There is no denying that Christmas Island has stood the test of time as a bonefishery. For decades, Christmas Island has been visited on an annual basis by large numbers of dedicated anglers. They travel from every corner of the globe arriving nearly every month of the year. In fact, if you ask almost any veteran bone fisherman, it's hard to find someone who hasn't been to Christmas Island at some point in his or her fishing career. There was a time when some argued that it was the best bonefishery in the world? Is Christmas Island still as good as it used to be? Is it still worth going to Christmas Island these days? The answers to these questions vary from year to year and from angler to angler. It really depends on whom you ask. There is no doubt that the atoll has a loyal following. For instance, at the conclusion of our week, I ran into a gentleman at the Christmas Island airport. He had just finished his 15th visit to Christmas Island in 25 years. I asked him how his week went... he simply said, "great as always!"
OK... Christmas Island is clearly a mature destination. Most American anglers know its reputation as a bonefishery. But, the fact that traveling anglers from all over the world are still visiting this destination, in the numbers that they do, tells me that there's something else going on here that's really worthwhile. I think the anglers that truly have this place figured out have tapped into the diversity of the fishery as a whole. They don't just bonefish! Yes, they chase the bones when the tides are right, but also the GT's, various reef species, wahoo and even tuna. Not only have they diversified their target species, the guys that really succeed at Christmas Island are the crossover anglers. Inshore fishing doesn't always mean fly gear. The savvy Christmas Island anglers nowadays come prepared with both fly and light tackle spin gear. They do whatever it takes and they don't get hung up just fishing with a fly. They just catch fish and have a blast doing it.
Our question here at A.D. and the very reason for our visit to Christmas Island this year was this: how best to approach Christmas Island's diverse fishery once you've moved beyond the lagoon's bonefish. We suspected that the answer to that question would have to do with where you stay and certainly it's tied to the length of your fishing day. I mean, less travel, longer days and more time on the water generally equates to greater opportunities, whatever the species may be. Accommodations at Christmas Island have always been at traditionally land-based lodges. Take for instance the Captain Cook Hotel. The Cook is a government-owned, cinder block structure that could use some serious sprucing up. Despite its well-worn condition, it's serviceable to a degree. The Cook has been the benchmark for the island guests since the beginning. Other lodge operations have come on-line over the years and the island currently supports four traditional land-based bonefish lodges. A couple of these lodges are actually quite nice. In fact, we book our anglers at one lodge and have had great results.
However nice the accommodations are, the daily operation of a land-based lodge dictates your day, your fishing schedule and often your fishing success. A typical day at Christmas Island has you arriving to your first fishing spot around 8:30 AM. That's after an hour-long ride in the back of a pickup truck and then an equal amount of time in an outrigger "party barge" that ferries you around the lagoon. So two hours into your day, you're finally fishing. You then essentially have the same ride home at day's end. That's a lot of productive daylight fishing time lost to simply getting the anglers to and from the fishing. Remember that Christmas Island is one of the earth's largest coral atolls. The typical lodge program has you back to the lodge for cocktails usually around 4:30 PM. That's fine... it's how lodge operations work all over the world. Should an angler dare to ask... is there a better way? An extremely diverse fishing resource is available for you at Christmas Island... you are there for a limited time... why not take advantage of the fringe fisheries that exists right under your nose, early and late, every single day?
Well... if you're truly into the diversity of a fishery, that prototypical lodge schedule really cuts into your fishing time. For instance... you miss trolling at first light for the wahoo bite or casting flies or plugs to blitzing schools of yellowfin tuna at dusk. And those tuna continue their feeding frenzy long after the sunset. You don't see that from the lodge! Why should these fantastic fishing opportunities be excluded from your day... any day? Again, Christmas Island is so much more than a bonefishery! Some of the lodges on Christmas Island deliver world-class fishing opportunities. However, most lodges on Christmas are set up for bonefish and follow that traditional guided bonefish lodge daily schedule. Don't get me wrong... they do a superb job at it! I'm not suggesting that the angling community suddenly turn their back on the bonefish lodges of Christmas Island. It's just for me, given the way I like to fish, I want a little more from the experience. Getting out early for a morning or two, even staying out late one night, can usually be set up through one of these lodges. It costs a bit more, but who cares! This is how the aforementioned light tackle anglers tap into the diversity of this resource and how they find their success. But, you are still limited by conventional fishing hours and miss much of the dawn and dusk hours, the most productive time in the tropics. Why should these super productive fishing times be excluded from your experience... after all, it's your experience.
As I said before, the key to fishing Christmas Island is in its diversity as a fishery and in your ability to be flexible in your angling approach. For those anglers who might enjoy burning the angling candle at both ends, yet still cherry pick the optimal mid-day tides for bonefish, we may have something for you. Mind you, it's not something that will appeal to every angler. You have to be a bit rough and tumble and possess lots of energy... in other words, you need to be a fish-a-holic. For those extreme individuals, there now exists a program stationed at Christmas Island where up to four anglers a week can fish till they drop. It's a live-aboard operation. This program offers both traditional guided bonefish opportunities, as well as easy access to the wilder side of fishing during those early and late times of the day. The only things holding you back here is your angling endurance and the amount of daylight in your day.
