Christmas Island – all you need to know

Now that this exceptional fishery is back on the travel agenda, Kiel shares essential information for first-time visitors – and anyone else who’s been away for a while. 

Kiritimati (also known as Christmas Island, or to us flyfishers as CXI) is not to be mistaken for the Australian territory Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean – which as far as I know, has no flats or bonefish!

Kiritimati is part of the Northern Line Islands, south of Hawaii. It’s in the Republic of Kiribati and is part of the longest island chain in the world. The name ‘Kiritimati’ comes from the English word ‘Christmas’ written in Gilbertese, the native language of Kiribati.

Kiritimati has the largest land area of any atoll, around 388 square kilometres, and it has a lagoon roughly the same size. The island lies just 232km from the International Date Line, meaning it’s the first populated place to see the rising sun each day, and the first to welcome a New Year.

The climate on the island is much as you might expect being so close to the equator. The temperature is consistent between 24-30C, and very little rain falls. Bring your sunscreen!

Long white sand beaches, reefs and waves surround the island, while dense coconut palm plantations and low shrubland cover most of the island itself.

Looking to the northwest in between the towns of London and Paris, is the mouth of the lagoon. The mouth is wide, allowing big water movement with tides. As touched on above, the lagoon covers almost half of the island, with massive sand flats, bommies, ‘pancake’ flats and old coral flats. Some flats are so big, you couldn’t fish the whole area in one day. Other pancakes are only several metres wide, with deep blue water surrounding them. Big or small, the flats vary from ankle to waist deep, depending on tides.

The eastern part of the lagoon is what’s known as the Back Country. Dotted lakes, lagoons, ponds, flats, and small islands – hundreds of them next to each other, separated by sandy beaches, channels and canals. Most are connected; some have been deliberately linked up by the locals.

Areial view of the Back Country.

The fish at CXI are something you’ll have to see to believe. Massive giant trevally chase milkfish and other prey around… until that inevitable crash as if someone threw a hand-grenade in the water. Huge barracuda, over a metre long, stalking prey. Bonefish cruising the shallows and triggerfish tailing.

Being there

CXI arrival goes something like this: stepping off the plane, grabbing your gear and fishing licence, hopping into the back of an old rickety truck, which then bounces you along a bumpy road, lined with tall green palms swaying in a breeze coming straight off the Pacific Ocean. The truck arrives at your accommodation, and anticipation boils. Gearing up your 8, 10 and 12 weight rods, then tying your flats boot laces. Walking down the shore to the lagoon and jumping in the boat. Twenty minutes later, you and your guide launch out of the boat into waist-deep water on a sand and coral flat you can’t see the other side of. Crystal-clear water that seems warmer than the air.

This is when you realise you’re actually in that magazine article you’ve been pondering over the past 10 years. Like I said, you have to see it to believe it.

Just enough time for an after-dinner cast!

CXI is a great place to visit for all anglers, from novice to advanced, with some fish more difficult to target than others.


To begin with, the island is hard to beat for opportunities to cast to sighted bonefish – and bonefish willing to eat a fly. On a good day, novice saltwater flyfishers can have dozens of shots at these bones as they swim across the flats while feeding. On a great day, there can be dozens upon dozens of shots. A large percentage of CXI’s bonefish are around that 2 to 4 pound mark, but you will see them around double figures too.

Once stepping off the skiff and onto the flat with your guide, you’ll find yourself slowly walking and sighting, looking for bonefish cruising or tailing as they feed on shrimp, sandworms, crabs or anything else that can’t escape a hungry bonefish.

Most of the time it will be your guide who will see the fish first, as the local guides have some sort of fish-spotting blackbelt! A grey smudge moving toward you turns into 20 grey smudges swimming close to the bottom, casting a smaller shadow on the sandy flat than a milkfish would. (You’re definitely going to make that mistake!)

This is when you can set a trap and cast your size 8 Crazy Charlie ahead of the moving school of bones. As they get close enough, your guide will gesture and ask you to do a long, slow draw, and again, and again… and then all of your running line floating at your feet has disappeared through the eyelets of your rod and the reel is screaming before you’ve even had a chance to ask, “Where did they go?”

Bonefish put CXI on the flyfishing map, and they remain fantastic fun to catch.

Bonefish are famously sought after for their speed and long runs. You’ll see your backing every day, so it’s important to have smooth drag on your reels. The 2 to 4 pound bones will usually have a couple of long runs and then a few smaller ones before you land them. The bigger bones may take you 10 minutes or more to land – assuming all the excitement doesn’t result in a split-second mistake.


