Fly fishing on Kiritimati: Part 2–The fishing part
June 18, 2019
In case you missed it, Part 1 can be found here. If you’d prefer not to read Part 1 please do not click the link.
After dinner on our first night, fishing partners were chosen, guide assignments were determined and sandwich orders were taken. This vital information was marked on the whiteboard (Command Central) each evening. Anticipation of the next day’s activities hung as heavily in the air as the humidity.
We rigged our 8 weight rods (for Bonefish and most everything else) and Joe passed out the heavyweight rods he had brought for those in need. 11 and 12 weight rods would be used for Giant Trevally (GT for those who are too busy to spell it out). I won’t mention that Joe inadvertently rigged me up a Winston Air Salt 7 weight instead of an 11 weight. It would be another couple days before this became apparent, and fortunately I hadn’t really needed a GT rod to that point anyway. In his defense, Joe did set the rod up with a 12 weight reel and line so I had that going for me. Meanwhile the Bonefish rod he would be carrying around was an 11 weight Winston Air Salt paired to a 7 weight reel and line. As our host on the trip (meaning he was akin to a camp counselor for a bunch of homeschooled kids who’d never been to camp before), Joe also provided us with several flies we would need: Christmas Island Specials for Bones and most other things, and a handful of bigger baitfish patterns for GT Giant Trevally. Joe then sat down to tie up a few more GT flies (apparently the good ones, which he would keep for himself). Most of us had picked up a few flies on our own so we were well stocked in the fly department. I expected to lose most if not all of them to the coral reefs. Fortunately I lost only one fly all week and never had either my leader of fly line severed by coral.
I won’t go into detail about every flat fished or every fish caught because I can remember neither. A few fish do stand out, however. Most notably my first Bonefish. The learning curve required some getting used to, and the most challenging aspect of fishing the flats was training the eyes to spot Bonefish, which are perhaps better suited to virtually disappear into their environment as any fish I’ve encountered. When the wind wasn’t blowing too hard and there were no clouds, it was difficult to spot them. When the wind blew harder and there was cloud cover, it became damn near impossible to see them. Fortunately, or otherwise, we seemed to have plenty of sunshine, clouds, and varying amounts of wind. The first Bonefish came after great difficulty and was the only one I caught the first day. What I lacked in skill, the fish made up for with its diminutive size.
As the days progressed, so increased the ability to spot Bonefish (at least a little bit). As the ability to see them improved, so did the hook setting skills, and subsequently the size of the fish. I was continually blown away by our guides’ abilities to pick out fish that—in my eyes—did not exist.
Most of the Bones we encountered were either solitary or in very small groups. Occasionally we encountered greater numbers as they fed on the incoming tide, their quantities making them easier to spot. Despite that, they never became easy to catch and in several instances they were downright spooky and wanted nothing we threw their way.
One thing I quickly learned is that Bonefish, no matter their size, pull with a sense of great urgency unrivaled certainly by trout or even steelhead. My first Bonefish of decent size took me quickly into my backing. I don’t remember the last time I saw my backing and I was relieved that my knots held. What a thrill to have line ripped from the reel a breakneck speed as you ponder what size fish was on the other end of the line. Nearly every time the fish was smaller than I would have thought. Amazing fish, those Bones.
There’s more to fishing the flats than just catching Bonefish, and I wanted to experience as many species as possible. From the get-go we spotted a few other interesting characters and would continue to do so throughout the week. Most notable were the Milkfish, which get beginners all excited because we think they’re Bonefish until we learn otherwise (think bait and switch). Milkfish are easy to spot as their topsides are very dark and they swim in large schools.”Milks” rapidly became a familiar term issued forth by our guides as they sensed our misguided enthusiasm at the sight of these Bonefish imposters. It didn’t take long before we stopped casting to them.
