off early in the morning before it was light, 5.30 ish. The Blue water is a lucky dip and to make the most of it you need to give it time and importantly use your eyes to spot the birds. Also a point to note is that it can get a bit lumpy out there so take some motion sickness tablets with you in your first aid kit.
But find the birds and you find the fish. Troll a Yo zuri lure behind the boat and you will hook Wahoo and GT’s we had several really nice Wahoo and boy are they fast. They also taste great too.
We found birds diving into the sea and under them big Yellow Fin Tuna leaping out of the water chasing bait fish. But you have to be fast these Tuna do not hang around. Get the baits in the water or throw pencil baits or stick baits and then hang on.
We had some great sport with Yellow fin Tuna to 80lb with most of us getting into the action at some point. When you have a large Tuna, Wahoo or GT on your line its then you realise why you need the heavy gear. Soft rods and inadequate reels will not cut it with these fish. Rods and reels will simply break or blow up. But with the right gear you can have some fun. You might end up with back ache but hell you won’t forget it. We tried getting these monsters on the fly but it’s not easy and really only one person in the boat can make the cast so it can be a little selfish. We mixed it up and through lures poppers and trolled and had a great time and if you have never tried it ..let me tell you, you should it is a fishing experience you will never forget and you will learn a huge amount. That sort of sums up Christmas Island a place that you will never forget and one that has unlimited possibilities. If your prepared to make the journey the fish are there to be caught and as a destination it still offers reasonable value for money.
On the return journey we travelled non-stop back to the UK and we set the clock it took around 31 hours door to door. So consider a stop-over on the return journey unless you like returning home hanging.
Thanks to Matt and the team at Fly Odyssey for the organisation and logistics. I for one will definitely be going back.