Kiritimati, otherwise known as Christmas Island (CXI), is a raised coral atoll located in the Pacific Ocean and one of the Northern Line Islands. This remote island is 1200 miles south of Hawaii and if you look at a map it diagonally smacks right between Mexico and Australia. The island was first sighted on Christmas Eve in 1777 by English navigator Captain James Cook, one that many will remember from History classes at school.
In 1957, the British military began conducting nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean and based themselves on Christmas Island. The tests ended six years later and parts of the island were sealed off for decades. In 2015 the population of the Island was approximately 6,447.
The population at present on CXI is a bit vague, with official figures being out-dated. Supposedly around 6000 people, but some estimates think more like 10,000. They have surveyed for over 2000 more house blocks extending out from Tabwakea, at a guess, there is an expectation that more people will be moving there, most likely from Tarawa.
Christmas Island has been on the ‘fishing map’ for a while now and although it has seen some fishing pressure over the years it is still regarded as one of the most prolific fisheries in the world.
The Island still holds record-breaking bonefish and provides the goods in terms of behemoth giant trevallies (GTs) AKA the Gangsters of the Flats, these monstrous fish lurk on the flats and around the reef depending on the moon and tide cycles.
Triggerfish are plentiful on CXI and come in all sorts of sizes and species, to name a few; yellow margin, mustache, peach-face, and Picasso. Although GTs take the limelight, triggers are highly sought after once you get a taste of their ‘play hard to get’ attitude.
The offshore fishing is excellent too. Your guide can take you into the blue water, not far from the lodge and target tuna, wahoo, sailfish and more. These can all be teased up to the boat and caught on the fly rod.
You also have the option of hunting around the holes in the reef for snapper, reef sharks and a mixed bag of other delights.
To some, it might be a destination that has been ruined by ‘been there done that’ or bad press on chumming but surely such a beautiful and deserted Islands 1000s miles away from civilization can’t be that bad?!
Traveling from the UK is a pain in the ass, it is so far away that the thought of the journey makes me quiver! London -> LA -> Fiji -> Christmas Island – it seems daft that you travel all that way, passing some incredible destinations to then rally on by like there’s nothing to see. We did, however, stop-off in Fiji for a day where we chilled on the beach, albeit anticipating the next flight to the final destination! The benefits of flying from the UK via Fiji, other than the beautiful Fijian singers in the airport is you get 7 days fishing instead of 6 as you land very early in the morning on your first day. Your other sensible option is to go via Hawaii (via the US first!).
As Edd and I stepped off the plane, there was a sigh of relief – we made it! A member of staff from Ikari House picked us up and before we knew it we had arrived at the final destination. The lodge is set on a white sandy beach only a stone’s throw from the rolling ocean waves. We were greeted by the Ikari staff that all smiled sweetly as you passed and said “Kam na mauri” meaning “hello”.
Our room was clean, comfortable and had hot water and air conditioning. It was located right on the edge of the sandy beach, 20 or so yards away from where the boats pick you up every morning to go fishing, yes, that’s right, that means you can roll out of bed at 5 am and stumble onto the boat fresh-faced! The main communal area was built with palm leaves and wooden structures, centralized by long tables and towering ceilings featuring island décor.
No rest for the wicked, it was time to get kitted up and straight onto the boat with our guide for the week, Kurt – what a legend! We arrived a week pre-full moon, therefore, targeting bones and triggers for the first couple of days – an apt warm-up for the GTs! It does take at least a few hours, if not days for your eyes to adapt to the bright surroundings, do not be disheartened if you can’t see what everyone else sees, give your eyes some adjusting time.
A proud moment for me was landing my first GT on my first few casts on the first day, albeit a baby, a fish is a fish!
Bonefish/ Ghost of the Flats ~ (Latin name: Albula Vulpes)
‘The World Bonefishing Championships’ took place on the Island since the early 90’s so if you’re solely after the ghosts this is the place to visit, when we checked in for our flight back home there was an Australian man who had never been fly fishing before and caught 100 bonefish in the week – a century to be proud of! We experienced large numbers of good-sized bonefish on all the flats we waded, they were not in large schools but singles to small schools (4/5 fish). After seeing only a few during the week, we specifically did not target them, as we were so fanatic with other species…cough…cough GT’s cough..cough…
Kurt said that 3 days pre-full moon/ high tides, the larger bonefish make their way onto the shallow flats to spawn and the rod holder will have shots at bonefish over 8lbs.
