Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas Island Trip Report

What follows is a report filed by Jim Woollett and Doug Jeffries detailing their trip to Kiritimati (Christmas Island) beginning November 7 and ending November 15, 2016.  
This is a very detailed account and offers a good overall view of their trip to the atoll and as such, offers valuable intel for anyone considering a trip to Christmas Island. There is an addendum to this trip report available to anyone interested. Just call 800-211-8530 or e-mail scott@anglingdestinations.com
Angling Destinations booked their trip with Christmas Island Outfitters. Thanks to Jim and Doug for this report!



DISCLAIMER: The content and recommendations in this report are based on Jim and my observations and experiences during our trip. Where applicable we tried to determine if our experiences were the norm, were consistent with current trends, or were unique to our particular week. Others who have been to Kiritimati may or may not have similar experiences. Our purpose in writing this report is not to open a debate or cause argument but simply to transcribe what we learned. Nothing more, nothing less.



Accommodation, Meals and Transportation
As does nearly every angler preparing for a fishing trip, Jim and I had a variety of questions.  Since neither of us had been to Kiritimati, we did lots of research using the internet and talking to people who had been there before as well as to the outfitter.  We bumped up against confusing bits of advice and some questions for which no one seemed to have a sure answer and sometimes we received conflicting answers which caused us some trepidation.




When we talked to people who had been to Kiritimati before, the first question they asked was where we were staying.  We had booked the trip with Christmas Island Outfitters but that isn’t the name of the lodge.  In the literature we received, it stated we were staying at “The Shark’s Place”.  It turns out the actual name of the lodge is now Crystal Beach Lodge (since 2006).  Taka is the general manager of Crystal Beach Lodge.  The outfitter who provided our guides and arranged for boats and drivers and scheduled the days fishing is indeed Christmas Island Outfitters and is headed up by Bita (Peter) Kairaoi (a protégé of the famous Moana).  The lodge and the outfitter operate independently of each other but work well together to ensure the trip went smoothly for all.



There are four main lodging locations on the island.  Crystal Beach Lodge, The Villages, Icare House (icare means bonefish in Kiribati), and Capt. Cook’s.  Each can accommodate varying size groups of anglers, birdwatchers, adventurers, or people who just want to get away.  I do not know the total quantity of available beds but I suspect at capacity 40 – 50 anglers could be on the island during a week.  We can’t provide details about the other three, but here are some facts about Crystal Beach Lodge.
The lodge has three accommodation buildings, two are complete, one is in the final stages of completion and is expected to be ready for occupancy by January 2017.  The buildings are cinder block construction, with four suites, two on the ground floor and two on the second floor.  Each suite can sleep two anglers so the lodge can accommodate 16 anglers now and 24 when the final building is complete.
Each suite has a bedroom with two twin beds, a small hotel-room size refrigerator, and a table with two folding chairs.  Each suite has a bathroom with shower, flush toilet, wash basin, and closet cabinets.  Each suite has air conditioning – or alternatively you can open several louvered, screened windows and get excellent cross ventilation from the prevalent coastal breeze.  Once the sun went down, the rooms quickly become very comfortable with temperatures in the mid-70’s.  We preferred to leave the air conditioner on because it helped lower the humidity.
Power to the accommodations units is only on from 5pm until morning.  The power in the rooms is 220 volt with Australian style receptors (so you will need an adaptor to plug in US style appliances).  However, the kitchen and the bar area does have some 110 volt outlets on a transformer with US style receptors.  If you need to charge a cell phone, iPod, or tablet the lodge manager can usually arrange it.