Moving further down the flat, you’ll find the sand slowly turning into reefs and mottled rocky bottom. This is where you’ll find triggerfish feeding on crustaceans hiding in the rocks. There are several different species of triggers to target on the flats of Christmas Island: the titan triggerfish (also known as Mustachios), yellow margin triggerfish, peach-face triggerfish, and Picasso triggerfish.

All are brightly coloured in their own way, with a mouthful of teeth made to crush shells, crabs, and your finger if you get too close.

Often, when targeting triggers, you may get the eat, the bump, then again… And again, whilst the trigger follows your shrimp pattern back to your rod tip, then it swims off and leaves you wondering why the hook didn’t set. Upon checking your fly, you realise the hook has been crippled and bent into a figure-8 by its powerful jaws and teeth. This is also where you’ll need to be fishing heavier tippet than you would for bones. And stronger hooks. Bonefish tippets will be from 12lb to 16lb, whereas trigger tippets need to be at least 20lb due to the hard fight and the rougher areas they inhabit. Trigger fish live in coral holes – trigger dungeons – and they only leave to feed. But once spooked or hooked they’ll want to go home, so it’s a race to see if you can beat them!

A victory on this occasion.

Triggers are a great species to target for their speed and hard fights, but also because of their challenging feeding habits. A lot of the time, they’re in shin deep water with their finger-snapping teeth buried into the reef feeding; their large tails sticking out of the water, half waving at you, half giving you the one-finned salute.

You’ll need to deliver your shrimp or crab pattern near enough to get it to drift into their zone, without snagging the bottom, or spooking the fish with the plop of the fly. Add a cross wind, tidal movement and anxiety, and you’ll need your casting hat on.

The pancake flats, which I mentioned earlier, are dotted all over the lagoon: deep-sided flats in a pancake shape, varying in size. These are great places to get dropped off to target both bones and triggerfish. As the tide moves in and covers the shallow flat, the triggers and bones come from the deeper cliffs alongside the pancake and up onto the flats to feed. Stop and prop works well here as the flats are small. The fish will come to you.

Due to the deep water surrounding these pancakes, it’s also a good idea to keep your 12 weight fly rod clipped to you or your guide. You may find fish the size of car bonnets swimming past: giant trevally.

Giant trevally

Giant trevally, or GTs as they’re usually referred to, are the gangsters of the flats. Sometimes swimming in packs, busting up baitfish, pushing across the shallows with bow-waves you can see from hundreds of metres away. Moving from deeper water to shallow water to kill and maim anything they want, from baitfish to larger fish. Birds to turtles. CXI has a large population of GTs, and you will see them from 40cm in length, to over a metre and in excess of 100lb. Most commonly, they’re around the 30 to 40lb mark.

For these GTs, you’ll need to be quick with your cast, and fast on the retrieve. From poppers to brush flies, with a fast strip, you’ll turn one on. Once hooked up with the drag set to maximum, it’s a battle of who is going to give up first, you or the fish. Each and every time I’ve hooked a GT, the thought that goes through my head is, “Why did I do that?”

The king of CXI.

Not only at home around the pancake flats, GTs can also be found on all the flats, in deep water, on the oceanside, and in the back country lagoons. They’re definitely not an easy fish to target, as casting heavyweight rods and big flies to fast-swimming fish, makes for physically demanding and tiring fishing. Not for the fainthearted.


Another large predatory fish to target around CXI is the barracuda. If you’ve not seen one before, they look like something from a horror movie: a long and somewhat skinny fish built for speed, with two rows of teeth made to cut things in half, including your 80lb tippet. Knotable wire is a must for tippet, as most of the time the barracuda feed head on, inhaling your fly and biting you off before you’re aware the fish has even moved.

A great thing about CXI is you’ll find these fish on the flats, mostly in the back country. Once again, barracuda are not for the fainthearted, but they are a truly awesome sports fish.

Other spots and species

Other trevally species to target are the bluefin and golden trevally. CXI is also home to some massive golden trevally; not super common but they are there. Unlike the GTs, you’ll want to target these fish with a shrimp or crab pattern. The technique is much the same as for triggerfish, but they’ll move quicker across the flats. Again, fast and accurate casting is a must.