The ringmaster of this three-ringed angling circus (flats, reef edge and bluewater) is an American ex-patriot surfer named Chuck Corbet who, 25 years ago, resided in Costa Mesa, California. Disenchanted with the crowded waves of the Golden State, he relocated to Hawaii to pursue his surfing passion. Once in Hawaii, it wasn't long before the very same thing that drove him from the mainland, the crowded waves, drove him from Hawaii as well. So began Chuck's exploration of the South Pacific in search of virgin surfing spots. Chuck adopted a way of life that dwells in the soul of very few individuals in today's modern world. Chuck is a true adventurer and explorer. The nickname given to him by the elite in the surfing community is "Atoll Man." Over the years, Chuck's life and adventures have been chronicled in the pages of many popular surfing magazines. As a true ambassador and elder statesmen for the sport of surfing, combined with his knowledge and experience in his unique environment, I'd be confident in making this rather strong comparison... he is the Lefty Kreh of surfing and a true legend to surfers.
By hook or by crook, Chuck explored the South Pacific and lived off the bounty of the sea. Chuck found his way to all of the places that we as anglers only dream about fishing. Now at 50 years, he's long given up stowing away on freighters and commercial fishing boats to travel the high seas. Chuck now owns and captains the 60-foot, steel-hulled, sloop-rigged sailing vessel named Tuaraoi (pronounced two˝a ˝roy), which in Kiribati means... "To share." Chuck's boat, built in Hawaii in 1988, has circumnavigated the globe and is a sturdy, functional, albeit close-quartered, base from which to operate. Recently out of dry dock, the boat went through a major refit in July of 2007 and is P.A.D.I. Certified.
Although not fancy, Chuck's boat has all the creature comforts to make an angler's stay safe and pleasant. The boat's features include a Bimini covered cockpit where delicious outdoor meals are served, an autopilot navigation system, washer and dryer, cabin air-conditioning, chest freezers to store your catch, two en suite marine heads and 110 AC power with standard American plugs. There is a cabin in the bow that sleeps four people very comfortably and the crew sleeps in a second aft cabin that sleeps three. At sixty feet in total length, the Tauraoi is not really a large boat by live-aboard standards. To anglers who have never spent any time in the narrow confines of a sailboat, this size might feel somewhat cramped at first. But that issue goes with the territory. By the way, during our trip, we never got around to testing the boat's AC. That's the beauty of a sailboat, with the bow anchored into the breeze, the open hatches delivered cool comfortable sea breezes that could never be matched by any hotel's AC!
For now, the testing grounds for Chuck and the Tuaraoi will be Christmas Island. He's got a great place to start where he can build and polish his live-aboard fishing operation from the ground, or should I say "the water line" up. With Chuck's experience and his explorer's nature, it won't be too long before we set sail with Chuck to more far-flung destinations in the South Pacific. Trust us when we tell you that certain atolls reachable by the Tuaraoi are pure angling nirvana. We have been trying to get to some of them for many years. We may have finally discovered our way! Stay tuned to our "Destination X" page for the latest adventures.
For the moment, Chuck and the Tuaraoi are Angling Destination's "diamond in the rough". Super nice folks, but they still have much to learn about the nuances of fly fishing and the needs of fly fishermen. What makes Chuck tick is exactly what makes him the perfect candidate for such an extreme program as this. More simply stated... you don't survive more than 20 years island hopping in the South Pacific, on virtually no funds, without having some serious skills as a person... whether it be a surfer, diplomat, boat operator, navigator, mechanic, cook, first aid provider, fisherman... whatever? You survive with these skills on the sea or you go home... or in the worst case... you vanish! Chuck is an interesting character to say the least. At first observation, he might appear a bit too laid back with his "island time" surfer's mentality. Make no mistake about this, when he smiles and says "no worries", he means it. I'm confident that in no time his program will be T-squared and servicing the needs of our more adventuresome anglers. We will keep you updated on Chuck's progress and expect, under AD's watchful eye, that he will be ready to host anglers by the spring of 2008.
Until then, let me leave you with this "very real" scenario as to why one should consider a live-aboard program for their next Christmas Island fishing adventure. What follows occurred every night while we were on-board the Tuaraoi:
The sun would drop over the horizon in about forty-five minutes. I'm standing on the aft deck of the Tuaraoi with my four buddies. We have four ice-cold beers in hand. We are enjoying what remains of our day here in the lee of Christmas Island. In the distance, and moving our way, is a mass of seabirds working a school of bait, a "breezer" its called. From the Tuaraoi deck, I can see sizable yellowfin tuna feeding under the bait ball. The tuna are exploding from the churning white water created by the frenzied bait and the diving flock. It's quite a sight as predators from the two distinctly different worlds of air and water do their unmerciful best to ruin the day for the unfortunate French fries of the sea, the baitfish. Meanwhile, the mayhem continues to move closer to our floating lodge. I casually ask one of my companions "Is that 12 weight rod still rigged?"
"Yup," the answer comes quickly from my like-minded friend.
He knows exactly where this is going! Suddenly, a half dozen 40 pound yellowfin tuna clear the water by six feet not more then 200 yards off our port stern.
"WOW... did you see that?"
"Hey Chuck... ummmm... can we go chase those fish?"
"Sure dude, hop in the tender, I'll drive. You had better grab your headlamps and that gaff. If you hook-up this could take a while."
Minutes later, not quite a mile from the beach, we are lined-up and casting our flies into a boiling mass of sea foam, bait, huge fish and birds. This time the shot is perfect, one strip... two... a third and I'm tight! In a flash, the fly line, as if divinely guided, clears my nervous fingers, engages the spool and the reel's drag drops into hyper-speed.
"Looks like fresh sashimi is on the menu again tonight boys!" I exalted.
"I wonder what the lads at the Cook are doing right now?" Eric added.
An hour later, in the pitch dark, we motored back to the Tuaraoi with $800 worth of fresh sashimi and my fly rod caught "fish of a lifetime". It simply doesn't get in better than this!
Written by: Todd Sabine