—=== Due to the large amount of Media Collected on this trip, this post remains a work in progress and will me modified for about a month as I get the stills and videos edited ==–
Click to see the Flikr Photosets
This last week marked my fifth trip to Christmas Island to fish for bonefish. It was a special trip because of the company. Along for the experience were my twelve year old twin nephews and their dad, as well as my old Christmas Island roommate- Rolland Kumagi (the luckiest fisherman in the world). Every trip I have taken to Christmas Island has been unique. Different Moon Phases, tides, personalities and fishing conditions makes for unpredictable fishing and weather but the experience has always been unique and exciting. We had variable weather from downpours, medium to heavy clouds and wind all the time, what I would call typical Christmas Island weather which somewhat correlated to the Weather Underground predictions. The tides were not as ideal for ocean side flats but despite all the negatives, this last trip did not disappoint and was the best trip for us to date.. Fishing the “shangra la” of bone fishing with Michael and Mathew as they experienced flyfishing bones for their first time was much like experiencing my kids at Disneyland for the first time. Wayne and I had been hearing through the Flyfishing grapevine that the fishing and accommodations at the Villages had been steadily improving since our last trip nearly 6 years ago. Also , there had been some rumors about how the island was slowly sinking as a result of climate change. Wayne and I, months in advanced began planning and packing 50lb bags capable of carrying a cornucopia of fly and conventional fishing tackle for 4 people as well as 50 lbs of camera and video equipment including a Flying Video Drone. In addition to the gear, Wayne was delegated the job by Fishabout of delivering soccer-balls and team uniforms for the Village’s Soccer Team. I was delegated the job of attempting to upgrade the Villages Hotel wifi distribution hardware. We flew. We pushed the weight limits of carry on both domestically and internationally. We made it through customs there and back with kids in tow.
The fishing was as phenomenal as we had heard. There are many species of fish you can target on the reefs and blue water of Kiribati. Not just the abundant large bonefish of the flats, but also five species of Trevaly, Tuna, Wahoo, Black Marlin, Snappers, Trigger Fish, Queenfish ( that jump like trout when hooked) , grouper and a couple more gigantic aquarium fish on steroids. With six days to do it all, our foursome, especially the boys, worked the flats like a vacuum cleaner catching on average 30 bonefish a day , with Wayne guiding one of the boys, and me amassing a huge amount of photographic and video media not fully in the fishing game, coaching, cheering and just enjoying the boys experience. The Bones were bigger than in years past and for the first time over the week, there were many 5-8 lbrs and one of our group caught a 31 inch bone estimated at ll lbs. Unlike years past, we saw occasional schools of 5-15 bonefish coming at us in waves on the flats. Also with one Guide per angler at the Villages, the numbers certainly have increase for everyone, including experienced anglers, The guides were for the most all excellent at spotting bonefish and doubling your radar range if you weren’t looking in the same places. For the majority of the time, we mainly used them to carry rods, take pictures, and hunt Mantis Shrimp for consumption at dinner. Maybe no where on the planet can one dine on these unique shrimp with regularity. These insect like foot long subterranean shrimp taste like a cross between lobster, dungenous crab and shrimp but you have to sacrifice a pair of bonefish eyes for that experience. All the guides who were any good at catching them had scars from encounters with the shrimp’s speed of light claws.
And then there were Trevaly like I have never experienced. In years past, I had a few shots at GTs over 20 lbs on the flats and at the preserve but never converted. If you targeted GTs all day, you might have a couple more, but the shots I had were so accidental and I botched them all not having line stripped out of my 12 weight ready to cast within 10 seconds of spotting a feeding GT. Rolland “the lucky” again this trip managed to spot a feeding GT that lingered in the area long enough for him to strip line out 30 feet of line and successfully cast, tease , hook and land a 40 lb GT on the flats this trip. Last trip he also caught a large 20 lb Blue Trevaly on a bonefish rig by “coincidence”. I cant seem to convince him that he is just getting really skilled having fished with him in Loretto, Alberta and twice in Christmas Island. He remains humble and skillful in his 70s. But as for the 6 other experienced flyfsihermen in the group, many Trevaly were caught in the 5 to 25 lb range my largest just around 15 lbs on an 8 weight. The true Giant ones eluded all but Rolland and Wayne who also landed a 20 plus actively feeding GT on the flats. The trip making experience for me was not breaking my personal best fish but to watch the kids out fish us all on fly and conventional caught GTs.
