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.... also known as Christmas Island or CXI. (Definitely not to be confused with the aussie Christmas Island.
Peter, Steve, George and I travelled together, but George had to go through hell to get to bone fishing heaven and back:
Smokers and non-smokers had a tough time enduring a frustratingly long night of anticipation for this moment – the first sight of the town of London, with the location of the Villages Lodge being up in the left hand corner of the lagoon – about 40 minutes drive from the airport:
I have to thank George and Peter for presenting the CXI trip bait to me again after I refused it in previous years – I’m now a hooked CXI fanboy for life. Peter, a veteran of several CXI trips, did most of the heavy lifting in terms of organising and haggling where necessary, and was instrumental in me getting to use at least 50% of the gear I lugged along – without that steady calm advice to keep things simple, being the helpless tackle slut I am, I would probably only have used 10% of what I would otherwise have packed.
Peter and George also showed me exactly what flies to tie (much more on that later.) After months of trading emails with packing lists, sources of fly tying materials etc and several beer’o’clock meetings at the local club to compare the growing populations of our flyboxes, the wading boot rubber was finally on the runway:
I also have to thank Steve for being the most entertaining male roommate I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a snoring chamber with, and especially for buying the duty-free whiskey on our way through Fiji. Steve is full of useful and unuseful information – such as there’s a sunscreen substance that drips out of brain coral – and it can double as solid shade when put on top of one’s head:
Climbing into the back of the truck/airport shuttle reminded me of living in Africa – no seat belts and lots of friendly people to carry my bags. Teanaki, the bloke at the back in this pic below is the head guide – always looking after us from arrival to departure. The guy sitting next to George is Nial Logan, the aussie booking agent for the Villages Lodge – top bloke, funny, helpful and full of fly fishing knowledge:
Once at the Villages we had a quick welcome briefing, and after some breakfast it was straight into wading boots and down to serious business:
The bloke on the right is Tim from the USA (currently based in Sydney) who joined our trip – top bloke with a brilliant knowledge of world affairs, that made for some very interesting conversations:
The elongated outrigger boats seemed pretty strange craft at first but over the week proved to brilliant platforms that nullified the lagoon wind chop and most of the swell outside, and were perfect for being ferried around the flats. This was all new to me but the guides were cool as:
We operated with one guide for each pair of blokes. For the first session, the two newbies , Steve and I, got the guides while Peter and George were left on their own to find out if they still had any skills at fish spotting and casting into the wind left over from their last CXI trips.
I was really glad to have a guide first up – it was literally stunning and quite unnerving that the guide could see fish everywhere but I could usually only see them after I’d spooked them and they scooted off to the edge of the flat. After a frustrating half hour or so of being told of fish coming (that were completely invisible to me) and stuffing up a dozen casts, mostly angling into the wind, I finally got my first little bonefish – all credit to the guide:
But that is just the beginning of the story. Quickly fast forward to the last session on the last day and I was fishing on my own, spotting fish like a pro, and only selecting the better ones to cast at:
The highest form of existence is play
Getting down to the bones:
The place is alive with bones – ideal habitat – Steve hit the nail on the head when he said: “They’re like cockroaches crawling over the flats looking for food.”
CXI is the biggest coral island / atoll in the world. (George told me that – so speak to him if it isn’t true.) It is surrounded by deep blue sea so the bones aren’t going anywhere – they’re spawned there and live their lives meandering the hundreds of flats inside the CXI lagoon and the perimeter beaches on the outside.
I’d never caught a bonefish before this trip and lived my life under the misapprehension that they are a difficult fish to catch – needing long accurate casts and very special flies. Okay the flies are a bit special and I must not discount the fact that I tied my hundred plus flies based strictly on the samples and advice passed to me from Peter and George – but honestly I reckon they’ll pounce on anything roughly the right colour and size bouncing along the bottom (hook riding up obviously.) I could not help thinking while sometimes battling to cast into the wind that flicking a little soft plastic on a jighead would be 1000x more practical and accurate. But I suppose the extra challenge of undoing them on fly is what it’s all about.
For flies probably the easiest approach is having a flybox filled with just two simple patterns, the famous sparsely dressed Christmas Island Special (the guides refer to this simply as the “orange” fly) and the Gotcha mostly in #6 but a few #4 and #8 as well – but in a variety of weights (dumbbell eye size) to be able to adjust to different depths from skinny angle deep to thigh-deep stuff with strong current and sometimes even into deep gutters or off the edge of flats into the channels.
