Years ago, as a civil engineer during the week and a rock climber during the weekends, I met a guy climbing who claimed to fly fish. We instantly connected as he was studying to be a civil engineer, he was obviously a climber, and he talked like he had been behind a fly rod all his life. We had quite a bit in common.
We made a date to go fishing and went to the San Juan River in Northwest New Mexico and indeed he was, and is, a very good fisherman. I have learned much about fishing from him.
Fast-forward a number of years and many professional connections between us, but with him fishing almost constantly and me raising a family and continuing to climb. I recently retired from my job of 25 years and this gentleman was invited to my retirement party. At that party, he invited me to come to Christmas Island with him and a few of his buddies, who had been going there every year for the past 10 or 12 years. I had previously promised that I would go on one those dream fishing vacations as a retirement gift to myself, and here was an opportunity I could not pass up.
My friend was going to Christmas Island for 2 weeks but there was a spot open in the second week for me. I took the spot and committed to the trip. The first issue was getting the right gear so I ordered a Sage Z-Axis 9’/8wt. 4 piece rod. I already had a Tibor Everglades reel. All I needed was backing, a line (plus a backup), and an extra spool for my reel. Well, that wasn’t all I had to get. I ordered some flats boots, a bunch of flies, the recommended leaders and tippet spools, a backup pair of sunglasses, a flats hat, and lots of sunscreen.
The travel arrangements are what really cost you though. The lodge on Christmas Island runs you well over $2000 per week, but first you have to get yourself to the island – another $1000 from Honolulu. But, you have to get to Honolulu first. That flight isn’t cheap either. I think I spent in excess of $5000 for a week of bonefishing on Christmas Island and in so doing I was thinking myself that this had better be good.
Well, it was. Not only was it good, it was great! Sight fishing in ankle deep water on huge tidal flats for one of the fastest swimming fish you will ever encounter is just the beginning. There are other species on the flats as well – like 7 species of Trevally, Black Tip Sharks, a species known locally as Sweet Lips for the orange or red outline of their lips, Goatfish, Surgeonfish, and the list goes on. There’s also great bluewater angling just off the coast of Christmas Island for those intrepid enough to go try. Bring huge rods and reels for this though.
So, I got to Honolulu 2 days before the scheduled departure to Christmas Island. There is only one flight into and out of Christmas Island each week. Currently, it is a chartered turbo-prop plane with capacity for about 20 people. Because it is a small plane, they are very picky about the amount of luggage you can bring. The flight was full and with everyone’s luggage, we were about 300 pounds over weight. I started to trim some stuff out of my luggage but it wasn’t really making a dent in the 300 pounds we needed to get rid of. A couple of anglers I had just met and who were in my group, had a cooler full of food and they reluctantly parted with it, but not their rum. Others began to sift through their stuff right there on the tarmac and we finally got enough stuff off loaded to make our weight.
The flight takes a full 4½ hours and if you haven’t flown in a turbo-prop before, I suggest noise canceling headphones with lots of music on your iPod, a couple of books to read, and a stash of rum, vodka, whiskey, scotch, whatever. The plane has ice and a small collection of sodas and sandwiches for the passengers, but no flight attendant so you’re on your own back there. I got bored enough to go up to the cockpit to talk to the pilot and copilot for a while. On my flight to Christmas Island, the copilot also owned a small restaurant on Oahu and he gave me directions. I must say, it wasn’t bad, especially after a week of island food.
When we finally arrived, the first thing you have to do is declare your purpose for even being on the island. If you’re there to fish, you are required to purchase a sport fishing license right there in the airport! It wasn’t expensive but bring cash, as they don’t seem to know what plastic is. It’s actually pretty cool because the license has the Kiribati Government insignia on it and it looks very official. I will be framing mine and hanging it in my office at home. By the way, Christmas Island is located within the Republic of Kiribati, which is comprised of numerous islands just North of the equator and some 1800 miles South of Hawaii.
When we got our luggage and exited the airport, we were greeted by Aneeta, the owner of the lodge, and Peter, the head guide. Each of us was handed a small flower arrangement that you wear on your head and a chilled coconut with a straw sticking out of it – pure sweet, cold coconut juice for the ride to the lodge.
Little did I know that I would be riding in these open-air trucks every day for the next week to go fishing. Some days, you load up and they take you to a boat where you motor to the flats. Other days, you ride in the back of that truck for a very long time to the “back country” for fishing a different kind of flat. You also have to ride back to the lodge in the afternoon. I got really tired of that ride, but it was simply part of the deal to be in such an incredible place to fish for those magical fish.
