Here’s a video trip report someone put together (Joe… Joe put it together) and it looks kind of stunning. Hope you enjoy.
I had heard pretty much everyone who goes to Xmas gets the runs at some point. I’m here to tell you this is not the case.
The risk is certainly on Christmas Island, however, and caution is your friend.
The Villages provides purified water in a pitcher in your room. Use it. Use it to brush your teeth. Use it to rise your toothbrush. Use it for anything.
Don’t put water in your mouth in the shower. Just don’t.
I had a phone appointment before I left with the Kaiser Travel Clinic and they got me a 3 pill prescription for antibiotics specific to what I might encounter there. I didn’t need to use them.
It was frequently the case that guides missed days because of GI bugs. Water borne disease is pretty rampant on Christmas and the locals are very much not immune. Many guides powered through their days even with their stomach bugs and would simply excuse themselves to take care of business. It’s life on the island and that guiding money isn’t going to come from anywhere else.
Only one guy out of our 16-17 anglers had any issues and that was minor, treatable with Imodium (which is NOT how you treat sever diarrhea). Caution and prevention is where it is at.
There are a lot of bonefish in Christmas Island, which you’ve probably heard. I found the bones of Xmas to be irrationally difficult, due in part to the weather (several days of that high cloud, diffused light that makes bonefish vanish on the white sand canvas) and in part to my inability to make it happen. Let me explain.
There are loads of bones there. I saw maybe 200 a day, even if I got shots only at a fraction of those. In the low light the shots were really, really close. I hooked and caught bonefish with just the leader out of the rod, as well as at 10 feet and 20 feet and 30 feet and, rarely, maybe 40. However, I also botched a much higher percentage of fish in Xmas than I normally do and that comes down to the strip.
The strip, for the lagoon bonefish, is much faster than anywhere else I’ve ever fished for bones. The bones are not picking the fly off the bottom, they are eating it as it swims. This may be because they are taking the fly not to be a shrimp, but as a milkfish fry (that’s Shane’s theory and it is as good as any I could come up with). If you are used to a short strip, pause, short strip, pause, or if you are used to a strip-and-sit kind of retrieve, this is going to be hard to adjust to. I certainly found it difficult to adapt to.
On the ocean-side flats (the Korean Wreck) you may find a school of bones. I saw one of 30-40 fish, a school I took 3 fish out of. Inside the lagoon the bonefish just don’t seem to school up. If you see more than 3-4 fish together there is about a 90% chance those fish are actually milkfish. Milkfish can look frustratingly like bonefish and they share the same flats habitat. In deeper water the milks will be higher in the water column and the bones will be on the bottom, but in skinny water those fish can look very, very similar. When tailing, milks have a tail with some black on it, looking more like a permit tail than a bonefish, so that’s a giveaway.
Don’t get me wrong… I caught bonefish, having one day with ~15 and there were so many other fish to go after. I had one day without a bonefish, but that was the milkfish day and my cup was pretty full with that experience, so I didn’t mind so much.
The last day I had one particularly difficult morning, going 1/25 on legit shots. I was seeing the fish very well, but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t know what was wrong. That same time another angler in the group was going about 25/35… so, it wasn’t that people weren’t smashing it, it was just that I wasn’t smashing it.
Maybe it was the wrong strip and maybe it was my fly selection. Maybe it was the UV flash that has a purple tinge to it that isn’t maybe what’s called for. Maybe I was just having a temporary mental block. I don’t know what my problem was, but I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
The bones of Xmas ran from 1-6 pounds with a few bigger fish around. I’d say they average 2-3 from what I saw.
I’d tie differently for this trip, knowing what I do now.
- I never used a worm fly.
- I never used a green fly.
- I would have tied more plain Christmas Island Specials.
- I would have tied more orange Christmas Island Specials.
- I would have tied more #8s with small barbell eyes.
- I would have used regular crystal flash, not UV crystal flash.
- I would have left off any funky eyes (heavy eyes with actual eyes painted on)
I’d add… my crabs were on point.
I caught some nice bonefish and I had some decent bonefishing days. The days that were a bit more frustrating on bonefish were mitigated by other species (bluefin, GT, triggers, milkies).
So… bones, bones, bones galore, but for me it proved difficult to break old habits to adapt a new mentality to fish for them. Many good bonefish days were had by those in our group, so my issues were not universal or signs of a “problem” with the fishing. Just had some of my own shortcomings exposed… but that’s what learning looks like and I’m not disappointed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You CAN catch milkfish the hard way. In fact, in our group a guy named Barry did just that. He went 2/3 on milkfish down at the Korean Wreck. He caught them on algae flies. It’s an impressive feat.
That’s not how I caught milkfish in Christmas Island though. How I caught milkfish in Christmas Island would make a fly-only purist want to puke a little. Luckily, I’ve moved away from purity in my fishing and have, largely, adopted a “Is it fun?” approach.