Water at the lodge is from rain collection cisterns and is not potable without filtration or boiling.  Four bottles of water are provided in your refrigerator daily.  The shower is equipped with hot and cold water. However, the hot water was unreliable during our stay.  One day it came on after Jim was nearly finished with his shower and lasted almost to end of mine.  The next day there was 30 seconds of hot water and then no water at all from the hot side.  The next no water flowed from the hot side.  The cold water is actually ambient temperature and feels refreshing after a day in the sun.  One last minor point, the shower spray is pretty anemic (probably by design to conserve water).  The wash basin is equipped with only cold water.
Meals at the lodge ranged from adequate to very good.  Coffee and tea is delivered to the table outside your room at 6am.  Breakfast is served at 6:30am in the dining room adjacent to the bar.  Breakfast was typically a couple eggs in varying styles, two slices of bacon, and toast.  Peanut butter, jam, butter, salt and pepper were on the table.  It is worth noting the bread is home made by Anita, the lodge owner, and is very tasty although may be “heavy” to some palettes (tropical humidity is not conducive to light fluffy baked goods).  As noted in nearly all the trip preparation documentation, trip reports, and web searches, the island receives its food supplies via freighter from Tarawa, Fiji or New Zealand.  If one’s trip falls at the wrong time, lunch options can be limited and meager.  Fortunately for us, the kitchen appeared to be well stocked and we had lunchmeat and cheese sandwiches and oranges/apples for lunch.  Prior to dinner every evening we were provided with appetizers out under the palm thatched hut on the beach, watching the sunsets and waves.  Appetizers consisted of fried breadfruit chips, yellow fin tuna sashimi (with soy sauce and wasabi paste), and fried fish nuggets.  We found it very soothing to sip a cold beer and nibble fresh sashimi while watching for the green flash.  Dinners were served in the dining room and were very good provided you like fresh fish.  Every dinner combined fresh fish cooked various ways with a small quantity of chicken, clam curry, or half a lobster.  One evening they barbequed fish and chicken.  We had fried rice with every dinner and cole slaw most nights.  Our chef was Tan Tan and she works near miracles with a limited supply of ingredients.  She made us dessert every night often consisting of a crepe with fruit sauce, one night we had chocolate cake, and one night fruit cocktail.  Not fancy but tasty and more than enough quantity.






This is probably the appropriate place to talk about bringing snacks.  Every report and web site said to bring snacks to supplement lunch.  While in Honolulu we stopped at Foodland in Ala Moana Mall after dinner.  We bought 4 boxes of granola bars, a bag of trail mix, a bag of dried fruit, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of strawberry jam, and a loaf of bread and it cost us $44 and change.  The nice lady at the register said if we register for a Foodland card by providing a phone number it saved us $15!  That small sack of snacks would have cost us nearly $60.
The dining room is approximately 15ft by 25ft.  Seating would be comfortable with 10 anglers, more would begin to feel a little cramped.  The bar area is a large palm thatched hut with four picnic style tables.  It has lights and a sound system.  Beers while we were there were Fiji Bitter, Solomon SB, and Heineken (and we saw a few Australian XXXX cans around so evidently they sometimes get Australian beers).  They had a half dozen bottles of hard liquor on the shelf behind the bar (probably left by previous clients).  They also had a variety of sodas but that could depend on the latest shipment off the freighter.  Outside the dining room is a large blackboard with the daily details for angling parties… where anglers will be going, their guide(s), the boat, the start/end times, and tide schedule.  Details appear to be updated just prior to dinner and apply to the next day.
The beach in front of the lodge has a barrier reef about 150 yards out which knocks down the bigger waves into small wavelets that run unto the beach.  The beach is mostly white coral sand but has some coral rocks mixed in.  Walking barefoot requires care.  The water in front of the lodge is shallow and the bottom is strewn with coral rocks, so it isn’t conducive to swimming or snorkeling.  Expect to see land crabs walking on the sand and geckos climbing the building walls in the evenings around the property.
We did not experience any biting insects to speak of.  Taka said since they had not had any rain in a while the bugs weren’t around.  There was the odd mosquito at dusk/dawn.  The windows in the suites and dining room are screened.  We only found one cockroach in our room during the week but we were told sometimes bugs and even a rodent has been known to wander into the suites.  Not a big deal, just shoo them outside.  They leave a can of Raid insect spray on the table in each room.
Nails pounded into the wooden window frames outside the suites serve as rod racks.  There is a fresh water hose spigot the guides use to rinse off your rods and reels each day after fishing and then they hang them on the nails to dry.  Theft and security is not a concern although reportedly the lodge maintains a nightly security person (we never saw one).  There is a clothes line with clips strung between the posts outside each suite.  We rinsed off boots, socks gravel guards in the spigot.  I rinsed off pants and shirts once or twice while showering and hung them to dry.  The lodge will launder clothes for a nominal fee (a couple dollars per item I think).

