Christmas Island, Kiribati

Christmas Island, in the central pacific Republic of Kiribati, has long been on my target list of fly fishing destinations. So when I got word from Jesse Cheape there was a empty spot on a trip to Crystal Beach Lodge I was quick to sign up. The trip was hosted by Joe Willauer of Evo Anglers and scheduled for the 29th April – 5th May, which coincided with prime GT tides.

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The lagoon is an amazing sight from the air

After a few false starts our group of 6, consisting of 5 Seppos and myself, arrived from Hawaii to blue skies and a glassy ocean. Perfect weather for flats fishing, unfortunately however our six days of fishing were to begin the following day. The weather during the trip remained good for the most part with rain a couple of nights and a couple of cloudy days that just encouraged us to chase trevally rather than bones.

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Great beach front accommodation at Crystal Beach

The newly finished accommodation at Crystal Beach is simple and practical making it a perfect angler base. Of course CXI is almost as remote as you can get in the modern world but still has the comfort of air conditioning.

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The flats taxi moving across the lagoon

The size of the lagoon and the incredible number of flats has to be seen to be believed. Each flat is unique and with varying fishing options to keep all anglers busy no matter the tide or target species.

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CXI lagoon flats map

CXI has a reputation for having a multitude of small sized bonefish, and we did catch bucket loads, however there are also plenty of big ones as well. According to some locals and guides the average size has been increasing since they became protected. The biggest I landed for the week was 7lb, but bones of any size are all worth catching.

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Solid 4lb bone from the first flat of the week

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No matter the size, the bonefish are always a pleasure

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One of the better bonefish of the week at 6lb

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Picturesque backcountry

The other main draw for anglers in CXI apart from bonefish are the trevally, including the highly sought after giant trevally or GTs.

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Clouds and storms shutdown the flats and turn attention to hunting trevally in the backcountry

Fish up to and exceeding 100lbs roam the shorelines looking for prey, usually milkfish or mullet, and can be legitimately caught on the fly. During our trip Joe Willauer nailed a monster that was estimated to be ~110lbs on his 12wt in a remarkable afternoon in which he landed 5.

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Was a deadset workout getting this ~80-90lb GT on the 12wt

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Back to harassing the milkfish and mullet

Golden, Blue and Bluefin Trevally cruise the flats and shorelines ready to eat a well presented fly.

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Trevally will eat bonefish patterns, sometimes even if you don’t want them too

Surgeonfish are common across the flats but aren’t normally a target as they rarely take the fly. However for some reason one took a liking to a GT deceiver and fought exceptionally hard on the 12wt.

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Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Acanthurus xanthopterus

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Only saw one skinny ladyfish for the week

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Plenty of one-spot snapper around the rocky outcrops and reefs

Yellow Striped Goatfish that took a fly destined for a Bonefish

Finstripe Goatfish that took a fly destined for a bonefish

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There seems to be endless shoreline in the backcountry

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Greedy little brownspotted grouper that nailed a fly presented to a triggerfish

Triggerfish are another main target on the fly at CXI, and we definitely saw our fair share. We spent the best part of two days targeting them but I still didn’t land one, while my partner Jesse nailed a nice one on the last day. They definitely aren’t easy, and interceptions from small trevally and snapper often spook them.

As it was my first trip to CXI I took a large array of flats flies to cover myself for the week. However in hindsight, a standard assortment of Christmas Island specials in pearl, orange and pink in varying weights from size 4-8 will cover most of the flats fishing for bones, triggers and trevally. Similarly half a dozen large (6/0) deceivers tied to imitate milkfish and mullet would probably cover any GT action.

Already I can’t wait to return and continue exploring more of the flats and species of Christmas Island.

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11 Signs You’re a Dodgy Guide

1. You tell clients whatever they want to hear

Don’t manage clients expectations. Talk up the fishing to potential customers, telling them whatever they want to hear. You know there aren’t any stripers around yet, but you won’t tell them until you’ve left the harbour, until it’s too late.

2. Communicate as little as possible with the client

Leave organising gear, meeting time and location to the last minute. Make the client call and email you. After all its the client that wants to fish with you, they should have to chase you up.

3. Pickups are best when they are as convenient as possible for you

The harder it is for the client to get to the meeting spot the more relief they will feel just having had made it. After all the journey is more important than the destination. Tourists? Without transport? They’ve come half way around the globe, another $100 for cab fare isn’t going to deter them.

4. Make it hard

If a client finds the fishing too easy they’ll wonder why they even hired you.  Therefore you need to be creative with your boat operation. When on the flats, loudly jamming the pole, kicking the gunnel and last minute boat movements during the presentation cast are the key.

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5. Carry limited flies

There are a few ‘go-to’ flies that you use for 90% of the fishing. Only take 1 or 2 of each per day. Once these are gone insist on using experimental or prototype patterns that have never caught fish before, unless they want to use their own. This will save you money and time at the tying vice. Also make sure you clip the fly off the clients line at the end of the day. You don’t get paid enough to let each client take home a used fly as a souvenir.

6. Don’t carry a net

Whether wading, poling or rafting, these $20 pieces of gear are too efficient at landing fish and keeping them healthy while removing hooks and posing for photos.

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7. Grab the leader

Once a client has hooked a fish, and since you don’t have a net, make sure you grab the leader as soon as possible into the fight. If the hook pulls it was because of a bad set and not your fault. The tippet may also break, lucky you’ve already got the client using their own flies.

