Friday, March 8, 2013

Christmas Island (Kiritimati) - Better Pack a Lunch

If you wanted to get an oasis that is as far as possible from any major land mass (or civilization for that matter), you're likely to end up somewhere in the South Pacific.  If you also wanted to be in the middle of some of the best bonefish and Giant Trevally waters on the planet, you're positively on Christmas Island.  The video sums it up.  "Better Pack a Lunch" refers to the epic fight from these saltwater banshees...this ain't fresh water, it takes a while to bring these bad boys in.

Christmas Island (Kiritimati) Giant Trevally Fly Fishing from the fly syndicate on Vimeo.

Kiritimati = Christmas Island, in Gilbertese, the "ti" is an "s".  4,200 miles from Sydney and 3,300 miles from San Francisco, this remote oasis was a territory of the UK until 1979, however, the island is now part of the Republic of Kiribati, a composite of 32 coral atolls strung along the equator.  Aside from being a world class fishery, the island is largest coral atoll in the world with a land mass of 150 square miles plus an interior network of lagoons with a similar surface area.
The map below makes it appear as if it were a developed island, far from it.  Everything is named, but nothing is really developed and its 5,000 residents are concentrated in 4 small villages and live in very modest accommodations.  Yes, there is an airport, but its really just a re-paved American airbase, you see, this island was ground zero for some British and American nuke testing back in the late  50's and early 60's.  This is "other waters"
We stayed outside the town London at The Villages @ Christmas Island, one of 4 operational fly fishing lodges.  Many fellow anglers we spoke to had been to the island on several occasions and touted this lodge as being the best on the island.  
20 paces off your doorstep and you're on the water.
Now being the "best" in a very poor third world country may not translate back here in the states, but the staff was very courteous and pleasant, the atmosphere was upbeat and safe, and the guides were top notch and knowledgeable.....the facilities were "5 star" (for a third world country).  The food is okay at best, my recommendation would be to catch a tuna the first day and ensure there is fresh sashimi for the rest of the trip.  Oh, and don't forget to bring some wasabi.  Fresh caught Wahoo and Ahi Sashimi featured below.
The island is famous for its equatorial climate, pristine lagoons and pancake flats which are a rookery for many species of game fish.  Fishing is highly dependent on tides here, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.  Below is a picture of the island's lagoon network...its bonefish and trevally city down there.
Coconut palms are the only tree in abundance on the island, they were planted by a French priest in the early 1900's.
The primary mode for transportation while fishing is a traditional outrigger canoe with a 40hp outboard.  The boats have a shallow draft, are quite comfortable and handle the blue water with surprising stability.

I'll break down the various fishing options into 4 categories: 

1) Blue Water: There is a tremendous blue water fishery on the outside of the lagoon that isn't well known.  You're in 1,000+ feet of water when you're only a half mile off shore and there are schools of yellowfin, wahoo, dorado, and even billfish.  Now I'm not going to kid myself, you really don't fly fish the blue water, more like you hook big pelagic fish on a fly.  To the right is an example of a tube fly for blue water species, this particular one is for wahoo but I found it to be the best all around fly for the blue water.  I spent over $500 on blue water and GT flies for this trip. This particular fly was $29 plus $11 for a tandem 3/0 hook rig with steel leader, that's $40 bucks in total.  Never thought I'd say this but I caught so many fish with it, I found it to be a relative value.

2) Outer Reef: The outer peripheries of the atoll are lined with gorgeous coral reefs that stretch out several hundred yards into the abyss.  They're teeming with colorful reef fish and their predators, namely barracuda and giant trevally.  The outer reef can be fished by wading in the breakers or in a boat just outside the rollers where its only 10-20ft deep; here poppers can effectively entice GT to the surface.  In depths of 30-60 feet it can be trolled and in depths of 100 ft it can be fished with jigs for rock fish, triggers and the occasional grouper.

3) Inner Reef and Channels: Inside the lagoon is a network of reefs and channels that meander for miles in all directions.  The're the foundation of the pancake flats and have steep drop-offs along their edges.  This drop off is easy to spot in the  two pictures below, look at the change in water color.  Large predators patrol these drop offs for goatfish, bonefish and queenfish and if you keep a close vigile you'll periodically spot large GTs and bluefin trevally stalking the peripheries.  When you spot one, you'll typically have 10-20 seconds to grab your 12wt and snap cast to it or it will be out of range.  The other way to fish these the channels is to blind cast a large, loud and obnoxious popper (trevally are attracted to the noise). While you might not get numbers doing this, the payoff is worth it to see a giant trevally come out of the deep to maul a popper on the surface.

4) The Pancake Flats: These are coral plateaus that look like small sunken islands that dot the lagoon.  They are uniform in height and can be submerged by anywhere from 3 inches to 3 feet of water depending on the tide.  

These flats are what make Christmas Island special, unique and world renown.  That's because flats are home to bones, and lots of em.  Immediately above is Paris Flat, probably my favorite flat because of its beauty, abundance of chrome bones and because it borders great outer reef structure for surf casting for  bluefin and giant trevally.  The bones come in with the rising tides to feed on crustaceans that inhabit the flats. 

Now for the fish porn in order of fishing venue

Blue Water Specimens:
Yellowfin Tuna


Get your tuna's in quick, sharks like Sashimi too.

Outer Reef Specimens:

Giant Trevallies

Inner Reef and Channel Specimens:

Giant Trevally

Giant Trevally
Bluefin Trevally
Bluefin Tevally

Flats Specimens:

Sweet Lips
Baby Grouper (so the guide thought)
Mantis Shrimp = Yum!
 Juvenile GT
 Nice Bonefish

This was a once in a lifetime experience and I hope to be back soon.  I figured its safe to say that here as I'm 99% certain my wife will never read any of my posts in their entirety.


aaron said...

Damn, I am so jealous. That looks like an awesome trip.

Unknown said...

I'm headed in a few weeks. I'm super excited. Great post.

WideScenes Photography said...

Hi, Just curious whether you received permission to use the aerial image of Kiritimati. This image was shot by us (WideScenes Photography) and licensed to SPTO & Kiribati National Tourism Office. If you have permission then please apply appropriate credit to the photos.
Thanks & Kind Regards

SteveP said...

Great stuff on Christmas.

I'm interested in details of your rigging for GTs. What percentage of GT hookups did you land?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Headed there next month. Where can I buy that big pink fly you used offshore?

Ryan said... Look for the Wahoo flies, they worked the best, then find stainless steel leaders and double hook rigs to pair them with. In total, these rigs cost nearly $40 ea, but they Trevally go for them.

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