21
Apr 19

Christmas Island Gear Rundown

We fly anglers love our gear. Some (I’m looking at you Aaron) use a trip like this to load up on new rods and reels. I tend to try and make due with what I have, although even I brought in some new tools for this trip.

The Rods

I brought 5 rods with me and used 3. My 12 weight never left the rod tube and my back-up 10 had a similar fate. Both of those rods were the Redington Predators that I’ve been very happy with for years.

I brought one loaner rod with me and that was a Sage Salt 10 wt.. This was my go-to GT rod and the rod I used to horse up Milkies and Bluefin Trevally. It’s a solid rod and it cast well. Fast action and easy casting. Sadly, I have to send that one back, as it was a loaner, but it would earn a place in most saltwater quivers.

My go to bonefishing rod for the past few years has been my Orvis Helios 2. I’m just comfortable with that rod. We’ve seen things together. Just yesterday I cast an H3 and it felt like a totally different rod (which I didn’t love). I’ll keep my H2 until I snap the thing.

I used a “trigger” rod for part of the trip, a rod rigged up with a crab fly and 20# tippet. This was my Redington Predator 8 wt. that I picked up last year. I’ve been pretty pleased with this rod, which is on the lower price-point side of things. The first trigger I landed in Christmas was on this rod and I had to put the stick to the fish to keep it from heading back to his rocky, coral-lined home. This is the fish that then bit the rod. I am happy to say the rod is in fine shape, which is pretty shocking, but is true nonetheless.

Mmmmmmm…. predator….

Reels

I ended up using two new reels on this trip.

First, I had the Redington Grande, which is a machined version of their Behemoth reel, which I also own and have liked. I had the Grande on the 10 wt. and actually got the larger version of the reel, a 11/12, so I could dump more backing on it. I wish I would have caught more fish on this, but what I saw out of the reel was all positive. I made a mistake with the reel on my reef-lost GT in that I should have locked the drag down, but I didn’t and the line ended up getting a bit roughed up on the reef. That spelled the last action for the Grande as I moved to the back-up reel which had a new line on it.

The back-up reel was the Sage (the SPECTRUM MAX). Solid reel. I had no issues with this reel and it did well when pulling those milkfish up from the depths.

The bonefish reels I used are the ones I’ve been using for years now. There an Orvis Mirage (the earlier version) and a Lamson (a lightspeed, I think) which is similarly no longer in production. I used to really like Lamson as a reel maker, but they’ve made a succession of odd choices in the past few years.

Lines

The only lines I used that were really new to me were the RIO GT lines. I had no complaints about these lines. I had made the decision not to monkey with the factory loops and so I should comment that I did have to swap reels because the factory loop on the first reel got pretty messed up on the coral. I can’t think that is the fault of the loop though. The loop to loop connection seemed to be the place on the coral that the line got stuck and the loop was partially cut through in a couple of places. That said, it still held, it was the leader that ended up getting cut. Also, if I had made my own loop the profile would have been even more pronounced and it would have caught even more. I still stand by my decision to use the factory loop. The factory loop held on the milkfish just fine. People land huge GTs on the factory loop. I’ve seen the pics.

Other Key Bits of Gear

I ended up getting a pair of Simms flats boots because I was told the booties would not stand up. The boots worked well. I got a pair that were a previous year’s model so they were fairly cheap. That said, a guy on our trip had a pair of the booties, same Simms booties I have, and they stood up to the coral just fine.

The Patagonia sun hoodies are all I wear these days. They are just hard to beat. I now have three pairs of that shirt.

Protected from the rays

The Simms sun mask is my go to now. Love the holes which reduce the feeling of breathing through someones hand on my mouth and it also reduces the fogging up of sunglasses.

Yes, you can drink a beer through your sun mask.

Earplugs. My roommate for the trip very much suffers from un-diagnosed sleep apnea. I never got a solid night’s sleep. Someone on the trip gave me a pair. That was very, very important for how the whole trip went down for me.

Body Glide. Nothing would mess up your trip faster than your inner thighs being rubbed raw. Body glide is the answer. I use it proactively pretty much any time I’m spending time in the salt.

Antibiotics. Turns out my health plan has a travel clinic. You tell them where you are going and they’ll write you a prescription for what you might need and they’ll also look and see if you need any vaccines. I didn’t get sick on this trip, but I would have been in good shape if I had.

I needed a big, waterproof bag and I didn’t want to break the bank. Enter the Outcast AK Duffle. This thing is HUGE (no, I was not over weight). I could fit my rods IN the bag. Really pleased with this thing.