8. Any photo is a good photo

So the client wants a photo, you’re a fishing guide not a photographer. Get this over and done with as fast as possible. If the angler and fish are both in the photo, you’ve done too well.

9. You leave fish to find fish

So the client has just landed one. Give yourself a pat on the back, then relocate to another part of the river, lake or fishery. Catching one fish after the other gets boring. This is also a good point to change flies.

10. Have a fish yourself

Whenever possible, carry a fully rigged rod. Tell the client that it is a backup or so you pretend to fish in order to protect more water from other anglers. Once the client is busy fishing further down the pool have a crack yourself. Make sure you get the client to stop fishing and take a photo of you with your steelhead, but don’t release it immediately. Check the photo first and make them retake it until you are satisfied.

11. You regularly quit early

Never mind that you told the client you’d fish all day if they wanted to, and you haven’t even had lunch yet.

Believe it or not, these are all situations I have experienced first hand. While there are plenty of good, hard working fly fishing guides out there, there are plenty that don’t deserve your time and hard earned dollars. Being able to tell these apart is sometimes difficult, especially when travelling.

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The Usual Suspects

Its high summer down under, which means peak season for many pelagics species on the East Coast. The fish have arrived and chased schools of bait into bays and estuaries along the New South Wales coast, making it the perfect time to target them from a boat or kayak. Early in the morning, late in the afternoon and sometimes even all day these fish bail up bait into balls of nervous water before carving them up like angry torpedoes.

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Truckloads of 50+cm salmon

Find the bait and you will find the fish, which most often consists of Australian Salmon, Tailor, Bonito and Kingfish. The athletic capacity of all these species could easily justify the use of rods in the 9 weight category, however they are dead set reel burners on a 7 weight, which I prefer to fish in open bays.

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Fly of choice, the surf candy

Extensive fly selections are not required as a simple surf candy on an intermediate line will cover most of a days action. Just pick the size to best match the bait and cast it directly into or around the edges of any bust ups. These swimming missiles slurp them down, often as soon as they hit the water.

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These salmon pull like freight trains

Pound for pound the Australian Salmon would have to be one of the top sports fish in the ocean, anywhere. Once hooked they feel as though they will never stop pulling. Hook into a big one, 60+cm, and be ready to go the full 12 rounds.

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Doesn’t get much better than Kingies on the fly

For most anglers big Kingfish are the ultimate summer prize. While there are usually good numbers of rat Kingfish up to 65cm (the legal limit), the numbers thin out above this mark. Landing one over this on fly is a real achievement and anything over 85cm should be considered a trophy.

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Plenty of rats, but a few half decent kings as well

Tailor are always about and often seem to arrive at the right time break a quiet spell. While not as revered by most sport anglers as the other species mentioned, they do fight hard, and as long as they aren’t biting through your tippet are always good fun.

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Even the larger Tailor go pretty hard

No doubt there are bigger fish in the sea, but for a day on the fly, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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The Gold Rush

Gold fever first hit New South Wales in the 1850’s, when payable gold quantities were reported by Edward Hargreaves at Ophir in the Central West.  Thousands of men flocked to the region in search of their own personal fortune, with varying degrees of success.  Bernardt Holtermann and colleagues hit pay dirt and discovered two of the largest gold nuggets in history.  Amazingly, the smaller of the two nuggets measured 1.5m in length and weighed 286kg.  It contained an estimated gold content of 5000oz.

Holterman with 630b gold nugget from Hill End NSW

Holtermann with the 286kg gold nugget from Hill End NSW

These days most of the known gold producing regions in the Central West have been extensively mined.  However, for those that know where to prospect the region still has plenty of trophy size gold nuggets to be found, albeit of a different kind.

The Central West plays host to an multitude of freshwater dams and rivers that provide access to prime Golden Perch, aka Yellowbelly water.  The jewel in the crown is Windamere Dam, near Mudgee, which is arguably the best trophy Yellowbelly fishery in the world.  The dam extends for approximately 14km over through Cudgegong River valley.  The waters hold Silver Perch and Murray Cod but the Golden Perch are the main attraction for most anglers and can grow anywhere up to 9kg.

These fish are without a doubt worthy quarry on the fly rod.  When the conditions are right, Goldens can be found cruising drop offs and shallow feeding bays hoping to encounter an easy meal.  These fish can be targeted with dark coloured Woolly Buggers tied on sturdy hooks in larger sizes.  The woolly bugger is good representation of minnows and small yabbies which form a major part of the diet of these well feed footballs.  Shallow bays provide good opportunities for sight fishing to behemoth sized fish lazily working along the banks.

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Football sized Yella

Like most Australian freshwater natives, environmental factors sometimes induce a strong case of lockjaw, resulting in tough fishing.  On these days it is best to target the deeper holding structure with larger flies.  Any submerged timber close to ledges or in deeper water is prime.  The Zinger fly has become our weapon of choice for this scenario and is highly successful at arousing expressions of interest and aggressive responses from otherwise dormant fish.

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Nuggety gold

When hooked these hefty brutes surge in lunging runs towards the closest snag or deep water.  Often locking up is the only way to keep, straining even 8wt rods and 6.5kg fluorocarbon to near breaking point.  Pound for pound these lake fish won’t fight quite as hard as their river siblings, but due to their huge paddle like tails, they will put down an incredible amount of power for a short period of time.

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Big shoulders

Land one of these iconic Australian nuggets and you will go home as happy as Holtermann.

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