This March, I was lucky enough to join the “Blokes’ Week” in the Hello Backing Lodge on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, organized by Nick Lorenzo. It was a fantastic experience, and since the islands are not very well known, I put together some information about them. If you want to learn more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by clicking here.
The Cocos Islands
This unspoiled paradise lies in Australia’s azure waters of the Indian Ocean, situated approximately 2750km northwest of Perth, Western Australia, and 900km from Christmas Island (not Kiribati, but the one in the Indian Ocean). The Cocos Islands are a group of coral islands that form two atolls. Only two of the 27 islands are inhabited. These islands offer excellent snorkeling, kitesurfing, diving, bird watching, and spectacular fly fishing. The only way to get there is a flight from Perth operated by Virgin Australia. There are flights twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. It takes about 5 hours to get there from Perth. Some flights are direct, and some have a stopover on Christmas Island.
To ensure that the Cocos Islands’ fish, crustaceans, and shellfish stocks are managed sustainably, the Department has developed a set of island-specific recreational fishing management arrangements. These have been developed following consultation with the on-island community members over several years and recognize community views and concerns for the sustainability of fish, crustacean, and shellfish stocks.
Weather & Season
On your visit to our tropical Island, you can expect warm days and balmy evenings all year round. There are two main seasons. Trade wind season begins in May/June, and the calmer doldrum season from November to May. No matter what the season, you will always experience temperate weather. With a minimum evening temperature rarely dropping below 24°C and water temperature consistently above 26°C. Humidity is relatively high – 70%-80%, so you won’t need to pack winter clothes. A light rain jacket can be handy, but these rains usually don’t take long and can be refreshing. The average annual rainfall is approximately 2000mm.
Most fish are residential, so fishing is good all year round. Strong wind can be a problem, so we prefer to fish from the start of November to the end of March. That’s also the period when Hello Backing Lodge is operating.
Give the Dog a Bone
Bonefish paradise – that’s the right word for the population of these silver bullets. They’re everywhere. There is no chance you will leave these islands without catching a few bones.
On a good day, 20-30 fish per angler is typical, with the average size being around 40-50cm. Some trophy fish around 70cm are caught regularly, and we saw a few fish in even larger sizes.
Trevally and Co.
There is a solid population of Giant Trevally (Carnax Ignobilis) – locally known as “Gwanies,” in the reefs around the islands. Sometimes you can see them on the flats while Bonefishing. My mate Angus was able to hook up on one of these gangsters on his 9wt and a Bonefish shrimp – on the last cast of the trip! It was a spectacular eat and wonderful to watch. There are also some other remarkable trevally species on the flats in good size – Bluefin Trevally (Caranx Melampygus) or Blue Trevally (Carangoides Ferdau).
Permit (Trachinotus Blocchi) is a common fish on some Cocos flats. We had multiple encounters with those elusive fish. We managed to get some of them to eat; however, we could not land any. Triggerfish are also possible to catch, usually around the spectacular Blue Holes. Both main Triggerfish species, Yellow Margin and Titan, and the more petite Picasso are present on the Cocos Islands.
Cocos has even more to offer. With some luck, you can encounter the king of the ocean – the Sailfish. The fastest fish in the world will put your skills and gear to a tough test. You can find Maori Wrasse. Plenty of Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon Muricatum) are around, providing you with many shots at these magnificent creatures. Some people say they eat flies; some say they don’t – so it’s up to you to make your own opinion. In addition to the “Bumpy,” other parrotfish can be found occasionally. Milkfish are commonly sighted when wading the flats for Bonefish. I didn’t see them eating but just swimming around.
Big fish require strong equipment; it is always better to play fish hard and land them as quickly as possible. The odd reef sharks can be around, and you don’t want your fish to be “sharked.”
For Bonefish, I recommend a 9wt rod. You can quickly hook your new personal best or even the Bonefish of a lifetime – so you better be ready. A good saltwater reel with a smooth drag and 200+ meters of backing is essential. Play them hard and let them return to their local waters. Traditional floating lines work well, but floating lines with clear intermediate tips give you some extra stealth and depth. The Cocos Bones are generally not leader shy, so you can use anything in the 16-25lbs range. The “big fish – big flies” rule works well on Cocos. Sizes 2 and 4 are the most common. Spawning shrimp and mantis patterns, but also the timeless Crazy Charlie, catch plenty of Bonefish. Pack flies in different weights for different depths. When chasing Permit, Triggers, or Bumphead, you can use the same setup but use stronger tippet and add a few crab patterns to your box.
GTs and Sailfish demand a good 12wt, substantial drag on your reel, and enough backing. Make sure your loops are strong. Brush flies, Flatwings, or poppers in black, purple, or tan tied on 80lbs tippet are the choice for most anglers.
For the surf line, consider intermediate lines and a stripping basket. Intermediate lines help to cut through the waves and minimize dragging the line back to shore. I used a 10wt line with an intermediate head and a floating running line, followed by 30-60lb tippet and various deceivers, brush flies, Clouser Minnows, and poppers. If I had to choose a single rod for all species, it would be a 10wt with a clear intermediate tip line.
Without a doubt, this was my best saltwater trip to date. I landed countless Bonefish and good numbers of Trevally, Pompano, and other reef fish. Two trophy Bonefish around 70cm were the pinnacle of the trip. I managed to hook a nice GT and a Permit but lost both of them. That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching, eh? Overall, a great week with good blokes. A picture is worth a thousand words – so enjoy.
If you’re interested in fly fishing The Cocos Islands, message Martin here, or send him an email at email@example.com. Huge shoutout to the “Blokes” @angus_line, @paris_sienna_, @indepthangler_josh, @nicksfly, @hnorto, @billy_jay_cyrus, and the hospitality at @hello_backing_flyfishing.