Christmas Island Trip Summary December 1-8, 2015: If your aim in life is GT fishing, and that is what you live and breathe, our week wasn’t the week to be on Christmas Island. In fairness, the tides (neap) were not ideal for GT fishing according to everyone I talked to, and we knew this before we booked our trip. Out of all four fishing lodge operations on the island, after talking to everyone in the airport on departure day, I didn’t hear of a GT over 25-30 pounds hooked or landed by any fly angler on the island the week we were there. In addition I heard of less than a half dozen adult GT’s hooked in total. They just weren’t really around. I heard all kinds of reasons for this from the tides, to the fish are only conditioned to chumming, to they all got trapped in the milkfish ponds. Whatever the reason, they were a rare sight for most anglers during the week. Diane actually never laid her virgin eyes on even one adult GT on the flats. My experiences consisted of three sightings for the week (not counting the milk pond fish), one about 200 feet away ripping across the flat crushing bait – maybe a 50 pounder, one about 70 pounds that snuck up a channel and smashed some poor unsuspecting baitfish about 125 feet behind me. You should have seen me running after him like a crazy person. The last shot was the one I got, a dream shot at two tailing ones in the 25-30 Lb. range of which the smaller of the two crushed my fly. Honestly this makes the one I caught look a whole lot better since I was one of the lucky few that caught one during the week. That pretty much sums up our trevally fishing. The bone fishing we experienced is probably up there with the best in the world, but could be classified as simply too easy. There are so many that sometimes I caught them every couple casts by blind casting on the flats. I personally only landed about 3 total bonefish over 6 pounds for the week. I am sure it had to do with water selection. I caught a ton of babies. The onetime I fished a flat closer to the open ocean, I did see and hook some giants (being 8 pounds maybe) and they ran me into the coral, which I sickly enjoyed. I felt they were worthy and a challenge. Sadly we had to vacate this flat as the tide came in and that was the last time I saw some of the large semi pelagic bones that inhabit the island. Now to the prize! I was told by some veterans of Christmas Island to spend time in the blue water, and I took that advice to heart. It’s important to note that blue water fishing on Christmas Island is not like blue water fishing anywhere else. There are no shiny white boats equipped with twin Volvo diesels, fish spotting towers, the latest electronics and outriggers. Blue water fishing in our case consisted of taking an open outrigger canoe into the open ocean powered by one 40 hp Yamaha outboard and hoping for the best. I never actually determined if there were life jackets on board, and I either missed or didn’t hear the safety talk, but I assume they were hidden somewhere in the outrigger canoe. Unfortunately for Diane, she missed the first day of blue water fishing chained to a toilet in our room with a violent stomach bug most likely brought on by sampling a local delicacy made from fermented coconut juice called Koke Oke. As she turned her insides out over her ill-advised decision to sample the treat, what I got to experience out on the open ocean was nothing short of magnificent. I had been advised to bring my own blue water tackle since most of the lodges do not have any. I brought two spinning rods, one rated for 50Lb braid and the other spooled with 400 yards of 60 pound braid and a selection of blue water lures including 2 giant marauders in orange and greenish blue. This ended up being invaluable. What I quickly determined is the Marauder would act as a teaser drawing all the predators in the area to investigate an easy meal. Then I fished a giant pink sailfish fly over the top of the Marauder on a 550 grain 30 foot sink tip. Some of the large super predators would actually eat the marauder and it was game on, but a ton of reasonable sized fish would also take my fly. My score card by myself for the first day of blue water fishing included over 20 solid hookups. Notably, I hooked two sailfish – which jumped and threw the fly, one giant blue marlin which ate the marauder and ripped 300 yards of line off the reel in about 30 seconds before jumping twice and throwing the 2 pound marauder lure 30 feet in the air. Thankfully all the big tuna ate the marauder on the conventional rod, and the little guys under 30 pounds ate my fly. I have no desire to catch big tuna on a fly because they sound and they are difficult to pull back up from the depths, but I caught and landed 2 under 30 pounds on my fly rod which were great fun. I also landed 3 smoking hot wahoo all about 20-35 pounds on the fly and several barracuda. They keep everything you catch on Christmas Island for the village to eat and the bottom of the boat was a blood bath. When we got back to port, some of the locals would take the fish and cut the heart and entrails out to eat. Apparently the heart and liver is the best part of the fish and has the highest nutrient value. The last day of the trip, we made an incredibly wise decision and decided