First Saltwater Trip Perspective // The Ikari House
After returning from my first trip to the tropics, I feel incredibly fortunate to have visited this remote fishery with such a great group of anglers. Every year Red’s hosts a multitude of saltwater destinations, and on many of these are guys and gals who will be taking their first shots at Bonefish and other high stakes flats species. I will outline some helpful tips on travel, gear, and of course fishing technique from a newcomer’s perspective.
It is well known that Christmas Island is not the most developed fly-fishing destination, and as such the packing and travel was something I put a lot of thought into. I personally, chose to carry on my rods/reels as well as all my fishing gear in my waterproof backpack. Looking back, the only change I would make is wearing my flats boots on the flight from Honolulu to CXI. This ensures you have the bare minimum to fish for the week. I am sure Bob will cover this in his trip report, but a few bags were lost by Fiji Airways, because of this many of us swore to wear our boots on the plane for the next trip! Another thing to note was having a copy of my pre-paid bag receipt with Fiji. The ticket I booked with Fiji required me to pre-pay checked bags and I’ll just leave it at I was happy I had documentation of that when checking in.
As with any big fishing trip lots of gear is involved and having the right kit makes a difference in your success and enjoyment.
For clothing the standouts were sun shirts with built in buffs, quality boots and sun leggings. I really came to like having a shirt like the Simms guide hoody with a sewn in neck gaiter. The perforations in the mouth area really cut down on moisture fogging your glasses and the cuffs are built longer with a thumb and finger loop to act as backup sun gloves. These shirts are certainly expensive, but having these sun protection features built into your shirt are a great insurance policy on a trip like this.
Having a good set of boots is important on Christmas Island. Most of our group were rocking the Simms flats sneakers and mine are still looking new after a week of walking on coral. A couple of guys brought knock off flats sneakers and the soles fell off on day 4.
While I might have been the butt of some jokes because of my sun leggings, I am very happy I had them. Wearing a UPF tight under shorts is a great system because it eliminates the drag pants have in the water, while keeping your legs protected. This is not for everyone but I would highly recommend it.
I generally like a hip pack for my trout fishing but for this trip the overwhelming advice I got was for a waterproof backpack. I took the current version of the Simms Dry Creek. I was satisfied with this bag and selected it over others because of the included water bottle pockets, as well as the webbing on the hip belt which I was able to use to build a system for carrying my second rod. This is something new to me, but by adding a loop of elastic for the butt of my rod and a gear tie to the welded tabs on the side of the pack I was able to easily carry my 11 or 8wt rod. It’s probably best to test a few ways of carrying a second rod with your pack before you go.
Thanks to the shop and our generous guides I was able to borrow and try several different rod, reel and line combos. I started the week fishing a Winston Air Salt with a Rio Elite bonefish line. When the conditions were clear and sunny, I felt like this was the ideal setup for shots 40-60’ and the bonefish taper does land softer than other lines. The fast action of the Air Salt also helped cast the larger, heavy eyed xmas island specials we fished at Paris Flat and I felt that this rod had a lot of fighting power in the butt. Overall, I preferred the Thomas and Thomas Sextant paired with a SA Grand Slam Line. The slightly less aggressive tapered rod paired with the shorter head of the Grand Slam made quick shots easier and faster. On the cloudy days, I couldn’t see the fish at 60’ anyway so short and accurate shots mattered more. My GT setup was an Echo Prime 11wt paired with a Rio GT line. Overall, a great setup and certainly a rod I’d recommend as a more budget friendly option for GT.
As far as reels go, I used reels from Lamson, Redington, Galvan and Nautilus. I don’t want to throw any brands under the bus because I was using some non-saltwater specific reels but there is a huge difference in durability and longevity in the higher price tag U.S. made reels. I took all the reels I used apart when I got home and the only reels with no water or noticeable corrosion in the drag systems were the USA made salt specific reels. I also never appreciated certain reel features such as enlarged handles or numbered drag systems when trout fishing but found them very helpful on this trip.
Finally, when it comes to preparing your gear, don’t overlook the little things. Having a few different types of quality sunscreens, electrical tape, and lots of lens wipes were all super important on this trip.
