Christmas Island Destination Report 2024 by Ken Morrish

Ken Morrish June 17, 2024

It has been far too long since I last embarked on a proper saltwater flats fishing trip. As the years ticked by since I last felt the warm water lapping against my calves and the deep pull of a bonefish bending graphite, the call of the tropics has only been getting louder with each passing season.

With my focus the past dozen years firmly rooted in chasing cold-water anadromous species around the world, I felt foolish leaving the flats neglected and it was time to scratch the saltwater itch. Thankfully, some old friends had been bugging me about going to Christmas Island, so this past May we all got together and made it happen.

As usual, we flew to Honolulu and spent the night at the budget friendly Aqua Palms Hotel near Waikiki and boarded the Fiji Air flight to Christmas Island the next morning. There were under thirty people on the flight, most of whom were anglers, with all our flights and transfers going smoothly. The airport was impressive as compared with my last visit there some thirteen years ago, but the road to the main village of London from the airport was as long and lumpy as ever.

We stayed at Sunset Horizon with Christmas Island Outfitters. Sunset Horizon is quintessential Christmas Island. Simple to the core, slightly run down, welcoming, with magnificent views of the ocean and a mellow surf break, where half a dozen local boys surfed each evening while we enjoyed cold beverages on the beach. The food at Sunset Horizon was better than expected, with all the guests remarking it was exactly as advertised, and they would be happy to return.

The Fishing

I always say that a good deal of what happens on any given trip is left up to a random set of variables. Who gets in what boat, with whom, and where you get dropped off all play into the results. This again proved true. On our first session one of our group members, Brad, said he was surrounded by more than a hundred tailing fish. He did well and caught some great fish. I saw and caught a respectable number of fish on the smallish side the first day. Three of our crew, who were new to the flats all caught fish, and were stoked by the results. Tom, our most experienced saltwater flats angler did well and caught both bonefish and triggerfish during the week.

As the week progressed, I had sessions that varied widely. Some of my best had me casting continuously at singles, doubles, and small pods of fish for more than 30 minutes. While they were not always eager to eat, it was an amazing experience to have so many opportunities and fine tune my sight fishing game once again. During some of these sessions I also saw the largest bonefish I have ever seen on the island in three trips. Some of these specimens were over 28 inches long. Several of these monsters would barely take a sniff at my fly, with one getting hooked that sadly broke me off. Others simply vanished like ghosts in the clear waters shortly after my fly landed. During the week Brian Fuller got an exceptionally large bonefish, with his wife Kate also catching some dandies.

I asked long-time Christmas Island Outfitters guide Michael Jim about his take on the bonefish populations on the island and how it has changed (if at all) since the pandemic started. He was clear and said there were more bonefish than before and that the biggest fish were again comfortable coming up on the flats. What he said matched up with what I experienced. I had been forewarned that the GT population was down, and that there were fewer big ones around, and while that proved true, it seemed that every day someone would have a fleeting encounter with fish in the 15-to 30-pound class, which was encouraging.

The biggest change I noticed was the abundance and interest in triggerfish. From day one, Tom told me he would concentrate as much of his fishing time as possible on triggerfish. Tom believes resolutely that triggerfish are one of the best all-time species to target with flies, and after my experiences on this trip it is tough to argue with him. Despite this being my third trip to the island, I had never fished for them. Fifteen years ago, there were no doubt plenty of triggers around, but they were not targeted because the interest and technique to catch them had not yet come into its own. However, things were quite different now, and there were certain flats on certain tides where there were lots of them. Many of which were large specimens and all of which were easy to spot. I was soon hooked!

Christmas Island Outfitters guide Michael was a master at targeting them. I had no idea how spooky they were, but after spooking approximately twenty on my initial presentations, I was finally ready to listen to his advice. His presentation technique was extremely specific. He wanted us to use 20-pound test with heavy gauge hooks that the triggers would be less likely to crush. His method entailed understanding that the fish always faced into the current, then getting up current of them, leading the fish by at least ten feet, and overshooting the fish by at least five or six feet. Other considerations are that you only cast to tailing fish, and only when they are tailing as they are more stationary and poking around straight beneath them as opposed to cruising around like bonefish. With an ultra-conservative leading cast, you could typically get the fly to land without the fish spooking and let the current slowly drift the fly towards the fish. This could take a lot of time and allow the angler to quietly strip the fly when it hit bottom and then begin to slowly line up the drift to intersect the tailing fish. When the slow drag and drift swing of the fly got right in the fish’s face, you could begin a slow short stripping motion and often, if the previous moves were done correctly, they would follow the fly and often take a crack at it. Once hooked they would run and fight hard and often bury themselves under rocks or dart into holes that made landing them a real trick. Next time I head to Christmas, I will be better prepared for them. Triggerfish are a spectacular and challenging fish to target and one that is easy to become addicted to. Thankfully, Christmas Island is one of the best and most affordable places in the world to target them.

Tackle

The unique and interesting thing about Christmas Island is all the fishing is on foot, and most shots are less than 50 feet. Many of them are less than 30 feet and only require a roll cast. For this reason, it requires a unique rod/line set up. I like overlining my 8wt Sage R8 Salt with a 9wt RIO Elite Flats Pro line. I personally like slightly slower action rods, so the Sage R8 Core loaded with an 8wt RIO Elite Flats Pro line suits my needs perfectly for this trip as well. If I were on the deck of a flats skiff, casting to more distant targets the Sage R8 Salt loaded with a matching weight line is spot on. With that said, I really liked the Sage R8 Salt’s fighting power. It was fun to lean into it and know that it was built to do exactly that.

In summary, it was great to get back to Christmas Island Outfitters. It was much as I remembered it, with some interesting surprises as well. I look forward to going back to this unique atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean again.

Coming Soon!

I was excited to design and field-test several exciting new saltwater flies that RIO Products will produce in the next year. Some of them were quite effective so keep your eyes peeled for the new Morrish Stalking Stuffers, and the Flats Minnows. I promise it will be worth the wait!

Christmas Island Outfitters

The fact that virtually every flats fishing angler in North America has heard of Christmas Island is far from coincidence. Amidst the vast inventory of the world’s saltwater flats destinations, Christmas Island is a unique and natural masterpiece that magically combines all the elements critical to fly fishing success.