Kiribati Rebounds

loop cross s1 fly rod for saltwater (4) Photo credit: Jeremy Koreski

When I first heard of Christmas Island I was on the phone with a good friend, Justin Crump. Crump told me mind-blowing stories about fishing Christmas for giant trevally, known as GTs, along with bonefish, and tuna. And I wanted to go.

But, at that time, visiting Christmas Island was nothing more than a pipe dream. Later that year another friend, Tim Pask, told me more stories about the place, which did nothing to temper my enthusiasm. Pask, in fact, had fished Christmas Island since the 1990s. Unfortunately, he had witnessed what many anglers reported as the fall of the giant trevally and bonefish fisheries at Christmas Island. That’s because in the 1990s and early 2000s fishing pressure, chumming, and subsistence fishing took their toll on the fishery—the big bones became difficult to find and the GTs were increasingly skeptical of flies. Traveling anglers noticed the difference and lodge owners saw their bookings diminish because of it.

To resurrect the fishery, in 2007 it became illegal to keep bonefish inside of the island’s massive lagoon. Which was good timing because my pipe dream came to fruition in 2010. And since that time I’ve been able to fish Christmas Island every year. During that time I’m happy to report that the overall size of the island’s bonefish has increased. In fact, a couple times I’ve reached for my GT rod only to realize that I’ve mistaken a couple 15-pound bones for a trevally. You’ll still find a thriving population of small bones to cast at, but those who want shots at the big boys can find them . . . if you’re willing to hunt.

Since 2010 the giant trevally fishing has improved, too. That’s because fewer lodges are chumming these fish, which means they are not putting bait on a fly to increase an angler’s chances of hooking one. All that method did was make it impossible to take a GT on a fly that didn’t have bait. Now, the fish have to pay attention to flies and anglers are getting more shots at them while wading the long flats found on Christmas Island. Offshore fishing, which is a nice diversion from flats fishing, is great off Christmas Island with shots at tuna, wahoo, sailfish, marlin, milkfish, mahi, red bass and GT’s. Basically, there’s a whole world off the coast of Christmas just waiting to be explored . . . if you can pull yourself away from these GTs and bones on the flats.

Following is a day-by-day rundown from my most recent trip to Christmas Island, which should give you an idea of what a trip here might look like. If it sounds like something you want to do—and believe me every dedicated angler ought to do this trip—you can book with North 40 for a trip of a lifetime in 2018.

loop cross s1 fly rod for saltwater (2) Photo credit: Jeremy Koreski

Day One

We woke up super early and made a long run to the bluewater, setting our sites on the area’s milkfish, which take advantage of filter feeding options on outgoing tides. We found huge schools of milkfish, ranging between 10 and 40 pounds, stacked in the foamlines feeding on surface plankton and vegetation. To access these fish—especially the large ones—you fish from a boat. The fishing can be fast, but you have to change direction often and you need to keep your line tight to hook these fish, which can suck in and spit out a fly quickly. When you do hook one they don’t give up—I consider them to be one of the hardest fighting fish in the sea, making long runs, acrobatic jumps, and deep runs toward the bottom. For sure, these milkfish are worth a day away from the flats.

After searching for milkfish, we moved around the island and found a pronounced currentline. We quickly set out an array of teasers for marlin and sailfish. This was my first time chasing these billfish on a fly and we were lucky to have Simon Corrie that as our guide. His Christmas Island and bluewater fishing knowledge is unmatched. Even so, as we made several passes through these current lines and feeding birds, we only had one hit to show for our efforts. The hit turned out to be from a large tuna that never re-surfaced. And we never touched a billfish.

Continuing down the coast we started throwing poppers for GTs and red bass, just outside the breakers. While doing so, Corrie kind of “forgot” to take the hooks off of his popper and hooked up on a nice GT. He yelled “whoops” then continued to laugh as he landed the fish. We were all very happy for him.

With hooks removed, April Vokey, who joined us on this trip, was up on the bow throwing a popper behind a teaser. Crump and I were on the back absolutely destroying the red bass. We were like two kids crappie fishing for the first time, giggling uncontrollably as three- to five bass might chase the fly at the same time. While we carried on in the stern, Vokey had a nice GT smash her popper. Our hearts were racing and spirits were high when we called it a day and headed in.

Day Two

Day two found us on the inside of the lagoon chasing GT’s, triggerfish, bonefish, and golden trevally. We were fishing around the new moon, meaning low tide would occur in the lagoon in the middle of the day. The morning fishing was fantastic, with several triggers, bones, and small GTs to hand. The larger GTs avoided us, but we did manage  a few shots when the fish rushed the fly and refused at the last second. When a GT charges your fly, with its mouth open, and rejects you at the last second…it leaves you shaking. You’ll see.

When fishing the inside flats at Christmas, I always like to fish a baby mantis shrimp. This fly is universal and fools triggers, goldens, and bonefish. If you are specifically targeting triggers, small crab imitations work great as well. The key is fishing something that lands softly, especially at lower tides. In fact, I noticed how spooky the bones and the triggers were during the outgoing and low tides. It was only when the tide started in that almost everything we cast at ate the fly without hesitation.

loop cross s1 fly rod for saltwater (3) Photo credit: Jeremy Koreski

Day Three

On the third day we fished in the lagoon again. Fishing in the morning was good and we managed another great session on bonefish and triggers. The GTs still avoided us.But later in the day, as the tide rushed in, Vokey and I set up on the edge of a large flat. The water was coming in fast, creating a rip where the edge of the flat met the deeper water. This was a prime spot to sit a wait for large GTs moving onto the flat. Knowing this, our guide, spread us out to wait. Almost immediately Vokey was casting to a pack of large GTs coming up the edge. But at the end of the day we were scratching our heads, after enduring one refusal after another. Between the two of us, we probably had 12 legit shots at descent size GTs. During our boat ride to the lodge we began scheming for the next day. We agreed:Downsizing our flies and leaders would hopefully pay dividends.