Bluefin trevally are common across the flats. The smaller bluefin are referred to as ‘the protectors’.  They will swim in schools around feeding goldens and other larger fish, picking up the scraps. At times they’re good fun, but they can also be annoying as you land the perfect cast in front of that feeding trigger or golden, only to have a bluefin trevally come out of nowhere and inhale your fly first!

It’s hard to be too disappointed when you catch a bluefin trevally.

Oceanside fishing is accessible by an hour-long truck ride to a place known as Korean Wreck. Sandy beaches with shore and reef breaks that Johnny Utah could only dream of. Walking these beaches, you’ll find all sorts of targets: bones, triggers, GTs, sweetlip and big bluefin trevally. Definitely keep your 12 weight handy.

Above, I’ve listed some of my favourite CXI fish to target. However, you’ll also find milkfish, snapper, and different tuna species, just to name a few.

While the bonefish are great, the variety other species, plus a mix of different fishing environments, is what makes CXI a saltwater flyfisher’s paradise. If you haven’t been there yet, it might be time to jump on the internet to look at flights, and to ask your local shop who’s hosting trips.



There’s a weekly flight into CXI, either flying out of Nadi in Fiji, or Honolulu in Hawaii. So, depending on where you are in the world, you’ll need to catch a connecting flight from those locations. At the time of writing, Fiji Airways have just announced flights from Brisbane to Tarawa – the capital of the Republic of Kiribati. This flight then continues on to Kiritimati.

Accommodation and services

Depending on your package and the booking you’ve made, most commonly you’ll have seven days flyfishing, and six nights’ accommodation. This is usually twin share and rustic – basic but decent, with aircon, comfortable beds, and a cold beer in the fridge waiting for you. Your washing is done each day and meals prepared.

Home for the week.

Meals may consist of crayfish, tuna, vegetables and rice; perhaps with chicken or something familiar. It’s not recommended to drink the water from taps, so bottled water only.

Phone service and Wi-Fi are limited; however, you can purchase SIM cards that offer some ability to keep in touch with the outside world.

The currency used on the island is the Australian dollar. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere, so carrying cash is recommended for extra things like water and alcohol – and importantly, tips for your guides and boat drivers. There are small shops on the island to buy things like drinks and snacks.

Your accommodation is usually next to little villages, where after a days’ fishing, you can either relax and watch the sunset over the water, or pull out a gift you’ve brought in for the local kids like a soccer ball or kite. You’ll find they’ll really appreciate it, and if you’ve still got the energy after a big day of fishing, there’s nothing more fun at the end of the day than having a run around with them.


All saltwater gear should be salt resistant, and reels should have sealed drags. I recommend a visit to your local fly shop pre trip to get your reel loaded up with gel spun backing, using a spooling machine.


Opt for an 8 weight rod with a floating tropical line, and a reel with a strong, smooth drag and lots of backing. Tippets and leaders should be 12 to 16 pounds. Add flies such as: 

  • Christmas Island Specials in sizes 4, 6 and 8, in a few colours like orange and shell pinks; and a few variations in weights from bead-chain eyes to dumbbells.
  • Gotchas and Crazy Charlies in sizes 4, 6 and 8, with similar variations.


Go for a 10 weight rod due to the trigger’s power, and the hazardous terrain. It will also help casting heavier flies. Use a floating tropical line to match, and the same reel requirements as above apply. Leaders and tippets should be 16 to 25 pounds, and most commonly 20 pounds. Add flies such as: 

  • Alphlexo Crab in tans and browns; various weights.
  • Spawning shrimp flies in various weights.
  • Gav’s Moon Crab in various weights. 

Anything crabby or shrimpy will often work, but must have strong hooks.

Giant trevally

You’ll need a 12 weight rod due to the power of GTs, and it will help casting large brush flies and poppers. Once again, you’ll want a floating tropical line of appropriate strength to match, and of course a smooth, strong drag with lots of backing. For terminal tackle, go for straight through 60 to 100 pound leaders. On the flats, you could go a touch lighter due to the lack of reefs and rock. But better to be safe than sorry! Add flies such as: 

  • Black, tan and white brush flies.
  • Black and white surface poppers.

The gear listed isn’t a must, but if you’re able to pack it, it will make life easier. You might be there all day trying to land a GT on an 8 weight!

Sun and wading

Good quality polarised sunglasses and sun protection are a must. You’ll want long sleeves and sun gloves.

And you’ll be on your feet most of the day at CXI, so comfortable, good quality wading boots suitable for saltwater conditions (such as protection when walking on sharp rocks and coral) are essential.