Christmas Island Special – basically a worm imitation when bouncing along the bottom:
Gotcha – basically a tiny fish imitation:
Gotchas certainly live up to their name:
On the one day the fish were being particularly difficult at Paris flat, about 30 fish had point blank refused to eat my offerings, the guide went through every pattern in my flybox looking for something different to try. He said: “You’ve been here before – I see you have all the right flies.” I told him that it was my first trip but Peter and George had shown me what to tie. Anyway he found a size 8 Special with the smallest dumbbells and with that we hooked the very next fish he spotted for me:
I fished about 40% of the time with a guide, moreso at the beginning of the trip. That was about right for me – I had a lot to learn – but I am a pretty stubborn independent old fart and I prefer to make my own decisions about where to walk, what flies to use, which fish to cast at etc … even if it means I catch fewer fish as a result. Having said that, some of the guides were better at letting me have my way and were even bloody good company – like Bob, who managed to hold onto his own-rolled, dehooker, my spare rod, and get the job of quick fish pic done in fine style:
The wind was a issue – the only change in the wind while we were there was that it sometimes got stronger. But you learn to deal with it. So bloody what if the wind stuffs up a shot at a bone – you just look for the next bone and hope it’ll be at a more reachable angle across or down wind. And in any case the wind keeps things reasonably cool – CXI is almost on the equator:
Clouds are a much more serious issue than wind. It’s hard enough to spot bones on the flats when the sun is bright, but when the sun goes behind clouds you seldom see them till they’re so close they are about to bump into your boots – at which time the slightest movement trying to get your fly near them is likely to spook them. Clear skies were best, but thin high cloud was also okay:
On the other hand long bands of dense cloud were a curse, and we often had to move several kilometres to another part of the lagoon to get away from underneath them.
Most sessions we jumped on the outrigger boats to be taken to flats suitable for wading at the particular stage of the tide:
Some sessions were spent walking the beaches on the ocean side:
But my favourite was when we went to the back country by boat or truck and we could walk edges of ponds and the low ledges, some with a bit of wind protection and with a higher vantage point that made spotting fish so much easier:
The highest form of existence is play
One windy morning in the backcountry I had one of the best fishing experiences ever – etched into my brain - I'll be able to replay the mental tape in full colour full HD forever.
I had walked along a beautiful bay by myself, marvelling, soaking it in, spooking the odd bonefish, casting at milkfish and other odds and ends for no result, till I reached a low ledge on the lee side of this little peninsula, where I just stood for a while looking into still clear water.
Then I spotted this good bone ambling along towards me from about 30 meters away, only about 1 meter out from the bank. It took forever to come – stopping, fidgeting, turning around sometimes but slowly closing the gap. I put a cast out to about 20 meters parallel to the bank and just waited. When I thought the fish was within about 2 meters of the fly I gave it one small twitch – to my horror the gotcha was stuck on the bottom. But the bone obviously saw a tiny movement in the fly when I had pulled, it quivered momentarily and then pounced on the fly. It happen so fast I could not react – but by coming down on the fly the bone hooked itself and desnagged the fly in one movement. Off it went long long long into the backing – and three times the pink had to be retrieved back through the tiptop before the fish consented to a quick pose:
And it was a splendid way to notch up the first fish on a brand new rod too. I'm still glowing with satisfaction.
Not all the fish in the backcountry were bones – GTs were on the menu too – here’s one I picked up on the 7wt after a hectic scrap:
The highest form of existence is play
Imagine a place where the toughest job every morning is pulling on your wading boots – everything else taken care of. Bacon and eggs any style you like, bottomless filter coffee, all you can eat pancakes etc. Your rods, water, and lunch carried out to the boat all already waiting for you after breakfast. Service with a big smile and a massive playground of endless opportunities.
Some evenings we hit the sack early and exhausted, sometimes we stared at the chandeliers – the lads found them very inspirational after a good feed and a few sherbets ....
Other nights we had real live entertainment – dancing, singing, and a bit of ogling:
There’s lots to see and marvel at – including how the building foundations are actually being held up all over the island by an army of specially trained crabs:
Over dinner we’d often look at the giant map on the wall trying to figure out where we’d been and where we’d like to go the next day.
There are very many named large expansive flats and hundreds of unnamed smaller ones – quite likely some have never yet been fished – others get regular traffic (two anglers per day) but still produce. Every guide has their personal favourites – they’ve learned how and when to fish each flat depending on the state of the tide, moon phase etc – and sometimes they don’t share those secrets with other guides, but keep them up their sleeves when maybe they need to rescue a crap day for an angler.
Peter and George asked to be taken to “Lydia flat” where they’d had a great session last trip – only to be met with blank stares, secretive chuckles, and claims that there is no such flat – but it must be out there somewhere because Peter and George have actually stood on it!
We usually got to see between 2 and 4 unique locations every day. A couple of times I got to visit the same flat twice in the week – it took a fair bit of persuasion because they always had plans to show us something different. I managed somehow to wangle two visits to the ocean side of Paris flat - which they now joke they will name after me cause I liked it so much – I probably lived there in a previous life as a crab ....
....and two trips to a very special small un-named flat (one of Bob’s little secret spots) where I had a spectacular experience both times and especially fishing by myself for the last shortened session of the last day - spotting many big bones and catching well over 20 of them including my biggest of the trip around 6lb – so my transition from bumbling bonefish newbie to hooked-for-life bonefish fanboy was complete:
CXI has relatively untapped bluewater potential – and it’s incredibly accessible just outside the mouth of the lagoon. We had a small taste of it one day while heading across to Paris flat. The boatman took a course on the ocean side of Cook Island (situated in the mouth of the lagoon) to avoid some of the wind chop being fetched across the inner length of the lagoon. We found ourselves crossing incredibly fluoro blue water – spinner dolphins did their thing making us cheer and clap, and then came alongside the boat to say hello.
