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.