In March of last year, an ill-fated attempt to explore the mythical Fanning Island left three of us with non-refundable plane tickets to Christmas Island via Honolulu. With only 48 hours notice prior to our departure from Oregon, we were informed that the plane ride from CXI to Fanning would not be happening. We then had two days to come up with a good use of our expensive plane tickets. After a flurry of texts and phone calls amongst the three of us, the decision was made to embark on a DIY trip to Christmas Island.
Christmas Island has been an iconic flats fishing locale for decades. The island has been very well documented in magazines, books, films, and across the Internet. My humble contribution to this extensive coverage is to answer the question “Is a do-it-yourself trip to Christmas Island possible?” An outfitter (Russ Scott of Direct Adventures), a photographer (Arian Stevens), and a fly fishing guide (the author) had a lot of fun finding out.
The cost of flats fishing is prohibitive for many fish-bums, and Christmas Island is no exception. How could we make this work and stick to our meager budgets? Fortunately, Russ had hosted trips to Christmas Island in the past and had a good lay of the land. He had also made some excellent connections on the ground, including a couple of the island’s top guides. My initial suggestion for a DIY effort was “Let’s go camping!” Although this could have worked, it was a pretty ambitious proposal. In retrospect, it would have been a very rough and uncomfortable week. Instead, Russ set us up to stay at the Sunset Horizon lodge in London, one of the island’s main villages. This turned out to be an excellent decision. Comfortable beds, a hot shower, and decent meals were nothing to scoff at in such an unforgiving environment. However, it was the lodge manager, Aresma Aaron, at the Sunset Horizon that really helped us get up and running.
After being picked up at the airport on day one, we settled in to our rooms at the hotel, ate a seafood dinner, and rigged fly rods for the next day’s adventure. Now what? Using Russ’ connections and help from Aresma, we were able to secure a guide and a boat for our first day on the water. On Christmas Island, boat captains and guides are not the same person. If one wishes to go DIY and hire a guide for a day or two, you must be prepared to hire a boat first and then a guide. Aresma was an invaluable resource for this.
After getting our feet wet with a guide on day one, we looked to branch out on our own. Again, using the help of our friendly local host, we tracked down a rental car to zip around the island (many of Christmas Island’s amazing flats are accessible by vehicle). We were able to secure a small Toyota SUV, which turned out to be ideal for three guys plus gear to get around. Cost was around $100 USD per day for the rental.
We spent the bulk of the week exploring, getting lost, catching fish, and having a blast. Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip was the night we hammock-camped in the area known as the Korean Wreck. The staff at Sunset Horizon was gracious enough to loan us a cooler with enough cooked rice, bottled water, and PB&J sandwiches to get us through 36 hours in the backcountry. We supplemented our dinner that night with fresh fillets from small reef fish that we cooked on hot coals. Amazing. Besides a few bug bites and spooky amounts of nocturnal hermit crabs roaming our camp, the camping experience was very comfortable and safe. The fishing in the vicinity of the Korean Wreck did not disappoint. Bonefish, triggers, bluefin trevally, giant trevally, and blacktip sharks all showed up and kept things interesting for the two days we fished the area.
“Bonefish, triggers, bluefin trevally, giant trevally and blacktip sharks all showed up and kept things interesting for the two days we fished the area.”
A trip like this will rarely yield as high of a catch rate as that of a fully guided lodge experience. However, that’s not really the point. Yes, budget was a concern for us, but we simply enjoy fishing more when we have to figure things out for ourselves. This type of fishing has some serious highs and sanity-questioning lows, but the rewards are tremendous. In the end, it will make you a better, wiser angler. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The keys to our success on Christmas Island were to be flexible and to keep mobile. We fished as many different types of water as we possibly could. A cell phone GPS app (I’ve been using GAIA with great results) is incredibly helpful when navigating the island’s maze of dirt roads and for finding fishy spots. Many of the island’s land-locked lagoons offer good bonefish habitat for those willing to explore off the beaten path. Learning to tell the difference between milkfish and bonefish will save you a lot of aggravation. Milkfish are everywhere, look similar to bones from a distance, and are notoriously difficult to hook on flies. One last thing that a DIY angler needs to remember is that there is a fish conservation zone on the southeast corner of the main lagoon. By Kiribati law, non-guided anglers may not fish there.
Upon receiving our final bill from Sunset Horizon, we roughly concluded that the three of us fished the island for a week for same price that one angler would have paid to fish fully guided through one of the lodges. Not bad! Airfare is not inexpensive, but not prohibitive either. This type of trip is not for everyone. However, adventurous, self-sufficient anglers should find a DIY trip to Christmas Island a fun, attainable challenge. – Neal Burrell
Arian grew up in the foothills between Yosemite and Tahoe and has always been spoiled by the awesomeness of the outdoors. Finding his passion for photography fresh out of high school, Arian quickly found a way to share the beauty of his surroundings with others, and so much the better if there happened to be someone fishing in the image. Combining his two passions of fishing and photography, Arian has made a name for himself among anglers and nature lovers alike.