Day Four

Fishing the backcountry of Christmas Island is one of my favorite elements of a trip here. Walking on hard ground with a short, sand edge near the deeper water is a prime spot to target large GTs, bonefish, golden trevally, and triggers. On this day, Crump, Kate Taylor, Whitney Gould, Jeremy Koreski, Vokey, and myself were all fishing together. We started off the morning looking for GTs and had a few show up, but again we had little success. As the boat came back to pick us up Crump, Taylor and Vokey climbed aboard, just as a nice GT crashed right next to the boat. Gould and Vokey immediately grabbed rods and started casting at the fish. The GT charged Gould’s fly right behind the boat, mouth open, and missed. We were all screaming,, one of those great moments when everyone is together in a common pursuit. The fish reappeared on the other side of the boat and, without hesitation, Gould cast over the roof of the boat and landed her fly on the other side. I started laughing and said, “What are you going to do if that fish eats it!” She simply said, “We’ll figure it out.” It was a pretty funny moment for all of us. The fish didn’t return, but we were all left with some comic relief.

After lunch we spotted a large GT cruising over a flat and decided to spread out and fish the flat together. This flat was about 75 yards wide and 200 yards long and it was loaded with big bonefish. There were anglers on each edge, GT rods in hand, waiting for a pig to cruise by. The anglers in the middle of the flat were busy casting to five-to 10-pound bones that came one after the other.

Day Five

On the fifth day we decided to camp on a beach near some great oceanside flats. The morning was very slow and the tide was too low to fish during the middle of the day. We lounged on the beach, swimming, drinking, and telling stories. Later, as the tide started in we geared up and fished near camp. Almost immediately we ran into a large GT that chased Crump’s fly. I had three GTs charge my fly in a coral cut and hooked the biggest one, which broke me off instantly on the coral edge. All of us had shots at nice GTs but none came to hand. That night we were greeted with fresh crab, caught by our guides. Then we camped under the stars, on a Christmas island beach, in the middle of the central Pacific, a truly awesome experience.

loop cross s1 fly rod for saltwater (1) Photo credit: Jeremy Koreski

Day Six

On our final morning we headed out of camp to fish the outgoing tide on the ocean side flats. Vokey, Crump and I teamed up with hopes to catch a fresh oceanside GT. We walked roughly four or five miles back to camp, fishing the entire way. GT shots were frequent and the bonefish were big and bright blue. But again, no GTs.

After fishing the outside we headed into the lagoon to finish out the day. We pulled up to Gould just as she landed a large bonefish. She and I teamed on the last flat, casting to triggers. We each caught fish and as the boat approached us for a pick up, a large GT headed up the flat . . . right to us. It was Gould’s turn to throw and she quickly grabbed her GT rod. I really thought this was going to happen on the last flat, on the last day, just as it should. But, at the last moment, before the GT was in casting distance, it turned and faded off the edge of the flat.

As we made our way back to the lodge, we were greeted by a school of dolphins which swam next to the boat all the way to the lodge, jumping, splashing and showing off the whole way. We didn’t get that last GT, but this was the perfect sendoff from a great trip.

If you want to join us on this trip in 2018, contact me at at calvin.fuller@north40.com Dates for 2018 have been set for May 22-28. If you want to chat about this trip or need more information just give me a shout.

Recommended Gear

Milkfish

Rod: Loop Cross S1 890-4

Line: SA Mastery Textured Saltwater WF8F

Backing: 50# Power Pro Super Slick

Leader: 20-25# Fluorocarbon Trout Hunter or Blue Label Seaguar

Fly: Heavy hook #6 or #8 algae fly

Giant Trevalley

Rod: Loop Cross S1 1090-4

Line: SA Mastery Textured Tarpon WF10F

Backing: 80# Power Pro Super Slick

Leader: 80# Rio Fluorocarbon

Fly: Mullet Variation and GT Poppers

Triggerfish/Bonefish/Golden Trevally

Rod: Loop Cross S1 890-4

Line: SA Mastery Textured Saltwater WF8F

Backing: 50# Power Pro Super Slick

Leader: 20# Trouthunter/Seagaur Fluorocarbon

Fly: Baby Mantis Shrimp

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Assistant Manager at North 40 Outfitters
I grew up in eastern Washington fishing or hunting every chance I could. My hobbies quickly turned into addictions and I was constantly on the Columbia River swinging flies for steelhead. I headed to the westside to attend college and received a degree in physics. This proved to be difficult due to the new addiction of spey casting to steelhead on the rivers of western Washington. After graduating, I moved to Sandpoint, ID where I married my college sweetheart. I opened my own fly shop and ran it successfully for 6 years until I merged with Big R Fly Shop. Now my days are spent loving the outdoors, with my wife and two boys, who certainly got bit by the fishing bug, and teaching anglers to enjoy the sport of fly fishing and spey casting.

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