You know the saying that luck favors the prepared? This is particularly true when fishing for GTs since any flaw in preparation typically results in a lost fish and opportunity. Luck also favors the young and those kids who are lucky enough to have prepared mentors. My virgin Sage Xi3 twelve weight, carefully filed with 100 lb spectra, an Airflow Trevally fly line, a 5 foot 100 lb test leader and a size 2/0 Synhead rattle Fly, tasted first blood on a huge Trevally in the hands of 12 year old MIchael. Our best GT days were spent fishing the outlets to the preserve where the GTs often feed in schools and where the islanders raise milkfish for consumption. The Preserve is an unpredictable place.To experience large numbers of Feeding GTs around the Preserve involves precise timing based on moon phase and weekly tides Having fished the preserve on several different days during the week, we lucked out and had a large school of bait slashing GTs move into the small bay we were fishing on our first day. We never saw that again during the week and either did the other three boats. The thought of getting the boys on film landing a GT on a fly was beyond any expectations I had. I managed to record two of them in one day. By the end of the feeding melee, they even got a double both landing 30lb plus Trevaly within minutes of each other. Between the both of them they had 4 shots and converted three on fly rods all over 30 lbs. Michaels first shot with my rod ended up with the fly line wrapped around his foot. All 80 lbs of him would have flipped over feet first had the guide not grabbed his belt. It makes me wonder how much thrust a 50 lb GT can generate in the first minute of being hooked. Fortunately, the 100 lb test straight leader broke at the loop before dragging him in. In adddition, both boys hooked trevally on conventional gear and pencil poppers. Many 15-20 lb Blue Trevally were caught between the two of them off the edges off the flats.
The most memorable moment for me was the last one hooked on the preserve on a pencil popper on a Calcutta Baitcaster with only 120 yards of 65 lb spectra topped with 20lb mono and a 100 lb shock tippet. Both boys worked on that fish but somehow they managed with the help of the guide who saved the fish from slicing the line on the coral by running out 100 feet and raising the line over the peninsula as the GT ran like a freight train for blue water. The battle was as epic as the explosive strike which sounded like someone had dropped a boulder on the popper. It came down to 20 feet of line left on the reel but Michael kept his cool and ran 100 yards down the shoreline while reeling line to gain the upper hand. The fight lasted 20 minutes, and at one point Mathew came in and pumped the fish in while Michael recovered for the end game. As the 50 lb fish came in for the final time, swimming slowly and spent, the guide waded out and tailed the biggest GT I have seen in person with the pencil popper stretched taunt with only one hook in the lip. Only the barb of the bent hook was holding that fish as it was landed. The hooked gently separated from the fish as we tailed and beached the behemoth. Any slack in the battle or handoffs would have surely lost that fish. It was truly impressing to see the boys work together with no jealousy or panic on that fish. What has taken me 50 years of experience to learn was intuitive to these two remarkable boys raised by an expert fly fishing father. Not only did the boys out fish every adult in the group on numbers, species, and sizes at 12 years of age, P1010399they did it with fly rods, conventional rods and handlines! One day, after watching the guides handlining snappers for their personal dinners, the boys decided to have a contest to see who could handline the most snappers from the rocky shoreline. They ended up filling a bucket with over 40 snappers in a couple hours and then went back to fishing the flats with fly rods and conventional Trevaly rigs. They learned to catch puffer fish with their bare hands on the flats and they both targeted and landed a Black Tip shark on the flats with conventional and fly gear.