16
Feb 19

On not getting the runs

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.


09
Feb 19

The purist and the milkfish

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.


08
Feb 19

Everyone wants to know about GTs

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.

A mini Geet

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.

Guide TK

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.”


06
Feb 19

Triggered in Christmas Island

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.

Nice looking trigger.

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.

uh oh

It held on for probably 2 minutes.

Um… now what?

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.

Last trigger of the trip

(Yes, that’s what passed for great light on this trip)

This guy even ate a bonefish fly. Go figure.

Not really fishable any more.

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.


08
Jan 19

Shane goes to Christmas Island

This video from Christmas Island is from 2013… I’m headed there with Shane at the end of the month. CANNOT WAIT!


05
Jan 19

Why I’ll get back to Mexico at some point

Trigger Food

This fly had the misfortune to find itself in the mouth of a trigger fish. Man… those chompers are serious.

Guide Nick Denbow put me on this fish down out of Mahahaul, MX back in 2016.

A trigger, and Costas

I found other triggers, hooked a few, but found them tough to get to hand and VERY tough on flies. I fished for an hour with one of those bitters crimped by a trigger before I noticed.

As I head to Christmas Island here in a few weeks I’m thinking about triggers again and I’m trying to tie up some flies durable enough to get the job done. I’m using epoxy (really for the first time) and I’m working on things crabby.

That’s some heavy wire, man… heavy…

I don’t even know what these hooks are. Found them at Bass Pro and not in the fly tying section. This is some kind of bait hook and about 4x heavier than any other fly hook that size I’ve ever seen. That’ll do… that’ll do.

Look out triggers… I’m coming for you… wherever you are.


08
Dec 18

Nightmare – Belize Edition

I almost never remember my dreams. Maybe once every couple of months I’l wake up with a vague notion of what passed through my brain in the middle of the night or a random comment during the day will unlock some stored and normally inaccessible memory. There is, however, one way I get a little glimpse into what’s flowing through my head in the slumbering hours.

I have an almost 5 year old.

He’ll walk into our bedroom at very odd hours and interrupt his parents’ sleep because…

  1. His music has turned off.
  2. His sheets are messed up.
  3. A book has fallen off his bed.
  4. He has to pee.
  5. He’s had a bad dream.

Usually, it is 1-4, rarely 5. You can get an idea from the list that these are not exactly 3:00 AM emergencies, but, he’s a good boy, so… we allow it.

Last night he came in and not only did he interrupt our sleep, but he caught me in the middle of a bit of a nightmare of my own.

I was either in Belize or on my way to Belize. I had WAY under-packed. I found myself with a simple backpack and a rod tube. One rod. I had brought an 8 wt (probably my favorite, my Helios 2). But… where was my 10 wt? Where was the tarpon stick? Where was the cuda rod?

You can see what a nightmare that would be, right?

Now… because I tend to believe dreams actually do relate to the real world, I have traced back that particular dream to two places.

First… I saw this pick on good ole’ Facebook:

Image may contain: outdoor and water

That’s a tarpon caught out of El Pescador in Ambergris. It happens to be the lodge where I spent my honeymoon and where I got my Grand Slam.

Second source, I believe, for this dream/nightmare is that I’m going to Christmas Island in about 2 months and I am WAYYYYYYY behind on my tying (I’m about a dozen flies into what should be about 5 or 6 dozen flies tied).

That which is left undone is one of those underlying reasons for many a nightmare or sense of anxiety (or so I believe). When you feel like something isn’t totally right, it usually has roots in some task or job you haven’t taken to 100%.

So… I guess I better get tying.


30
Jul 15

Christmas Looks Nice

I want to go to Xmas Island. Christmas is one of those places that has been on my list for a while. I am on the Pacific side of things and I’m supposed to be oriented out that way for my fun in the sun, right? I’ve thought about my 2016 trip being to Christmas. I may just begin the negotiation process here at home to make that happen.

If I go, I’d likely do it through a booking agent and stay at a lodge and go with guides. It is a long way to go to not be on the right flats. However, if you want to do it solo, it would appear that is an option as well.

It sounds to me like things aren’t that expensive once you get there, it is just that the getting there is kind of a hassle with an overnight in Honolulu. Could be worse!

Also… there are GTs. I’d very much like to break some gear on a GT.

 


13
Nov 13

Thinking about Christmas

Someday I’m going to go there. Not now… maybe not for a decade, but at some point.