Milkfish are fun.
When the tuna boats are anchored off London, Christmas Island, you can go and catch milkfish. First, you stop by one of the giant fish processing boats to get some small fish in a burlap sack. Then you anchor up to one of the ships and your guides start ripping the fish apart with their hands, throwing chunks of chum into the water. Seconds later the water around your boat is full of milkfish and various types of trevally (mostly blues, some golden and deep, deep down, maybe some giants).
Simply get your algae or flesh fly near the chum and see if the milks eat. If you let your fly sink too low it is fare for the Bluefins. If you get a milkfish to make a mistake and eat your fly (mostly, they’ll avoid it… like, 99% of the time, they’ll avoid it), well, hold on. Milkies pull and they pull hard and often straight down (although they also jump). Lines get tangled and rod arms get a bit worn out.
Milkies are built for speed and strength and it really shows. Odd looking fish, but, ya know… after they strip off a bunch of line they get much more adorable.
We got our share of milkfish and the guides kept every single one. They take these fish home to feed their families. There is no C&R when it comes to milkfish.
If you’ve ever fished in the back country in Christmas Island, you will have seen the roughly 100,000,0000,000,000 young milkfish milling around and looking a bit like bonefish on the flats in the back.
Some of the other fishing hanging around aren’t so bad either…
This particular bit of fishing isn’t for those who aren’t up for feeling at least a tiny bit dirty. It was a great time and the highlight of the day.
If the boats are in and you find yourself on Christmas Island, go get some milkies. If you have a pulse and aren’t a pretentious pain in the keister, you should have a good time.
GTs, Geets, Giant Trevally. Everyone wants to know about the GTs of Christmas Island. Everyone who goes there wants to catch one. They are undeniably special and when you look at all the species in a place like Christmas Island, the GT stands out, in relief, and your finger keeps finding them on the page.
Yes, I saw some big geets in Xmas. The first one was at the Korean Wreck when a good fish (40#? more?) smashed a bonefish I had just released about 8 feet from where I stood as I was looking the other way. This was right on the shore. Scared the hell out of me (and the guide too). It gave me an impression of just how impressive these fish are and underscored just how precarious is the life of a bonefish.
Later that day the guide took me out to one last spot and in a couple of minutes found me a small GT on shore patrol. One cast, a couple strips and he was on. Not a big fish, but a GT. It pulled hard, very hard, and I could imagine what this fish multiplied would feel like.
Another, about the same size, came by about 2 minutes after releasing the first fish. Didn’t have my act together enough to get a cast in.
The next day I was out at the Wreck again and the first fish we saw was a GT with it’s back out of the water. It wandered off into the breakers and we followed. I put some long bomb casts out into that area just where the breakers do their breaking, but I wasn’t getting any love. The guide told me to reel in and so I put out another cast and was putting the line back on the reel when something kind of magical happened.
You’ve seen when the face of a wave becomes a window into what is below the wave? As I reeled in a wave came rolling in and when the face of the wave was in full view I could see my bait fish imitation clearly and I could also see the GT come up and eat it. It was like watching it all happen on a high-def screen.
Here’s where I made my GT mistake. When you get a GT in this sort of environment you CAN NOT LET IT RUN. Just where those waves were breaking is a drop off and along the drop off there is pretty much nothing but a bazillion coral heads waiting to snag your line or your tippet and to free that fish from you. You are supposed to immediately crank down your drag and not give one god damned inch to that fish (if possible).
The fish was off the edge in a heartbeat and threw the first wrap against the coral a split second after that. I could still feel the fish pulling, but I knew it was in danger. I walked out a bit further to see if I could get it unattached and could see the line come back toward me and wrap on another bit of coral. There, about 20 feet from me, right at the edge of the drop, I could actually see the GT. He wasn’t huge, maybe 20 pounds (25?), and he was still attached. I walked out a little bit more and picked up the fly line winding from the point it was wrapped to my left to the spot it was wrapped in front of me. That bit of added tension did it. The leader cut on the coral. The fish was free.
Fast forward to the last day and the last flat. I was still without a big GT. I don’t think one was actually landed on the trip. Largest might have been about the size I had lost to the coral, but the 40 and 50 and 60 pounders, or those elusive 90 pounders were all un-landed. One guy had lost his whole fly line on a GT when trolling and there were other anglers with other good shots, but nothing in the books. I was fishing with one of the top guides, TK, and we were walking a flat not far from a GT highway. The sky was grey and the light was flat and diffused. I couldn’t see anything in the water at all.
At this point I started to wonder if TK was just riding out the last minutes of the trip. I couldn’t imagine you could walk out on a flat like this and find a GT without being able to see in the water. Part of me was also telling me to trust my guide. He was very much searching the water, not going for a stroll. He knew the water and the fish, I didn’t. I should just trust him, right?