The villages have greatly improved since we were last there only 6 years ago. Gone is Tenake and in is Neamia as head guide. We learned from our guides, a new one each day, that the Villages is the premier employer of guides on the island. Our eclectic group of guides were impressive with many of them having guided at all three major flyfishing lodges on the island. Talking with exiting fly fishing patrons at the airport, it was clear that although all the lodges have something to offer, the Villages is the most “accomidating” with superior air-conditioned rooms, clean facilities and one to one guide ratios. Also the villages have a new week long laundry service that cost a mere 20 dollars a week. I would have brought less clothes had I known. The new facilities are wired with Australian three prong sockets but converters were available for our american two prong devices with the voltage conversion in the sockets. Only weeks ago, the Australian Telecom Company converted over from a 2G island wide internet infrastructure to a 3G one leaving the Villages with no active 3G receiver and no internet at all. I expected at least a working internet at the lodge to improve but was put off by the telecom company for a week never getting an appointment to trouble shoot the main source of internet to the lodge. Wireless Internet in the rooms would make the lodge truly perfect with the ability to communicate with work and loved ones halfway around the world . Christmas Island is the only lodge I visit where I go dark to the world for a week. Perhaps Im trying to ruin a good thing since it did feel cleansing not reading or respond to an email, text message or hardware problem for an entire week.
The food was excellent with sashimi, fresh fish and lobsters nearly every night. The staff were as friendly and accommodating as any resort I have ever visited. Heartfelt smiles and service from all the staff at the Villages is the norm. We were greeted by singing and music upon arrival and serenaded at our departure. In the middle of the week , we had local village musicians and young children perform a talent show for our benefit during dinner. One can still get sick from the tap water in Kiribati so some precautions should be taken when showering, brushing teeth and eating any raw fruits without using bottle water. One day I observed 4 guides pass around the same piece of dental floss. I forget how precious simple things like toothbrushes and floss are to the islanders. Unfortunately, my roommate got sick on the last day but Cipro and LoMotil saved him on the flight back. Something Wayne and I have been doing for years has been taking a swig of Pepto Bismal before every meal for the entire week . So far it has kept us good but we never go without Cipro and LoMotil.
I have always been fascinated by the non endemic coconut palms on the island. If you look at them closely, they are planted in rows on the island. Apparently Captain Cook brought them to the island where they have taken over through the years. Now they are a staple food for the island. We enjoyed the coconuts, drinking the water and eating the pulp of ice cooled coconuts almost every day. We learned how to de husk them and open them to drink “survivor style”. The islanders also told us about the local medicinal plants found on the island including the “Salt Plant” used to treat asthma, coughs and wounds with the fluid from the leaves. They told us an interesting story about coconuts grown in the low lying parts of the island having a paralyzing effect on the arms and eyes which lasts for about two hours. They warned us that they look the same as the “good” ones but have serious side effects since they thrive on salt water vs fresh water. There is a unique Crab on the Island that feeds on coconuts. Its a huge spider like crab that has been known to climb coconut trees and shake the Nuts of the tree to eat. We learned how to cook freshly caught snappers by throwing them whole onto the embers of a palm husk bed of coals. One day we dissected a highly poisonous Puffer Fish to use as mantis shrimp bait. The guides showed us the poisonous organs that make “Fugo” a dangerous food to eat.