Giant trevallies/ GTs/ Geets/ Gangsters of the Flats ~ (Latin name: Caranx ignobilis)
Christmas Island is one of the most accessible GT fisheries as well as Cosmo and Farquhar Atoll in the world. Especially for the eager saltwater fishermen living in the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Central America, South America etc. – I envy you!
We spent most of our days walking along the edge of the lagoons looking for the elusive shadows moving across or onto the flats. Seeing baitfish is a good sign as it normally means a GT won’t be too far away, if you are in the right place at the right time you will spectate a ruckus between predator and prey with nervous water, bow waves and splashes all within seconds of each other.
Kurt, Edd and I were standing on the flats taking a quick break, I was asking questions about GTs, as we hadn’t seen a big one yet and we were pretty keen to bump into one. I was asking Kurt when you were most likely to see one and he was explaining the anatomy of the tides and moons… suddenly Kurt and Edd looked at me like they had seen a ghost and shouted “CHUCK THE FLY, BEHIND YOU”, as I turned my back and looked down a 30+ lb GT was within 10 foot of where I was standing – he was looking straight at me like an angry bull ready to charge, with his big eyes and long pectoral fins. The moral of the story is: always be ready, never clip your fly onto your rod eye!!! Never take your eyes off the prize, the opponent can show up anytime.
If you place your chosen fly in the right place and get a take from one of these brutes expect your heart to stop for a few seconds. If you watched Blue Planet II you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! If you haven’t searched on Google: ‘Bird is eaten by giant fish!’.
Aggressive takes, bulldozing fights and an initial burst of speed up to 60 mph, get ready for chaos; a burnt out reel, snapped lines on coral, spooled, snapped rods – all can be very expensive but equally fun! Make sure your rod setup is robust enough to put up with the fight.
The size range for the flats is approximately 8lbs – 75lbs then on the reef they get a lot larger up to 100lbs +, our Japanese friends staying at the lodge were catching 100+ lb GTs every day.
Triggerfish/ Triggers/ Bastards ~ (Latin name: Balistidae)
Christmas Island has become famous for its triggerfish fishing, they occupy nearly all of the flats and you can expect to have a number of shots at them. They are notoriously hard to catch; we must have cast at well over 50 – without success. For now, there is more ‘hate’ than ‘love’ towards triggers. Frustratingly I lost 2 throughout our trip due to coral, one was a sizable yellow margin. You can also take on what the guides call the ‘Trigger Fish Grand Slam’ (3 different species of Trigger in one day) – If you have bad blood pressure I do not advise this challenge!
Milkfish/ Milkies ~ (Latin name: Chanos chanos)
Now this was an unexpected infatuation, an itch that didn’t seem to go away all week. We had 3 mornings chasing them in the open blue water outside the lodge. They were head and tailing in the current, feeding with Manta Rays in the first hours of light. We described them as dog looking, mullet looking, grass carp looking, bonefish!
They are without a doubt a fantastic fish to catch, they don’t have Lactic acid build up, meaning they don’t tire in the fight, as you would expect any fish to do. You catch them on weed and algae imitations, we were using one called ‘Wayne’s Milky Magic’.
Rods need to be 9wt/10wt – My other half snapped an 8wt rod playing one. The sizes averaged about 15lbs up to 30lbs +.
Golden Trevally ~ (Latin name: Gnathanodan speciosus & Bluefin Trevally (Latin name: Caranx melampygus)
You will get shots at both of these beautiful fish and they are likely to take crab and shrimp patterns. Golden trevallies tail on the flats when there are feeding, they move faster than the speed of light, one minute they’re there, the next minute they’re gone.
The bluefin trevally feeds on the flats and in deeper water. They can also be found behind triggerfish and rays. Both species fight hard, fast and don’t mess about. The golden trevally can tip the scales at 30lbs and a nice bluefin trevally 15lbs.
“You might plan your trip around bonefishing, but arrive at the lodge and discover that actually, you’d like to participate in all the species you have available to you, in which case you will need in most cases heavier setups. Bring as much of your fishing kit as you can possibly fit in your rod carrier and suitcase. Better to have more fishing kit than clothes, rather than the other way round.
If Christmas Island has been a likely destination, but you are ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ because of the long haul journey I can confirm it is well-worth all the stress! Pretty much as soon as we landed back home we booked another week at Ikari House and reserved 10 spots for our friends to join (which we have filled since).
Tight lines for the salt! – Marina
Marina Gibson is a fly fishing guide, writer, casting instructor and all around incredible angler from North York, England. Be sure to check her out on Facebook, Youtube and on her Instagram @marinagibsonfishing!