Joshua Hutchins and his crew of mad anglers fly fish for Bonefish, GT’s and Triggerfish on the Pacific atoll of CXI- Christmas Island, Kiritimati
When our eclectic group arrived in Fiji — ANZAC anglers converging from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Christchurch — we were still only halfway to our destination. A quick stopover, a few beverages and we boarded the red-eye flight for CXI — Christmas Island, or Kiritimati.
CXI airport is small. In fact, calling it an airport is an exaggeration. The runway dates back to military occupation during WWII and the customs/arrivals building is a tin shed. We made our way through the makeshift shed, had our passports stamped, and waited for our bags to arrive. We saw a dozen or so bags transported off the plane — but nothing resembling the luggage of the 30 anglers standing nervously around me. We waited, we watched, the luggage trolley disappeared and our hopes hit the tarmac.
Long story short: the bags were never loaded. Here we were in the middle of an isolated fishing paradise, but our clothes, fishing gear, equipment, cameras and toothbrushes were in Fiji. With only one flight in and out each week our options were looking bleak.
Enter the unsung hero, Darren Asquith, and his merry men. Darren and his crew of fellow Australian anglers had just finished their week on CXI and were preparing to leave as we arrived. And despite most men valuing their fishing gear more than their second child, these guys selflessly gave us their rods, flies, wading boots and even sunscreen so we didn’t miss out. It’s this kind of camaraderie that makes me proud to be a fly fisherman. I also have to give credit to Fiji Airways. They took responsibility for the mistake, and arranged an extra flight three days later to deliver the missing gear. We were well overdue for a change of underwear by then!
Christmas Island is one of the best valuefor- money saltwater fly fisheries I have ever visited. I went into the trip wondering if it was over-pressured and if it would compare to other renowned saltwater destinations. But for a fully catered, lodged, guided week at around $3000, I can’t think of a better option for the price.
The trigger fishing was certainly the best I had experienced and the bonefish were there in remarkable numbers. Giant bluefin and golden trevally plus milkfish and others added variety. And the program could be changed daily according to which species each angler wanted to target. I came with the aim of finding a great winter escape — and a triggerfish or two. Christmas Island far exceeded those expectations.
BONES, BONES ANS STILL MORE BONES
CXI is the largest coral atoll in the world. That alone is enough to excite any saltwater fly fisherman. There are few fishing locations that not only rival the number of bonefish, but do so for an affordable price. We had settled into the basic Villages Lodge, right on the shores of the beautiful lagoon. Our plan for day one was simple: get out there and bend a rod on anything that came our way. We could focus on the fancy stuff later in the week. It was soon obvious that catching bonefish wasn’t going to be a problem. They were everywhere. Crammed into schools of up to 100, it was easy to rack up a hefty personal tally. In other areas, the larger bonefish cruised together in smaller groups requiring a more accurate cast. Even with borrowed gear, our group was having a blast!
Triggerfish, once an ignored species, have been recently (and deservedly) cast into the fly-fishing limelight. With teeth like your mother-in-law, yet colours like your missus’ make-up drawer, they are the Picassos of the fish world.
I’d first been drawn to triggerfish on a Seychelles trip late last year. Walking on the flats looking for giant trevally, we couldn’t help but be distracted by the colourful flaglike tails of the triggerfish parading above the water as they fed off the bottom. After five hook-ups and none landed, the goal of catching a triggerfish became even more addictive.
After that defeat, I approached our CXI trip with one goal in mind: to catch a triggerfish. As I found out in the Seychelles, hooking triggers and landing them are two completely different things. These fish are absolute bulldozers. Often hooked close to their home — a hole in the coral — they will do everything in their power to run and lock the “trigger” fin on their head into the rock so they cannot be removed. Many hook-ups end in disappointment. With this in mind, a nine or 10-weight fly rod is an appropriate choice when chasing triggers. Aside from their pulling power, they have very strong jaws coupled with nightmarish teeth — one chomp of the leader and they quickly run free.
Despite this, when all of Darren’s rods were handed out, I ended up with a sixweight. Always up for the challenge, I attached a trigger fly, and on day two we went on the hunt.
My first trigger went without a photo (did it even happen?). The fish made it to the guide’s hands and stupidly I asked him to place it back in the water so I could bring it into a shallower spot. Devastatingly, the fly popped out. After so much build-up and all odds against me, I had finally landed one, only to not even get a photo.
Well, no point whinging about it. We continued the hunt and two minutes later spotted a large trigger tail out of the water 30m away.
“OK, make the cast,” said Baaida, my guide.
“Strip, strip, strip,” he continued. Each word drawn out to mimic what he wanted me to do.
“Stop, let him eat it.”
“Set the hook!”
As the words tumbled out of him, I felt the pressure and simultaneously set the hook. The fish took off and even with a six-weight rod bent to the cork, I was somehow able to control it, keeping him away from the threatening coral.