Fishing Tips and Lessons Learned
When you have anticipated a trip for months or years there can be a lot of pressure that first day to get into fish right away. I know I was feeling some of that myself. I think knowing that there will be some slow times either due to lighting or tides can take some pressure off. I did not understand how water depth, bottom composition, and tides can cause huge swings in the fishing. By the end of the week, I had a decent formula that helped me have more fun and be ready for different species. Of course, the guides will help you greatly with this but at times we would depart the boat and I’d ask the guide “should we be bone fishing or GT fishing?”: often the answer was yes…bonefish, gt and triggers (all of the above) not always the clearest as to what rod to hold. What I generally found was if the water was midcalf-ankle deep I could spot bonefish well and would focus on bonefish if I was away from the guide. If we arrived on a flat and we had a lot of walking through midthigh-waist deep water I would hold my GT rod. The reason being that in the deeper water it is very difficult to spot bones, so you might as well be prepared for a chance at a GT. I also landed several nice Blue Fin Trevally simply because I had my 11wt in my hand when the bone fishing was slow. Also, when dealing with clouds rolling through, I would try and post up in a section of white sand because it’s much easier to spot fish on sand vs corral. That way when the sun poked out you have a better chance of seeing a fish, the guides showed me this and I think it’s something to try when fishing alone. A final thought regarding tides, there will simply be some down time and this was a great time to ask the guides questions and clarify how to strip ect.
For all new saltwater anglers, myself included, the biggest challenge is spotting fish. There were a few techniques I picked up on that helped me get better through the week. The first is to focus on movement not color or shape to initially spot the fish. To help your eyes pickup on a bone cruising the flats, the guides will work slowly and look at a section of flat scanning without moving your head. After that area has been cleared you can turn your head and look in a new direction. After all of that we’d take a few slow steps and repeat. Once a fish has actually been spotted is when I’d try and examine its shape to make sure it wasn’t a puffer or milkfish. The best analogy I’ve heard is to look for a torpedo shape to help confirm it’s a bonefish. I also learned that once I spotted a bonefish I would not take my eyes off the fish when casting, stripping ect. If you lose sight of the fish your chances of a hookup go down significantly. When you can see the fish during you cast and presentation you can speed up the strip when a fish turns in interest (definitely preferred by the smaller bones) as well as recast when a fish changes directions.
Just like all types of fly-fishing managing line is very important on the flats. I initially started out holding too short of loops, this caused many tangles and resulted in ripping the tip section of my rod off when I hooked a bonefish. Bobby and our guide Mark got a good laugh out of that. One of the guides Chris showed me a system of holding the line that is very similar to spey fishing. You start by stripping out the head plus 5-10 feet of running line. Cast the line out and strip in until you have a loop the same length of your rod and make each loop slightly smaller. I’d hold the fly in my hand with about a rods length of line out. The finished product is about 3 or 4 loops which I found to be much easier to keep straight. If you need to take a break or get something from your pack, hook the fly on the stripping guides and this keeps your fly from snagging. I also found I could hang the loops of line on the rod butt, then hold the rod between my legs when I needed to get into my pack and be right back to fishing.
- Bring several pairs of sunglasses with different lenses, everyone’s eyes are different and you’ll likely find one color is superior for you.
- Practice knots, usually when we had to retie it was because we saw a trigger fish and needed a crab pattern on or because we broke a fish off. You want to be efficient so you can get back to fishing
- Have backup rods, reels, lines. Christmas Island is a pretty harsh environment on gear I found out. The day we went to the Korean wreck Bob tracked our total miles traveled and it was over 100. That’s a lot of rattling and bouncing on a fly rod!
- Think out a system for taking pictures. I certainly did not take as many pictures as I could have because my phone was buried in my pack. There were guys who had waterproof phone cases on a lanyard and that seemed to be a good way to have your phone accessible and safe.
- Hand the rod to your guide. Unlike guides in the states, xmas island guides generally won’t take your rod and demo stripping for you unless you ask them too.
- Xmas island specials with various rubber legs seemed to work better some days for the fly tyers out there.
- The guides wanted longer slow strips for the big tailing bonefish and shorter quicker strips for smaller, faster moving bones.