K iritim ati A Fresh look at Christmas Island Outfitters
By Andy Archer
After more than 40 years in the bonefishing limelight, Christmas Island remains the ultimate saltwater playground. Photo: Ken Morrish
illions of years ago, there was an eruption at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. As lava pulsed from the sea floor into the deepest water on earth it hardened into rock and built a volcano so massive it broke the ocean’s surface. Over time it became dormant, but with its presence came life and the birth of a future that few could have predicted. It became a beacon for birds and its submerged slopes acted as prime habitat for coral and marine life. As these underwater communities grew around the fringes of the seamount and rose to the surface, the volcano sank under the weight of the life it now supported, back down to the depths from which it came. What remains today is a coral atoll. A tiny dot surrounded by endless blue that is home to the people of Kiritimati, the fish of the South Pacific, and a sanctuary for 37 species of tropical birds. On the coral rim of an extinct volcano, one of the oldest and largest this planet will ever know, anglers wade in shallow, warm, turquoise waters and watch their fishing dreams unfold in front of their eyes. This is Kiritimati, the one and only Christmas Island.
A World Away For over a decade, Fly Water Travel has sent more anglers to Christmas Island than any other destination. With its massive size, incredible populations of flats species, 12-month season, and consistent weather, it continues to serve as a portal for countless saltwater anglers. However, it is important to understand the realities of life in this faraway place before planning PAGE 84
your trip. Christmas Island is essentially a sub-third-world locale. For the fishing outfitters and inhabitants, obtaining basic food items, supplies, water, equipment, and tools is a massive challenge. For many that live on Christmas Island, their version of an insurance policy is a fattened pig tied to a palm tree by its hind leg. This real-life rainy day fund is the best assurance they have for putting food on the table if the rice runs out or the cargo ship cannot make it due to weather. Another stark example of life on Christmas Island was recounted by a client of ours. He visited the local “hospital” (a cinderblock hut) and stood in amazement at the sight of intravenous tubes extending from a patient’s arm directly into a green coconut. For locals, basics like potable water can be hard to come by and a majority live in homes without electricity. Ultimately, the island’s lodges do the very best they can with what they’ve got, but when a spark plug breaks or the island runs out of sugar or a door handle snaps off, the closest hardware, grocery, or auto supply store is an 1,800-mile, five-week voyage across the wild Pacific Ocean in a slow-moving cargo ship. If ever there was a destination where traveling anglers were required to go-with-the-flow, Christmas Island is it. If you cannot wrap your brain around spending thousands of dollars to visit a place where you may, on more than one occasion, be required to smash a cockroach with a flip-flop, fall asleep to the click-clack sound of a hermit crab crawling across your
KIRITIMATI room, or spend six days eating basic whitebread sandwiches for lunch, then this is likely not the place for you. If by contrast, you appreciate the spirit of true adventure, the skill and kindness of some of the most talented flats guides on the planet, and the faraway beauty of a prolific saltwater environment, a finer place is hard to find.
A Target Rich Environment Why Christmas Island? In the minds of many, it is because 100 percent of the fishing here takes place on foot. There’s nothing like stalking the white hard-sand flats and hunting fish with your eyes peeled, your rod at the ready, and a trusty guide at your shoulder. There was a time in Christmas Island’s history when literally everything alive (including bonefish and giant trevally) were on the local menu. From puffers to snappers, milkfish to sharks, if it swam or had fins, it was for dinner. Thankfully in 2009, residents agreed to enforce long-term regulations to protect bonefish and trevally from commercial harvest in the atoll’s lagoon. Today we are seeing the benefits of this ethos as well as an incredible array of additional species to throw a fly at. Bonefish and giant trevally are really just the tip of the iceberg. With five
species of Pacific trevally, three species of triggerfish, sweetlips snapper, wrasse, grouper, parrot fish, blacktip sharks, milkfish, and many others, there is always something to make a cast at. Additionally, the bluewater is home to turbocharged species like wahoo, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, rainbow runner, mahi mahi, and sailfish. Together they can make for overheated drag systems, tired arms, and breathtaking catches of species you will not find readily available anywhere else. It’s truly a target rich environment and when it all comes together, walking the flats can seem like a wade through a skinny-water aquarium with fish scurrying around your knees in all directions. Often you may not know exactly what it is you’re casting at but it certainly will not stop you from trying!
Christmas Island Outfitters Managed by head guide Bita Kairaoi, Christmas Island Outfitters is recognized as the island’s most experienced guide team, consisting of hand-picked and highly trained professionals. All have excellent eyes for spotting fish, calm temperaments under the pressure of sight fishing, and are skilled instructors. Christmas Island Outfitters boasts a highly flexible flats fishing program that can take full advantage of varying tides and fish-
“If ever there was a destination where traveling anglers were required to go-with-the-flow, Christmas Island is it.”
ing conditions. Guests with Christmas Island Outfitters stay at Sunset Horizon Fishing Lodge, which is positioned on a beach on the ocean side of the island just North of the main village of London. Accommodations are rustic, simple, and non-luxurious. Sunset Horizon has full time power, air conditioning, and access to WiFi for sending texts and emails back home.
What’s On Your Bucket List? Words frequently fail me when trying to describe Christmas Island to someone who has not been there. The sights, sounds, and intensely brilliant array of sea life radiating out in all directions simply has to be seen to be believed. For anglers that can look past the island’s grizzled exterior, live with the most basic food and accommodations, and embrace a go-with-the-flow attitude, this trip can be life altering. In addition to the fishing, what keeps so many anglers coming back year after year is the people they meet along the way and the opportunity to witness a life so different from their own. For a population that lives with very little and exists under the day-to-day strain of an uncertain future, they are among the most patient, happy, and endearing souls you will ever meet. We speak with many clients that come back from the island having experienced incredible fishing yet they are primarily focused on the magnificent time they spent with the guides and locals learning about their lives. Some have walked the sandy streets of makeshift settlements becoming familiar with native construction techniques or attended church with their guides and families. Others have started rotary chapters, international
aid organizations, campaigns to improve medical services, and donated their time and expertise to medical missions. Christmas Island is the one destination in the Fly Water Travel catalog that lands on just about everyone’s bucket list. It is a place that carries with it all of the romance and adventure that make it the saltwater destination that others are measured against. Even the most well-traveled globe-trotting anglers still sit around riverside campfires or on faraway beaches and dreamily talk about Christmas Island. This atoll in the middle of the Pacific is a uniquely transformative place. For many returning anglers, it is the place that never changes but it has certainly changed them. As you toast the sunset after your first day on these magical flats, you will be among them.
Travel: Guests fly to Honolulu and overnight before taking the once-a-week charter flight to Christmas Island. Season: Year-round Capacity: 12 anglers Essential Tackle: A 9-foot 8-weight with a floating line and 12-weight with a floating line. Top Flies: Christmas Island specials and brush flies. Rates: $2,570 plus an estimated $1,100 charter flight from Honolulu.
Images from the island and the blue water beyond. Photos: Dylan-552-2729 Rose and Anil Srivastava 1-800