Transportation to/from the airport and to/from the fishing boat is via a diesel truck fitted with wooden bench seats in the rear.  The road is compacted limestone and has its share of pot holes and rough spots.  Worse are the speed bumps installed to control speeding all along the way to London town (the put-in/take-out location for our boat/outrigger).  It made for a rough 20 minute ride each way.  Initially they provided foam pads to sit on but they disappeared after the second day, maybe because we weren’t always using them or maybe because they got wet from our wet fishing clothes.  The bench seats have a wooden rain cover equipped with rod racks.
The boat used for fishing is a long canoe fitted with an outrigger, wooden bench seats and a rain cover similar to the truck.  Our boat driver (Kairaki) was excellent, always prompt, and in good humor.  His boat is equipped with a 40hp outboard and it seemed very reliable.  Not fast, but sturdy, stable and relatively shallow draft.  The boat is used primarily to move from one flat to the next where we would disembark and walk.  The guides are in communication with the boat drivers and the main lodge via hand held radios.  We did fish from the boat for milkfish two mornings and we trolled on the homeward run one afternoon.  You can stand and cast from the outrigger or you can stand and cast from the main canoe in front of or behind the seating area.  Fly Fishing more than two anglers at a time from boat would be a challenge.

Gear
Rather than list all the stuff we took, it will be easier to simply talk about the issues we found with the recommended gear list provided by the outfitter.
Bonefish:   The best and nearly only flies the bonefish wanted during our week were small, sparse size 8 Christmas Island Specials (some mini-small lead eyes, bead chain, and non-weighted) in white or tan with orange eyes. (Apparently the small, endemic crab on the CI flats has a tinge of orange on the carapace; shrimp are not the main food item here).  Larger flies often spooked the fish as soon as the bonefish saw the fly.  Even if a bonefish followed a larger fly, they rarely ate.  Bring nine to ten foot leaders with tippet of 15 – 20 lb test (one guide hated fluoro carbon).  The heavier tippet reduced abrasion from flats coral and increased landing success; no evidence that this diminished hook-ups. Using 18” long, medium speed strips until the fish ate was the guide’s choice for retrievals.


GT’s:  The guides seemed to prefer a wide variety of colors when it comes to GT’s.  Some liked grey/white or grey/yellow deceivers.  One guide chose a yellow, red, blue and black deceiver tied for peacock bass (he said he liked bright flies to attract the GT’s).  The one GT we caught was on a tan/pink squid pattern (size 5/0).  Bottom line is we decided the actual pattern isn’t too important – finding a GT that would eat is priority number one.  Leader should be 6 feet of 80lb mono looped to your fly line (100lb is too heavy and difficult to knot; 60lb will work in a pinch).  Probably do not need bring more than a half dozen GT flies, one 12 wt rod and one 12 wt reel, maybe one spare 12 wt line (there aren’t that many opportunities, see farther below).


A nice GT!




Bluefin and other trevally:  We had Bluefin and other trevally eat bonefish flies, small deceivers, nearly anything moving fast in front of them.  We weren’t targeting these trevally, they were more of a by catch while bonefishing, strong fighters, and an option for diversifying the fishing day.  Although Jim landed a nice bluefin trevally trolling a GT fly on the way back to the ramp one afternoon.
Bluefin Trevally

