Christmas Island is a speck in the mid Pacific Ocean. It is isolated from other islands and from all larger land masses – part of the reason why it is mostly visited only by anglers, writes Gary Kemsley…
You need a good reason to go there. Fiji Air only fly in and out once a week so you need to prepare your trip in advance. We have found that a week is barely enough time to get the feel and experiences this isolated outpost has to offer.
The island was opened to sportfishers – which turned out to be almost exclusively fly fishers – back in the 1980s. They went to experience the best fly fishing for bonefish on the planet and Christmas Island soon achieved world-wide acclaim. That status still applies today and anglers from around the world fly in weekly.
From New Zealand, it is best to fly in from Fiji, from which the island is only a four-and-a-half hour flight.
While most know about the bonefish of Christmas Island, few know what else is happening there. Other species have gained respect from visiting anglers more recently, but I should add that this is not at the expense of the bonefish – they retain the crown as the fish that draws the most anglers.
New-found species like milkfish and triggerfish are on the menu these days. They were initially ignored by the bonefishers but now are on many visitors’ hit lists. The triggerfish are especially hard to ignore.
These are tricky fish to hook and equally difficult to land. They feed in the open but crave the coral edges of the flats. They are inordinately strong for their size and have peg like teeth that will bite you off in an instant. They also have a habit of retreating to holes in the coral when you hook them – you will be lucky to extract such fish. You will come across triggers regularly while fishing in the lagoon.
Catch rates per attempt are low but you will want to persist until you are successful. My biggest has been a peach face triggerfish of about three kilos. It was a great runner and made its way off the flat where I hooked it and into a deep channel where we had our battle. At times I had close to 100m of line out, but he eventually weakened, and I was able to land and release it.
Milkfish are everywhere. They, too, are difficult to hook but are spectacular when you do get one on the line. They will jump a metre in the air after hook-up and are strong, hard-running fish. They range in size from 500g all the way up to 15kg – good luck with the bigger end of their size range! Trevallies are fantastic to catch wherever you find them and no matter which member of the trevally clan they are. Trevally come in many forms at Christmas Island: the deep and hard-fighting island trevally, the spectacularly coloured bluefin trevally, the stunning barred trevally, the secretive big eye trevally and the enigmatic golden trevally. All are great fighters.
The giant trevally are world renowned and run up to and over 50kg. They are stunning, spectacular, frightening and challenging wherever you find them, which could be in 700 metres of water right outside the breaking waves on the barrier reef or in less than half a metre on the white coral sandflats in sheltered lagoon waters.
These fish have no fear and will feed at your feet if that is where the bait is. Live baiting is the best for hook-up rate but don’t forget that this is a catch and release fishery and lure fishing is easier on the fish. As such, bait fishing is not encouraged. They take flies (big ones), poppers and stickbaits as well as deep-worked jigs and other lures on the troll.
However you get your hook-up, you are in for a fight. They are strong, fast and demanding on tackle. You have to love them, although they may scare your pants off if they come close while you are wading!
Christmas Island is a great spot for species hunters. Over 500 species of all sizes are present in it’s waters. I landed 24 species last visit and have done the same with a different line up of fish on other trips. In the offshore waters we have caught wahoo to 50kg, sailfish to 55kg, yellowfin tuna to 64kg, mackerel tuna to 12kg, GTs to 40kg, bluefin trevally to eight kilos and skipjack tuna to five kilos. In the lagoon the mind boggles with available species but the main catches are bonefish, GTs, bluefin trevally, golden trevally, island trevally, barred trevally, seven species of triggerfish, milkfish, red and yellow snapper, green jobfish, red bass, sweetlips, longnose emperors, queenfish, ladyfish, barracuda (some really big ones), coral trout, at least four species of goatfish, swallowtail dart, several types of grouper, longtoms and an endless stream of other species.
Although not a monster, yellowfin this size on light gear can be great fun.
But it’s not just the variety of species that makes the fishing so much fun, it’s also the short amount of time in which they can be targeted. In a single day you could stalk huge milkfish outside the lagoon entrance, spend a couple of hours trolling for wahoo, tuna and sailfish, then wade for bones in shallow sandflats, fish the channels for queenfish, troll the lagoon bommies for bluefin trevally, fish the milk for bonefish and trevallies and still have time for a shoreline lunch and a nap under a palm tree.
The offshore fishing is very interesting but limited at present by the available boats at Christmas Island. These waters are untouched and protected. Foreign fishing boats pass by and call in to Christmas Island but not to fish. There has to be a great marlin fishery with at least blue and black marlin available, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find broadbill and other species there as well.
My fishing preference is the lagoon and the innumerable species that are available there. Longnose emperors are one of my favourites. They are so strong, savage and long running. Unlike the clean fighting bonefish, these fish are dirty fighters, running for the coral reefs to cut the line off – a worthy opponent for sure. The range of trevallies and other hard fighting fish will also challenge you. And best yet, every trip I catch one or two new species!
Christmas Island is famous world-wide for its fly fishing opportunities for bonefish. It is, however, more than that. You need to experience it at least once. The wild desolate landscape, the blues of the waters, the millions of birds and the spectacular spinner dolphins will be etched into your memory forever.
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