Somebody suggested we should not wast the opportunity and troll flies on the 12wt outfits. Peter and I got on the job. It wasn’t long and my reel was screaming – and I yelled: “fish on! fish on!” The boatman throttled back and instantly up popped a MASSIVE sailfish right behind Peter’s fly. Peter had a couple of shots at it as it veered off to starboard, inducing a half-lunge at his fly but alas no hookup. Meanwhile my reel was still screaming and getting hot – I applied a bit of extra palm pressure which gradually stopped the fish. I reeled in what felt like 200 meters of backing only to see a good size stripey under the boat – it turned and lunged across the back of the boat (which I could not reach around) and to avoid the line getting snagged under the motor I applied more pressure – but alas suddenly everything went slack. Later Steve had a go and pulled a nice little bluefin trev:
Next trip over there will see more time devoted to bluewater – no doubt about it.
Eventually all good things come to and end. And it was bloody good:
Interestingly when it came time to leave the news of Peter and George’s enquiries about the secrets of Lydia flat created quite a stir so the whole police force turned up to make sure we actually left:
On the way out Steve had the look of a man who notched up 99 bones – enough but not enough …
Somewhere down there in that maze of ponds, flats and channels is a 12lb bonefish ....
au revoir CXI ... we'll all be back:
The highest form of existence is play
Gem of a report William, just enthralling to read. Thanks a million for sharing that with us
Don't swim in a bait ball
Great report William. Fantastic photos. Well done. Glad the trip went well. I'm hoping to get there next year.
great stuff william , thanks for the report!
Great report William ... better than the other version too
As William indicated, I had to go through hell and back to get there ....... went through security at Sydney International at around 11.00 am, arrived Nadi International at around 6.30 that afternoon and sat around in the terminal for another 5 hours waiting for the connecting flight.
The call came to go through security again and I thought "only another five hours". Then the problem began.
Security "What is that Sir?"
Me "A cigarette lighter!"
Security "You can't take that on board Sir, you must leave it behind!"
No point in arguing "Well you can take it then" To myself "You rotten little bastard!"
Nothing special about it, just an average everyday BIC lighter, but being 12 hours without a smoke and another five before I could light up .... THAT lighter was my security blanket, my saviour, one of two reasons I was getting onto the next flight. Geez that Security bloke was a proper mongrel
The other reason is beautifully portrayed in William's posts and certainly worth going to hell and back to get there ... and I'll do it again, if only to get even with Tony, one of the guides.
After three weeks in Morocco a few years ago I developed a certain look, a stare the wife termed the "death stare" .... that warned off any Morrocan or Gypsy hawker well before they got into my personal space. Specifically reserved for the more shady looking types amongst them.
After a particularly frustrating, windy afternoon on Bob Delemos Flat where I knew I was trying too hard to cast into the wind and ending up with wide open loops with no penetration, rather than chilling out and working on my loop control, Tony suddenly announced "Geez your casting has turned to sh1t!"
He knew it, I knew it, and without thinking he got the ugliest death stare known to man ....... but before I said anything, he preserved sanity by saying "You stay here and I'll go and help Peter for a while" .. smart man!
But it was the best thing that could have happened, I was spotting fish well, knew what the problem was with my casting and in five minutes had cooled off, relaxed and was throwing "V" loops into the wind, way better than before.
30 minutes later I had an 45' upwind shot at an honest 8lb bonefish and went slightly long with the cast. A much larger one materialised [probably that 12lber William mentioned] and sucked the fly in before the smaller fish could cover half the distance to the fly. Flyline out of the rod tip before I could even think of controlling its passage through the stripping guide, 30 yards of backing gone, 50, 80 ... starting to slow and soon after they generally stop and come back at you to test your winding abilities ... not this one .. I felt a few lunges/headshakes .. and then he hit the afterburners. 3 seconds later the hook straightened.
It's what will keep me coming back. I can spot 'em, I can hook 'em, but bugger me the big ones are hard to get a photo of
I knew by the time it was taking you to post a report that you were baking something special, wow
well worth waiting for.
Well done William
The gods do not deduct from man's alloted span the hours spent fishing
Thanks for the fantastic report William!!
That bought the memories flooding back and now I will have to return to that piscatorial paradise and it's all your fault!
Thanks mate and well done
PS: Now starts the hardest part, settling back to cold old Sydney.
Is that a fish in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Great way to beat those winter blues,
Great report, I love that pic of the bone held up over the rod, the electric blue shooting off the tip of the fin-Perfect
Keeping it reel since 1983......
LOOP Pro Team Australia and NZ
Advanced Fly Fishing School Sydney
Master Certified Flyjunkie
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