to go blue water fishing again since Diane was feeling better (always bring a Z pack anti biotic!). She had missed the previous two days of fishing cooped up in our room with her stomach bug. Since I had dragged a tackle shop with me on the plane, we invited the other two guests at the lodge to go with us and I loaned them my tackle. The fishing was slower that day with about 15 hookups, but it ended up being monsoonal conditions out on the flats and as it turned out, we heard from the other anglers at the airport that the flats were virtually unfishable most of the day due to pouring rain and overcast conditions. We hit the lottery on our choice. We had a great blue water day again with multiple wahoo, including a 50 pounder Diane caught, multiple tuna, and barracuda, but sadly no billfish. We brought in another fish haul for the locals. We fished one day at the famed “Korean Wreck” which by the way isn’t there anymore. This area was very cool and we caught a ton of different kinds of fish. I started that day off with a broken rod in the first 10 minutes, followed by a size 6 Christmas Island Special BURIED in the joint of my index finger up to the shank of the hook. I got a nice picture of the blood running down my hand, but regrettably was in too much shock at the time to take a great close up of hook buried in my finger. I hooked one trophy size blue trevally in the 20- 25 pound class that headed out to open sea before coming off, and I caught a big spotted pompano off the beach which looks sort of like a permit. Diane caught a bunch of small trevally of different shapes, sizes and color and some bonefish. We also each caught a couple of brightly colored parrotfish. For all the lodge operations on the island, the Korean Wreck area is a 2 hour drive down the coast to the furthest end of the island on a rough washboard road. Regrettably on the way back at the end of the day fishing, I was counting the rods in the truck rack and realized our guide had accidently left Diane’s GT rod sitting on the beach. Thankfully it was right where we left it, so make sure to count your rods before heading back after your day of fishing, or your butt will be sore after the extra-long ride! In comparing other countries I have visited in the past, I have to give the people of Christmas Island credit for surviving in such an inhospitable place. Despite their challenging living conditions, they are the friendliest people I have met. I know this sounds cliché’, but In general, most of the people smile and wave (especially the tons and tons of little kids) and there is ZERO begging by any of them like you might find in other undeveloped countries. The people clearly accept their living conditions as a normal part of life and from their perspective; we are the outsiders with the odd lifestyle. From talking to our guides, most of the people have never been off the island and they have nothing to compare their living conditions to besides what they see on satellite TV. I found the people on the island tend to be proud and they try to maintain a strict sense of culture. The island has large communal buildings called Maneabas where families like to congregate and spend time together. When asked about the intent of the large communal gatherings, I was told they are used for fundraising activities for the church and act as places where each family goes to share food, information or celebrate family events like marriages, birthdays or holidays. At their core, the islanders have very little material wealth, but they go out of their way to raise money for their churches. Because of decades of missionary influence, they seem to be deeply spiritual. Birth control is almost non-existent on the island which one guide credited to the influence of the church and this makes sense considering the droves and droves of little kids. Personally I found the kids to be amazing and they were everywhere. I’ve never been anywhere where there were so many kids. They are such happy little kids always waving smiling and calling out the words “wise men” in their native tongue. I do think next time it would be a great idea to bring a couple of bags of candy to hand out to the kids. I asked the guides if this would be acceptable, and they indicated such a kind gesture would be widely appreciated. While having so many kids in such a remote area seemed alarming (many families had up to 10 children, but no effective way to support them other than a mostly subsistence lifestyle), it seems to serve an extra purpose on the island. The guides informed me that the average lifespan is around 45-55 years of age. Very few residents on the island make it beyond their seventies. If they do, the government provides a cash bonus and rights to land for living that long. I was told there are approximately 7,000 residents on the island of which only a few dozen were elders older than 70. I don’t know if this is exactly true, but the guides I spoke with seem to expect to live until their 50’s and they candidly talked about it which I found shocking. I can say I did not see many elders around compared to the eager throngs of children. I think I would have a panic attack if my life expectancy was 45-50 because technically, I would be almost dead. The constant waves of children