I had an interesting talk with one of the local biologist / fishing guides at the lodge about the effect of global warming on the future of Christmas Island. He told me that there were two recent scientific expeditions sent by the US to assess the issue. in summery, both studies show that the island corral is growing faster on Christmas Island than any other island in the chain. Tarawa is the island sited in the recent press that has prepared land in Fiji in the event the island sinks into the ocean. The biologist/guide showed me flats that 20 years ago had sharks and tailing bonefish that have been bone dry for over ten years. The scientific research estimates that Christmas Island is rising 3 centimeters per year out of the ocean. A week ago, two Richter 7 earthquakes in the Pacific created tsunami warnings for the entire chain of islands while we were there. The guide told us in his entire life, he and his parents and grandparents can not ever recall a tsunami that swept over the island. He did mention that every ten year starting in 1972, there were years of flooding rains which put the milkfish in the streets of Kiribati where locals were actually netting fish in town. However, for the last two ten year cycles the big water years have dwindled. Statistical evidence suggests Christmas Island is getting dryer and rising. Im feeling more confident that Christmas Island will still persevere for Michael and Mathew’s children to enjoy. I would definitely want some of my ashes spread over the flats of Christmas Islandand a dry land would facilitate that..
This year, my carry on luggage contained all the camera and video equipment for my Christmas Island shoot. The cameras I brought were three Customized GoPro Hero 3s with polarizing filters, a Lumix GX7 and a Lumix GH4. I brought my Ultrawide 7-14mm, my long 100-300mm, my fixed prime 12-35 , A 75mm prime portrait lens and a 14-140 all purpose lens. A pair of tripods, a monopod and a Gopro Clamp mount, As much as I liked the GX7 because of its small form factor, I did manage to carry the gh4 on the flats. It was my best camera and I felt guilty not carrying it in the event of an epic fish and NOT having my best stuff. That said, shots taken in exotic places of unexpected events, deserve the best gear at hand. Still ill have to agree with Dr Barry Kliger, that the largest micro 4/3 camera beats the smallest full frame 35mm body and lens any day where you carry a camera more than a mile on your belt of backpack.
I used the heck out of the Quickshot tripods in the water with GoPros to the point of driving the guides nuts preparing the video shot every time they told me to cast at approaching bonefish. I got good at spotting approaching long distant fish since I used the extra time to prepare putting the tripod in the water and turning the loop mode on before the fish came into casting range. Two batteries every three hours seemed to work out fine. I never needed to carry any GH4 batteries on the flats if I started the day with a full one. and I took a lot of 4k video on the flats. Offloading the media to a portable hard drive every night and charging all the batteries took about two hours a night. Maybe a new 11 inch MacBook Air with a thuderbolt drive or USB3 would significantly increase the speed.
The DJI Phantom Vision was worth the extra hassle even though I only shot one day of video with it when we fished the ocean side flats. I had no problems through customs carrying it onto planes as my one check on luggage and declaring my ThinkTank camera backpack as my personal item. I used my Ipad Mini to FPV fly the drone and was surprised that it was very difficult to calibrate it or acquire GPS sats on Christmas Island which is 20 miles from the equator. The only place I felt semi comfortable flying the Quad was over the sandy beach so I could put her down on dry land quick in case I lost control and confidence.. I didn’t dare launch off the boat in the middle of the ocean when my app was telling me I had NO gps sats and the lights were blinking red and green indicating a malfunction or error in calibration. On the ocean in bright sun proved difficult to see the screen and turn on and calibrate the Quad Copter. I will need to practice this more. The ocean side flats aerial video was great. Even with the 15 mph winds that never stopped. Maybe I am better at flying the DJI Quad than I think because despite thinking I had acquired 8 GPS sats, in reality I had misread having 0 GPS sats and was flying no GPS that whole day! I read that being near the equator and clouds should NOT effect the number of acquired GPS sats but that water or heavy magnets (like from the TSA) might interfere with compass calibration.. Without Compass Calibrations, the unit wont acquire sats. and you fly NAKED and RISKY.
For my next Christmas Island trip, I enjoyed hanging out in Honolulu with Gina so much that I think we should have stayed a week before going separate ways. Also, the bonefishing is great on that island. Also, Check out the Kids Web Site. www.synstwinsfins.com For more pics and a different perspective of out trip.
A short list of a few things I would change for my own itinerary