With great excitement, we landed the fish and I was beyond happy to finally get my well-earned trigger photo. It was a beautiful yellowmargin trigger, aka peachface. The titan, or moustache, triggerfish evaded me on this trip, but a couple of our crew managed to land them. The yellowmargin and titan are typically the biggest and most sort-after of the triggerfish family.
When Darren Asquith offered us his gear, he also passed on some of his trigger flies and a piece of advice: “Be careful, they can be addictive.” Not only were his flies lethal, his advice was spot-on. I was soon chasing any triggerfish I could find, ignoring the bonefish. Triggers were the new name of the game. Plenty were hooked and plenty were lost, but we still managed to land a decent number among the crew. But speaking with Baaida, it was clear it wasn’t always like this. “Six years ago, when I first started guiding, no-one wanted to catch triggerfish. Now, everyone is trigger-crazy!” I definitely fit into the latter group.
HAMSTER AND THE GIANT GT
I never thought the sight of luggage would make grown men cry, but when our lost baggage was finally delivered on day three, I think some of the men were pretty close to tears. Being reunited with our gear, equipment (and underwear) was like Christmas morning — appropriate, considering the location. Things can’t buy you happiness, but fishing gear can get pretty close.
After everyone had embraced their possessions and been reacquainted with their toothbrushes, we had another boost to our already high morale. The tides were starting to gain into the spring sessions around the full moon, and our guides suggested those who like to chase giant trevally should do so over the next few days.
Always up for the ultimate tug-ofwar, Jimmy Laverty, (from Fly Odyssey Australia) and I were keen. Hamish “Hamster” Murray, having recently acquired a 12-weight rod, said he was also up for the challenge. “What fly should I use to catch a GT?” he asked as we prepared to head out. I reached into my fly box and pulled out a 6/0 black brush fly. “Take this one mate. Once you go black, there ain’t no going back,” I sniggered, not really knowing what that had to do with anything. At the end of the main lagoon, we were told from that point on it was walking-only. About 20 minutes of footwork later, we arrived at what looked like a landlocked lake. The guides assured us it was prime GT territory that often fills during a large high tide.
Ed found a barely alive bonefish in one of the near-dry tarns and decided to run it over to the main lake in the hope of bringing it back to life. No sooner had they revived the fish, than there was an explosion of water. The delirious bonefish had come face-to-face with an incoming GT in search of dinner.
“Big GT coming your way!” yelled Bob.
I wasn’t expecting a shot so soon.
“Ed, you take the shot!” I called, wanting to see him connect with his first GT.
“I can’t make the distance from here!” he replied.
Wasting no more time, I peeled line from the reel, and made the cast. Initially retrieving slowly, I waited until I had the fish’s attention then sped up before the fly was eaten. I set the hook, and began to clear the slack line from around my feet. I knew there was no coral or structure in sight, making it ideal territory to hook a large fish. No sooner had that thought passed through my mind than I noticed the line had wrapped twice around my left foot.
I desperately tried to get it off, even lying down on the flat, and calling to the guide to help me. But it was too late — 50lb (23kg) of giant trevally was trying to pull my boot off and, of course, the leader eventually broke. I couldn’t believe it — a big fish, easy terrain and somehow I blew it.
Later that day, I was consoled with a feisty 15-pounder, but the memory of that silver spoon GT giant lived on. My only other encounter with a large GT was one that tore along the flat to eat a large bonefish connected to my line. The GT then spat it out 20 seconds later. It was a crazy moment — and not so great for the bonefish. Back at the lodge, with some nice 10-20lb GTs landed, the talk was all about the big one. Yes, Hamster had got himself his GT — a stunning, silver, 50lb-plus giant.
“What did you catch it on Hamster?”
“The black fly you gave me this morning.” Anyone who has landed a GT of this size on fly knows exactly how special that is.
Bonefish: 6-8 weight fly rod, floating fly line, fly reel with 200m backing. 12- 20lb leader/tippet.
Triggerfish: 8-10 weight fly rod, floating fly line, fly reel with strong drag. 18-25lb leader/tippet.
Milkfish: 9-10 weight fly rod, floating fly line, fly reel with 300m backing. 16- 25lb leader/tippet.
Giant trevally: 12-weight fly rod, strong saltwater reel capable of 20lb drag with 300m backing. 60-100lb leader/tippet.
We stayed at the Villages Lodge for our week in Christmas Island, courtesy of Fly Odyssey Australia and Try On Fly. It’s are the only lodge on the island that provides a personal guide for each angler. This was a valued inclusion considering half our group had never saltwater fly fished before, and some had never caught a fish on fly previous to the trip. Amazingly, one guy in this situation caught bonefish, golden trevally and even a triggerfish — a credit to this amazing fishery.