The lodge is made up of a series of buildings and one large canopy, which houses the bar. There’s a kitchen/dining room building and a bunch of individual cabins that house two anglers each. There is running water (cold water only), a shower, a toilet, a sink, and a refrigerator stocked with bottled water, soda, and beer (Heineken and XXXX). They would do well to get better beer for us American beer snobs. Oh, and of course two beds.
The temperature on Christmas Island does not fluctuate very much either daily or seasonally. There’s almost no chance you’re going to get cold unless you get wet while riding in one of the trucks or boats. Bring a light windbreaker for that.
The food is fair considering that you’re out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, spuds, orange juice (Tang really), and toast made from bread. A word about the bread – its awful. I think it could be better if they actually made it right there on the island and I’m told there used to be a bakery there. Instead, they get their bread shipped to them once a month or so. Yeah, it’s pretty stale.
We would be awakened pre-dawn with a coffee pot and two cups on the lanai. A half hour later, breakfast was served. That first morning was a bit cloudy but on a subsequent morning it was clear enough to see the Southern Cross low in the Southern sky!
Shortly after breakfast, the guides would show up outside our cabins with the trucks and we would jockey for fishing partners for the day as well as for the guides. We tried to rotate both so everybody got to fish with everybody else at least once and we fished with a different guide nearly every day.
Once we arrived at our destination for the day’s fishing, a guide would start out walking very slowly scanning the water for bonefish. Let me just say this – without a guide to spot fish, tell me where to cast, when to strip my fly, and when to let it sit, I’m not sure I would have ever seen a bonefish, let alone catch one. For me, having a guide was absolutely essential. One day, I got a chance to fish on my own for a little and I did catch a few fish, but I think it was by sheer luck more than anything else. I was just casting to fish, any fish, in the hope that they might be bonefish. Some were and some weren’t. But it sure was fun, regardless.
Another essential item you must have with you is a pair of really good polarized sunglasses, plus a backup pair just in case you lose them. Simply put, you cannot catch a bonefish that you cannot see. Sunglasses make it possible to see the fish the guide points out to you. Without them, you might as well stay back at the lodge and take a nap.
We arrived on the flats on the average by 8:30 each morning. Usually by 1:00 we would be back in the boat or back in the truck having lunch, which was kept in a cooler – usually sandwiches on bad bread, and a piece of fruit. Also, the boat or truck would have a cooler full of potable water so you could fill up your water bottle.
And then after lunch we would head back out onto the flat and fish until about 4:00. We’d be back at the lodge by 5:00 to 5:30 and your guide would wash down your rod and reel with fresh water and bring it to your cabin, whereupon you would tip him. Guiding bonefishermen is probably the best job on the island and we made it a point to tip our guides at least $40 per day. We had happy guides. At the end of my time on Christmas Island, I gave my favorite guide one of my fishing shirts. Others gave away flats boots or other pieces of equipment.
There was a dedicated driver for the truck each day. He didn’t fish or guide but simply drove us to our destination and then waited all day for us. One of the guides and I discussed how these drivers could use this down time more productively and we came up with what I think is a pretty good idea. Teach them to tie the flies used by bone fishermen so they can sell them to us. They could make extra money this way, provide a much-needed service, and hopefully not get bored day after day out there.
The last night on the island, the lodge throws what might best be described as a Luau, complete with roasted whole pig, native dancers, and singers. I sat and watched the performance, appreciative of the opportunity to be there.
The flight back to Honolulu did not leave the island the next day until about 3:00pm, so a few of us took the opportunity to fish just one more time that morning. The guides were happy to make the extra bit of money, too.
My wife and I had prearranged for us to met in Honolulu at the end of my Christmas Island experience. We hung out in Honolulu for a couple of days and then went tot the Big Island, where a couple of my relatives live. We stayed two nights with each family and then flew back to Honolulu to catch our flight home. I suggest that anybody going to Christmas Island do the same thing.
I was very careful to not get sunburned while I was fishing but the last day in Hawaii, we went to the beach, and this is when I sat too long unprotected. I’m still rubbing aloe on myself. Think of it as a temporary reminder of my trip of a lifetime.
With that being said, the group of guys I joined up with have invited me back next year. They’ve made it clear that it must be for 2 weeks next time. Yup, I think I’ll do that!!!