keep the community going and generations replace generations quickly due to a lack of basic services including access to basic medicine and prevalent malnutrition. I was told heart disease and strokes were the main causes of death on the island and this was attributable to the lack of nutrition, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Most don’t speak English, but some of the younger kids are being taught English as part of modern curriculum. The more rural part of the island seems to be the town of Banana near the airport. I don’t know this for certain, but it looked more rural compared to the suburbs of London. People lived mostly in thatched huts with no running water, electricity or sewer from what I could tell. Instead water is collected by cisterns that drain from the roof. In contrast, London appeared to be more modern and industrial in nature – possibly the business hub on the island. This is near the harbor where the fishing boats depart each day. We picked up some of the guides at their homes in London and they were constructed of cinder block or made of corrugated metal. My guess is guiding is one of the more lucrative ways to make a living on the island. One possible sign of wealth might be the ownership of a block house compared to a thatched hut, and the ownership of livestock which mostly consisted of pigs tied by one leg to a stake in the front yards of homes. Most of the homes do not have windows and many have thatched or patched together roofs made of metal or palm fronds. I asked about the pigs, and was told that they are the only source of fresh meat on the island. Apparently almost no vegetables are able to grow in the poor soil and most are imported from Hawaii. When a pig has piglets, the piglets are shared and raised by many different families. When a pig grows large enough to be slaughtered, a get together would be thrown where families would gather in the community hut to share the bounty. The attitude of sharing seemed to carry over into fishing too. When we brought our catch in from blue water fishing, the fish would be dispersed among different families and at least one local on the beach just randomly walked up and took one of our fish to which the guide just shrugged. There are two important things to know about the culture that would have been helpful to know in advance. One is that the people don’t always make eye contact and the other is that there is a custom that if a neighbor needs something, they can just come and take it. When we tipped our guides at the end of each day, they usually didn’t look at us, which at first might be considered rude based on Western ideals. The second custom explained why random people could just walk over and pick up a fish, and the guides would just let it happen. Knowing these two things just helps make sense of the whole experience. Christmas Island is a rough, difficult place to live. The people are fantastic, the flats are gorgeous, and the sky is huge and the Korean Wreck area is raw and beautiful. The blue water fishing is astounding; but there is some concern as to whether the large Tuna processors from Asian countries are exploiting the people and their natural resource. I heard rumor that the moorage fee for a giant Tuna processor is $750 per day, and that the boats, tenders and helicopters are supposed to be fishing 100 miles out from the island. With no police force, military or other type of enforcement, I wonder if the people of the island are being taken advantage of. The harbor held nearly a dozen large processing ships when we were there, and I can only imagine the tons of fish they are scooping up somewhere off the coast of the island. Already rumors are circulating regarding damage that might be occurring to the islands main natural resource. Diane’s stomach illness dampened the trip a little bit and it kills me to see Diane miss 2 days of fishing. The weather we experienced wasn’t the best and we experienced epic rain resulting from an El Nino year which I hear is very unusual for the island. While we were there, many of the streets were flooded, and we experienced rain most days somewhere either at sea or on the flats. We had a little bad luck with lost rods (which were found), broken tips and hooked fingers, and long drives, but overall, I would go back and do it again. It’s close and convenient to Hawaii, and the fishing opportunities are endless. They don’t believe in lunches, so bring your own snacks to supplement. I saw some lodges had enclosed vans for transportation which would be good for long rides and rain, and I wasn’t a fan of group shuttling in the traditional outrigger boats because it cuts down on a ton of fishing time when shuttling multiple anglers all over the place. Oh how I longed for a Hells Bay skiff or Maverick and the freedom to be unattached to other anglers! You end up going on a boat ride a lot of times because you are meeting up for lunch and fetching and moving anglers about all the time to different flats. I would also probably stay at a place closer to the harbor to maximize fishing time. All in all, we have a ton of great photos from this trip and looking at them, you would have thought we died and went to fishing heaven.

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