Even in shallow water like this, the fish can be virtually invisible. The guide here is The Villages head guide, Neemia, who came to Tasmania and fished the Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships in 2012. Most presentations and takes were close range – as little as 5 feet from the rod tip, out to 40 feet or so. The emphasis was on getting the fly out there quickly and gently as possible, taking into account a range of eye weights on the flies (the depth of water and strength of tide flow dictated the fly weight – bones generally don’t like the fly far off the bottom). Crazy Charlie type flies, sparsely dressed in sizes 4-8 were popular with the guides, though some looked through both my fly boxes and asked if I had another box! As part of the pre trip briefing notes, Nial Logan gave us a range of fly recipes in recommended colours which proved very helpful.
Judith Oliver fishing a flats drop-off. In overcast weather (which we had a little of each day, but never all day during our stay) these drop-offs could be fished quite successfully blind for bonefish and other species. Dark coral patches like the one on the left harboured many different reef species, including yellow and red snapper, triggerfish, giant trevally, bluefin trevally and groper. Nearly every cast would draw a strike from something over the coral. Some (though not all) of these fish were small, but they all fought outside their weight! Rain squalls were infrequent and brief, but intense. Wind was the common factor. We had strong winds pretty much every day, but most times we waded and fished downwind, as the fish tend to feed up into the wind.
A mantis shrimp. These live in holes in the flats and can be caught by the guides, a little like catching beach worms, using bait to entice them to the top of their hole. The claws (like a giant praying mantis) are incredibly sharp and fast, so it’s a task best left to the guides, but still fascinating to watch. And they taste better than crayfish. We took pity on this fellow and let him go again though.
Triggerfish were another fantastic sight fishing target on the flats. They tail around the coral patches, with their tail and fins making them much, MUCH easier to see than bonefish. Catching them is a real challenge though. They spook if the fly lands too close or they see it dropping, frequently bite off (or through) the hook, and run at least as hard as the bones. The also dive into holes in the coral, shredding the leader.
One of the guides, Max, helping me test one of the bamboo rods I brought on a nice bone. All the guides were complimentary about the presentation qualities of the bamboo for the short to medium casts required for bones. The four rods I brought and shared around all handled the fish fine – they felt great actually – taking on a deep, smooth bend as the fish ran. And they all came through undamaged (unlike graphites – I understand around 10 were broken across the two weeks we were there). Ha ha. Having said that, unlike for stream trout fishing, where to me bamboo outperforms any other material, I find it hard to argue for bamboo over graphite in the salt. The overall weight is a factor (albeit minor in the 6-8 line weight range), and when a medium long cast is needed into a screaming wind, I think bamboo falls short of graphite (though by not as much as I had actually expected). I will do some more development on the tapers and other elements of the build for bamboo, but I think for salt at least, graphite might be here to stay! I’m sure you could fish exclusively with bamboo on the flats and have fun, but for me anyway, I got into bamboo because it was simply the best material for my preferred style of fishing, not for aesthetics or for ‘bamboo’s sake’ as such.
Outside the lagoon, on the ocean side of the island, is an area known as the ‘Korean Wreck’ (the wreck has gone, but the name remains). The area inside the reef holds strong ocean side bones, a variety of trevally and many other species. It’s the only area we fished where we felt a line management tool like a basket or stripper clip would be handy; though we managed without one with a bit of ‘line dancing’ frustration in the strong tide and shore break.
As much as the fishing was wonderful, other aspects of the visit really made the trip even more special. These strawberry hermit crabs were a real favourite to watch on the ocean shorelines.
Kiribati Independence day was celebrated during our visit. We took a day off fishing to look at the activities. Kids from the island marched and performed in their colourful school uniforms or costumes like these. It was well worth a morning off fishing to see this!
The activities featured a game of Oreano – the national game of Kiribati. Think of volleyball, but played with a bowling ball, and no net. The ball is made mostly of a particular heavy ocean stone, wrapped in coconut fibre and/or other string. It weighs about 5kg! The server sprints as fast as they can before launching the ball from set position (marked by the log in the photo below), with additional speed coming from rolling/pushing it off the arm. As they explained to me, trying to strike it from a stationary position would break your arm. The receiving team then tries to catch the ball (which can still break your arm or ribs). If they fail to catch it, the serving team wins a point. If they do catch it, they get to serve the ball back. Ouch!
As I said, maybe it was the friendliness of the people and their culture that was best of all. All the people at The Villages did everything to make our stay enjoyable and comfortable.
It was a sensational visit and I will definitely return. When I got home to a freezing house, I seriously considered calling Nial and going straight back! There are a number of lodges on the island, and I understand all provide an excellent experience. We really enjoyed The Villages. Those wanting more info can check out Nial’s site at: http://www.learntoflyfish.net/