Barred Trevally





Triggerfish:  #$@$&^&%&%!!!  Sorry, I had to get that out first.  We tried hard to catch triggers but only one small one was caught while bonefishing.  The guides generally had us rig a size 2 shrimp style fly or crab when casting to triggers, or to simply cast the bonefish fly we had on at the time when triggers were sighted.  They liked being able to cast up current from the trigger and letting the fly swing into position.  Then use short (2 – 3 inch fast strips when the fly is on the trigger’s nose).  We found the triggers extremely hard to approach and even harder to get a fly in front of.  Use 20lb tippet.  One angler in the group staying at The Villages said he caught one (lucky bastard).
Barracuda:  In some channels with strong current flowing between small islands we looked for trevally and caught barracuda. These are Pacific barracuda, not the great barracuda we see in the Caribbean. They still have teeth and one cut 80lb mono.  They chewed up several GT flies.  I switched to 26lb knotable wire to avoid losing any more flies.
Milkfish:  The larger specimens outside the main channel to the lagoon and on the edge of the bluewater were our focus (small milkies are extremely abundant on the flats in the lagoon area, but were not targeted as their food items are not easy to match).  Since we didn’t hook any this is somewhat speculative.  But it appears a size 2 bonefish hook with sparsely wrapped olive, tan and insect green marabou or fine synthetic fur work best.  No weight.  Possibly tie some with small foam tags to help the fly float just under the surface.  Unweighted worm patterns on size 4 hooks in tan or green also seemed desired by the guides.  Use 10-15’ leaders; 16 – 20lb tippet.  Doug brought a separate 10wt rod and reel for milkfish.  On hindsight, either the 8wt or the 12 wt would have sufficed.  There isn’t enough opportunity to justify bringing a rig specially for milkfish.
Bring a quality pair of wading boots and a pair of lycra or similar shorts to wear under wading pants.  We did lots of walking (similar to Seychelles), on tough corrals, and with all the hiking crotch rash could be a big problem.  We were fortunate to always have the boat but if you are in a larger group you may have to alternate with truck access.  We suspect even longer walks may be required if you use the truck to reach fishing flats.  Numerous different types of flats were fished and images are included (fine-grained sand (i.e., Poland flat), exposed or raised coral platform (i.e., Paris #1), coarse-grained shell (i.e., Plantation flat), and sheltered (i.e., the “new” conservation area). Definitely part of the allure and a component of the abundant bonefishing that Christmas offers.


Bring a fully waterproof pack (not necessarily a hip pack; back/sling packs are more elevated and a better choice).  We waded out onto Paris #1 flat one afternoon and the waves were chest high.  The zippers on Jim’s Simms belt pack didn’t keep the water out.  Luckily his camera wasn’t in that compartment.  Numerous times we waded back (across channels) to the boat on a rising tide and the water could be above the waist.
I brought spools of 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100 lb mono plus spools of 12, 16 and 20lb fluoro.  Way over board.  Bring a spool of 20 and a spool of 80lb mono.  Bring 4 – 6 bonefish leaders ending in 16 – 20lb tippet.  Bring small tippet spools of 16 – 20 lb on the flats with you.  If you want to troll bring some 80 to 120lb small barrel swivels (if you troll a fly without a swivel you’ll put a serious twist into your fly line).
I brought a large spinning reel and a 3/0 level wind reel.  We hoped to use the spinning reel with a big teaser plug to bring in some GT’s.  That didn’t happen.  We did troll the level wind one afternoon.  Bita lent us a big Ugly Stik spin casting rod to put these on.  When we asked he said he had plenty of that sort of thing.
Our plan was to shop a small fishing store in Honolulu for some GT lures, etc.  It is very expensive in Honolulu.  We spent over $150 for two big plugs, two trolling jigs, some swivels and some braided line for the spinning reel.  If you’re planning to bring that sort of gear, buy it before you get to Hawaii.
General
We stayed at the Ramada Plaza on Ala Moana Blvd, cost $125/night.  Used SpeediShuttle to get there, cost $27 for two people one way.  It’s cheaper than a cab and the Ramada Plaza is within walking distance to restaurants, grocery store and fishing store.  There might be cheaper hotels or more convenient to the airport but factor in you need to eat and do some shopping during your overnight in Honolulu.  Cabs are expensive as is everything else in Hawaii.

Overall, we found the guides of Christmas Island Outfitters and the staff at Crystal Beach Lodge to be truly interested in making our stay a productive and enjoyable one.  Having a clear conversation with Bita and Taka at the beginning of your stay re. expectations and goals/desires will pay big dividends.  Don’t be afraid to let the guides know that you are willing to explore areas outside those they generally take clients to fish – there are many flats to fish!