Different species of Triggerfish were occasionally spotted in the shallows, their tails breaching the surface as they fed nose-down on the bottom. Despite being easy to spot, Triggers are very spooky and I must have cast to a half dozen fish before admitting to myself I wasn’t likely to get one. I was, however, very fortunate—and quite likely very lucky—to have caught two. These I considered real trophies because I’d made up my mind months earlier that I wanted nothing more than to catch a buck-toothed eater of crabs while on the island. The first was a smallish Yellow Margin Triggerfish (aka Pineapple Triggerfish). When fleeing from prey, Triggers hide under large rocks (chunks of coral). They also do this when hooked by an angling person, and if not for Max (our guide that day) I’d have never landed the Pineapple Trigger. Going the extra mile for me, Max knelt down in knee deep water and lifted the huge chunk of coral so that the Trigger could be extracted.
The other specimen was an even more smallish Reef Triggerfish (though not all that small for the species that typically only grows to a length of 11.89 inches). Also known as the Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, the Reef Trigger is the state fish of Hawaii.
We also encountered quite a few Puffer fish, which are rather odd and very common inhabitants of of the flats. They’re also undoubtedly the ones who get teased by the other fish as these portly individuals don’t put up much of a fight and grunt like small pigs when reeled in. I didn’t target any more Puffers after catching my first one, but nonetheless it was another species to check off the weird/cool list. Bluefin Trevally, a smaller cousin to the mythical GT Giant Trevally were an occasional thrill to catch. We saw several, caught a few, and they are—like Bonefish—very strong fish for their size. They’re easier to spot than Bones due to their brilliant blue accents, and also unlike Bones, which slowly cruise the flats, Bluefins are predators that boldly enter the flats to chase down anything they can eat. I was standing in shin-deep water doing who-knows-what as my fly dangled in the shallows behind me. Suddenly my line went tight as a 14 inch Bluefin tried to make off with my fly. This fish was bold and aggressive, if not a tad careless and naive. They’re such cool fish.
One more particular moment bears mention. No, not when Marck knocked his new prescription sunglasses off his head into the water and our guide had to dive in retrieve them, nor when he mistakenly drank the frozen bottles of tap water in the cooler (he never got sick). No, the noteworthy event occurred on our last day of fishing as we were headed back toward the marina earlier than usual. It had been a tough weather day, with some rain and a lot of cloud cover. We’d caught some fish but it had been challenging, so the idea of getting back to the lodge early didn’t disappoint us. It had also been a very windy day, the water was much rougher than we’d seen all week. As we rounded the point off the marina, suddenly the boat came to a stop in about 4 feet of water. As waves crashed against the side of the boat, Max—our guide that day—hopped out. The marina was only a couple of hundred yards away. The tide was coming in. What the hell was he thinking? Trust your guide Blind allegiance to your guide is the way it works, so Marck and I dutifully followed. We were soon blind casting and hooking up regularly. The Bonefish were stirring up clouds of sand as they foraged for supper, and we caught them in the middle of a feeding frenzy. For a good while it was some of the best fishing we’d had all week with some of the nicest sized Bones we’d yet to catch.
Meanwhile the water grew deeper by the minute. This wasn’t so much of a problem for Marck, since he’s about a foot taller than me. By now the water was up to my chest and my waterproof backpack acted as a kind of flotation device: handy if I’d needed to stay afloat, but troublesome each time a wave hit me. Max saw me bobbing in the waves, struggling to keep my footing, and signaled for me to come over to where he was. “Stand on this rock,” he instructed. I did as he ordered and was glad for the elevated perch, which bought me 20 more minutes of fishing before we called it quits for the day, and for the week. Fishing ended on a high note, and with a good laugh.
A trip like this is filled with simply too much to write about, and even if I could capture all the moments in words, nobody would take the time to read it all. Anyway, a picture paints a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with a few more fishing-related shots from trip.
It was a fantastic trip with a great group of guys. I can’t wait to go back again next year, when I’ll be a seasoned Kiritimati flats veteran and will only cast once or twice to Milkfish before realizing, on my own, that they are not Bonefish.
If you’re still awake, here is a handy link to Part 3.