Christmas Island Bonefish
By: Dave Kilhefner
Before the term bucket list went mainstream, I wrote “go to Christmas Island someday” on a piece of paper and shoved it in a drawer to keep the dream alive while I worked to raise a family. Photos in magazines captured my imagination; exotic fish taking flies set amongst the whitest beaches and bluest skies on earth.
That dream slumbered for a long time, then luck came knocking one day; an outdoor writer friend got an assignment to do a story and there was room for a backup photographer, and I was asked, would I like to go? Yes, yes, yes! Flights were booked, websites read with intensity,and I wondered if I’d have what it takes to catch a nice bonefish on a fly.
We stayed at the Ikari House in London, the capital town. It’s located right on the beach and very close to the boat harbor. “Ikari” is a fitting name; it means bonefish in Gilbertese, the local language.
It turns out if you go to Christmas Island and can make a cast that hits the water twenty or thirty feet from your sunglasses you’ll catch bonefish, probably lots of them. When the bonefish are biting, fishing is really, really good. At least once a day, the bonefish are in a biting mood! 20 plus fish days are the norm and 60 fish days are possible.
Fly selection is simple: if the water is shallow or you are hanging up, use a #6 or #8 Chili Pepper with bead chain eyes; and if it’s a little deeper, use a #6 Orange Christmas Island special, which has metal eyes. Leaders are simple too: 10 feet of 20lb Fluorocarbon tippet. If the fish are spooky, knot 3 or 4 feet of 15lb FC tippet to the end of this and you’re all set.
Bone fishing on Christmas Island sounds almost too easy, but without my guide, Moana, I would have been lost. Cruising bonefish aren’t called silver ghosts for nothing! They are nearly invisible and very difficult to spot. You have to mentally slow down, walk slowly and look for drifting shadows. Hurriedly tromping along the flats like a city slicker spooks a lot of fish.
You typically fish with one guide per two anglers, so eventually you’ll be fishing on your own and then fishing suddenly gets challenging. Being a somewhat focused individual, at first it was hard for me to appreciate the little things like the warm water swirling around my legs, the dizzying array of green and blue tropical colors and the smell of the salt air, but eventually I experienced a change in latitude and my sight fishing game came together. It seemed like every time I slowed down and let things happen, a bonefish would magically appear.
Sight casting to bonefish is the apex of the sport. Bonefish are easily spooked, so the trick is to cast close enough so they’ll take an interest in your fly without spooking them. I spooked a lot of bones at first because I’d see the bonefish and think “don’t cast too close”, but my cast would go right where I was looking, which was right at the bonefish and poof, bonefish gone! Eventually I started picking a spot about 5 feet in front or off to the side of the bonefish, and this little mental adjustment helped convert more sightings into hookups.
When the tide is right, usually in the afternoon, bonefish will school up in large numbers along big mud flats. While you can’t see them, they are there and it’s possible to hook one bone after another. Often this is how we ended our day.
Christmas Island is also home to other saltwater gamefish that take flies; triggerfish, milkfish, baby trevally, wahoo, yellowfin, sailfish, barracuda, and the coveted Giant Trevally. Chasing these fish with the fly will be covered in future newsletters.
Simms Flats Sneakers, Sun Clothes, Sun Gloves, Sunscreen, Buff, Good Sunglasses, 8wt rod + a spare, Saltwater flyline + a spare, 2 spools 20lb FC tippet, 1 spool 15lb FC tippet, a dozen #6 Orange Christmas Island Specials, six #6 or #8 Chili Peppers, a few #2 light colored Clouser Minnows,