With time running out and the 10 weight primed in my hands TK pointed at a fast moving bulge of water headed more or less in our direction. “GT!” It was a short cast, maybe 30 feet. I cast ahead of the fish, just beyond his path and when TK told me to strip, I stripped like mad. The fish reacted, veered toward the fly and it all seemed like it was going to happen.
“How perfect?” I thought. “Here I am on the last day, on the last flat, and I have this monster GT chasing down my fly in two feet of water and this will be the crowning moment of this trip. You can’t write a better story!”
Except… the fish then exploded and altered course in a direction distinctly not toward the fly. Maybe it didn’t like the fly. Maybe it didn’t like the strip. Maybe it saw us. I don’t know, but I watched the massive shape displacing a lot of water quickly fade from view.
I had the shot. I had a good shot presented by a guide who knew his water and knew his fish and it just didn’t happen.
We walked a bit more, maybe 10 minutes, to the edge of the flat where the boat would pick us up. TK turned to me and said, simply, “Maybe next time.”
I’m back from a week in Christmas Island on the trip hosted by my friend Shane through The Fly Shop.
It was a good trip with some good people and some tough weather. Conditions were overcast on our first few days of fishing and that’s one reason I was particularly pleased with the trigger fishing.
People say trigger fishing is like permit fishing. That is something I’m not sure I can totally agree on, as I’ve now caught three triggers and have only caught one permit (although I’ve had about 20X the trigger shots than I’ve had permit shots). I think permit get the edge in difficulty and I’m happy to let them have it because that leaves trigger fishing as more enjoyable.
Sure, I blew plenty of trigger shots, but they are pretty easy to find, even on overcast, windy, rainy days. They let you get fairly close, if they don’t spook when you look at them. Also, I had a good sense of what I needed to do when casting at one.
First fishing day greeted us with rain, wind and thick grey skies. My guide (ee went by “T”) and I found some bones, but we found many more triggers. I had caught one trigger in Mexico with Nick Denbow, but these triggers were more colorful and more plentiful. I was happy they were there.
I had maybe 20 good triggers shots on the first day and had three eats that I didn’t come tight to before it happened.
This is still my largest trigger. I was surprised by how hard he pulled.
I had heard the main thing you need to do is keep them out of their rocky/coral homes after they get hooked. That in mind, I put the stick to the fish, knowing I had 20 pound tippet to play with. S/He made a couple of nice runs (not to its hole), but we managed to get it in. Lovely fish. Cool eyes. I was stoked. Day was made.
Now… you’ll notice where my rod is in the picture above. So… when I lowered the fish to the water… well… this happened.
It held on for probably 2 minutes.
Finally, it let go. The rod, a Redington Predator 8 wt., was, to my shock, totally fine. It had bitten the ferrule, maybe the strongest part of the rod. No damage was done. Helped that the teeth didn’t get it bad at all.
So, that was day one.
The rest of the week I cast at several more triggers, but didn’t get any to seal the deal. I had some follows, some interest, maybe some eats, but no more triggers to hand.
On the last day we had GLORIOUS LIGHT. Despite the light I was having a crisis of confidence as I went 1/25 on bones in the morning. I was seeing them very well, often before the guide (thanks, 6’3″ frame) but I just couldn’t get it to them how they wanted it. I was dejected. After lunch, I had some redemption, going about 5/15 with two coming unhooked and one lost to coral. Then… the second and last trigger of the trip.
I loved it. One cast and it was on. The cast was perfect and I needed a perfect cast to help salvage some dignity.
(Yes, that’s what passed for great light on this trip)
This guy even ate a bonefish fly. Go figure.
I’ve grown quite fond of triggers. They’ll hold a special place in my heart for a while.
More to come on the trip.
Well… that’s pretty damn interesting. Off the map in Honduras.
I’ve had it in salad. I’ve had it in fritters. I’ve had it deep fried. I’ve had it in chowder. My daughter has even had it raw.
When I think of the Bahamas, I think of conch. But… there was a time when you might think of the Keys when you thought of conch. I have a vague recollection of my dad having a conch salad when I made my first trip to Florida around… oh… 1984. But, you won’t find conch for sale in the Keys these days.
From what I gather the Keys conch fishery collapsed in the mid 70’s and all commercial and recreational harvesting of conch was banned in 1985. To this day… 33 years later, the fishery still hasn’t recovered.
The Bahamas has shown signs of stress and it keeps getting more and more pressure heaped on it as the out islands gather conch to eat locally and to send to all those tourists in Nassau and export markets.
The whole show may only have 10-15 years according to a new study.
I can’t even imagine the impact a conch collapse would have economically on Bahamians. Something has to change and in this, I hope the Bahamians can learn from the mistakes of their Western neighbors.
This video from Christmas Island is from 2013… I’m headed there with Shane at the end of the month. CANNOT WAIT!