You say Kiritimati, I say Christmas
CfR Regional Program Manager, Jen Lofgren, takes us to Christmas Island this week. Read more about her angling adventures with her gal pals.
A group of eight women, from varied backgrounds and all vaguely familiar with one another, decided to venture to Christmas Island to do some fly fishing this past April. Christmas Island or Kiritimati (pronounced Kiri-si-mass).The name “Kiritimati” is a respelling of the English word “Christmas” in the Kiribati language, in which the combination ti is pronounced s, and the name is thus pronounced /kəˈrɪsməs/.
Christmas Island is the world’s largest coral atoll and part of the Republic of Kiribati. This sparsely populated island of 5000 lies 1200 miles south of Hawaii and 110 miles north of the equator in the center of the Pacific Ocean. The close proximity to the equator results in consistently optimal year-round weather, and coupled with the fact that the fishing is like no other saltwater destination on the planet, offering nearly two dozen different types of fish to catch, Christmas Island has become a mecca for anglers around the world. Most go there to target a few species in particular: Giant Trevally (GT’s), Bluefin and Golden Trevally, and Triggerfish, as well as bonefish which are plentiful. Our group was no different.
Peg Miskin served as our fearless leader and trip organizer. Peg works for Casting for Recovery organizing our big annual fundraiser held in Hamilton, Montana each fall – The Cast One for Hope. With her ability to organize such a huge and successful annual event, how hard could it be to wrangle 8 women from different parts of the country? Yeah, right. (Thank you, Peg!).
Working with Dave Cook, who happens to live in Missoula, MT. and is also the booking agent for Skinny Waters Fly Fishing, Peg arranged the trip for our group.
The 8 of us all traveled from different parts of the country – 4 from Montana, 2 from Colorado, 1 from Wyoming and another from Wisconsin. Among the group were 3 professional fishing guides, 2 employees of Casting for Recovery, a former vice president-now board member of an international mining company, a legal professional and a professional photographer. What a crew!
Only one commercial flight per week serves Christmas Island from Honolulu, and as a result we decided to meet in Honolulu a few days in advance to ensure that all of our luggage arrived safely, or if there were any cancelled/delayed flights, we would not miss the flight out on Tuesday morning.
Because of its position just west of the International Date Line, Kiritimati is the first inhabited island to begin each new day and year, so though the flight is only about 3 ½ hours long, we arrived on a Wednesday. Upon arrival, we were greeted at the Cassidy International Airport by members of the Kaitaua family, a local family that owns and operates the lodge where we stayed – Lagoon View Resort. The 8 of us piled into the back of an open-aired truck bed, with a homemade rod rack fashioned across the roof to deliver us to our resort. The ride from the airport to the lodge gave us an opportunity to see some of the locals going about their daily lives: school children in uniforms walking home from school, motorbikes speeding past us on the dirt road, women sweeping their front yards to keep the coconuts and leaves cleared. Everyone waved and smiled at us, or stopped to take in the unusual sight of 8 caucasian women bumping along in the back of a truck who were clearly there to fly fish. Still a rare sight, as we were only the second group of female anglers to stay at Lagoon View.
Our accommodations were rustic, but the family and staff worked so hard to do whatever they could to make our stay enjoyable. By the second day, we got over the shock of cold only showers, and the air conditioning sporadic at best, but we appreciated the daily laundry service, which was welcome in a climate where nothing ever fully dries due to the humidity.
The food didn’t garner a Zagat rating by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a lot of fresh fish to be had. The atoll nature of Kiritimati makes it very difficult to grow most root crops, fruits and vegetables, so only a limited variety of foods can be grown, so as a result there was very little in the way of fresh produce.
But we weren’t there for a Ritz Carlton experience, we were there to fish! And fish we did – for 6 straight days. We hit it hard, heading out with the guides around 7am and returning each day around 5pm, sweaty, salty, fishy – and full of stories to share with the other anglers in our group and those staying at the resort. Every day was about catching some kind of new species, or seeing a flock of male frigates flying high in the sky with their bright red throat pouches blown up to entice the females passing overhead, or watching a pod of eagle rays swim by.
All of the fishing we did was wading the flats, though there is fantastic blue water fishing to be had as well. Many of the flats are named–Orvis, Paris Texas, Nine Mile, Y Site, and each of them seem to go on forever. There are also flats referred to as ‘pancake flats,’ as they are roundish in shape.
The resort offers both DIY fishing or boats with ‘guides.’ I use this term loosely, because many of the guides that we had were ‘in training’, and seemingly knew very little about guiding, and even if they did know, our limited language overlap made communicating extremely difficult. There were a few guides who spoke pretty decent English, or at least enough to be able to communicate with us. We all worked through it – sometimes by virtually self guiding, and on other times benefitting from experienced guides with whom we could communicate better. Many of us caught the fish we had always dreamed of catching, or fish we had never heard of. The group favorite was definitely the yellow margin, or “Pineapple” triggerfish. With a mouth full of teeth to allow for a diet of crab and coral, getting them to eat a fly without crushing the hook and then reeling them in before they could make it back to their hole in the coral, was a feat in and of itself, and added to the excitement of catching these unusual and beautiful fish.
We caught many trevally of each variety, but none that would qualify as ‘giant’.
Countless bonefish – including a couple of real slabs, various types of snapper, goatfish, sweet lips, picasso triggers (full name: humuhumunukunukuapua’a – now that’s a mouthful! It is also the state fish of Hawaii), all made it to hand.
We experienced an incredible week of some of most the amazing saltwater fishing, and this is a well-traveled group. The people of Kiritimati, especially our hosts at Lagoon View Resort were absolutely lovely. I will treasure for the rest of my life, the memories created on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, the laughter and stories shared with new friends and old. Seems we all would return in a heartbeat.