Flyfishing the Cocos Keeling Islands

Despite the best laid plans, when I went to retrieve my boarding pass for my upcoming trip to Cocos, there was nothing. Predictably, there were no seats available to fly for another month! The disappointment of not being able to do the trip was immense and it was shortly followed by an accident at home that likely would have cancelled the trip anyway. As they say, all things happen for a reason. Fortunately, things calmed down at home, and then a seat miraculously became available to fly the following week. So off I went.

After a long journey from Melbourne, I finally arrived at Cocos Keeling Islands. As I walked out of the arrivals lounge, I spotted Nick from Hello Backing Charters. Excitement about the week ahead finally set in.

The Hello Backing lodge is small and comfortable, with enough room to accommodate four anglers and crew. It’s a short walk from the airport, and in close proximity to the local cafe and pub. After a few beers, some pizza, and a good catch up, I hit the hay in preparation for a much-anticipated week of fishing. 

Nothing could have prepared me for day one. The Cocos grand slam consists of a bonefish, a GT and a permit – and I managed to accomplish this before 11am! Each morning the 7.30am ferry arrived from home island with our lunches. While we were waiting for the ferry, we looked over the side of the jetty to see two cruising GTs. After a quick run to the boat to grab a rod, I was soon back on the beach stripping line for a cast. First presentation was on the money. Each strip produced a huge boil behind the fly, and on the third strip, the hook connected. After a short fight, the GT was beached for some photos. After a quick release, I put a second cast into the same spot. One strip and then BANG. This time a beautiful bluefin trevally. Wow, two fish in two casts, this place is insane!

The bonefish came soon after. As we were launching the boat, there a pair of bones were surfing less than 30 metres up the beach. With all the fly line on the sand and 3 feet of the leader landing in the surf, the first bone turned and hit the fly at pace. After a heated fight, I got the bonefish on dry land. I asked the guide for a picture and his response was, “There will be plenty more of them, so why bother?” His remark got me excited for more bones, but this was a first for me and so we got a quick shot.

I was now two-thirds of the way to a grand slam before even boarding the boat. After launching, we shot over to the south side of the lagoon and it wasn’t long before we started finding permit. I had two shots at different permit before finely getting an eat. Fortunately, everything went to plan and I’d soon managed to land my first-ever permit, and complete my grand slam. Throw a bluefin trevally in there and maybe I could call it a Cocos Super Grand Slam?

The next day, we focused our efforts on bonefish. Cocos is well known for its bones and for good reason: they’re big, and plentiful. In many places, 10-16lb tippet is adequate but on Cocos, 20lb+ is recommended. We caught so many bones early on, by mid-morning, we decided to only target the bigger ones. I was very happy to land one good-sized bone later in the day. The bonefish at Cocos prefer large, drab shrimp flies. Crabs weren’t as effective as I thought they would be, and a standard Gotcha in a size 2 was my favourite bonefish fly for the trip.

On the way back to the lodge, we collected dinner from home island, which consisted of an amazing spread of traditional Malaysian curries, rice and chicken. 

The main focus of day three was to get my mate Dizzy a giant trevally. He was a week and half into his trip and the GTs had eluded him. The guide expertly manoeuvred the boat over a few kms of shallow flats and once we arrived at his target spot, we soon started locating GTs. The first few were quite spooky and moved off fast. Then we found one moving slowly over the flat which presented Dizzy with a good opportunity. The fly landed three metres in front of the fish, and immediately, the GT took off and made a beeline towards it. Dizzy stripped as fast as he could, and the GT engulfed the fly about 2 metres from the boat. In the next instant, it had stripped a full fly line and 200 metres of backing from the reel. We gave chase in the skiff and after a few minutes, guide Connor had tailed the big GT. Dizzy was over the moon. He had worked so hard for this fish and it was awesome to share in his excitement. GT party tonight!

After a very quiet time the next morning on the flats, we decided to head back and have a crack at surfing bones on the high tide. With a strong wind in our faces, we started walking the beach. Almost immediately, we spotted a pair tailing in the surf. One well-placed cast got the eat but the fish was lost during the fight. The next one snapped me off after a rather heavy-handed strip strike. Now I was 2 for 0. I caught up to the boys who had walked a bit further up the beach. Connor had spotted a pair of bones at the base of a tree. “You’re up. Walk past the tree and cast down to them,” he suggested. I got into position to make the cast. “Money!” shouted Connor. Strip, strip, bang. I was on. Fortunately, I managed to keep this one connected and after a few happy snaps, the fish was released.

The next day brought with it a very low morning tide, which meant we had to walk the skiff over some skinny water to get to the flats. I was wading 40 metres off the skiff when I spotted my first target. After a short cast and brutal fight, I tailed my biggest bonefish so far. Guide Cooper waded over for a few pictures and then the fish was released. The best way to find bones at Cocos is looking for tails. Often during the trip, you would get a shot at 10 fish in 10 casts.

That afternoon, we made our way into a bay. I was dropped off to wade the shoreline, and as I was wading out to get past an overhanging tree, I saw a GT swimming on its side in inches of water. Unfortunately, just as I saw it, it saw me and spooked.

After the wading session, I was picked up in the skiff and while we where drifting, a pair of bluefin trevally were spotted. Two casts later and there was a huge explosion on the fly. Good-sized bluefin trevally on an 8 weight are quite a tussle. I’d managed to upsize on the bluefin I caught on the first morning.

Once the tide had filled the flats, we begun the journey back to the boat ramp in search of more surfing bones. I don’t think I will ever get sick of watching them surfing. In a matter of minutes, we found our first target. We lost and won a few battles in the surf session and then, absolutely exhausted, we headed back to the lodge. The pub that night was pretty rowdy, with a research yacht’s crew arriving on the island.

We all woke with a headache the next day and so it was a slow start. We travelled into a shallow bay and waited for the tide to push in. The main targets were permit and GTs. While we were staked out waiting for water, I caught 7 bones in 10 casts, all small but super fun and a great way to pass the time while waiting for trophies. While we did see permit, no opportunities presented. Unfortunately, I had a medium-sized bonefish die on the release. Fortunately, the research crew we met at the pub the previous night had asked if we could catch them one so they could include it in their studies.

We left the flats around 4pm and headed for the massive research yacht on the horizon. Once there, we swapped the fish for a few beers, plus a big bag of fresh apples, oranges and a wheel of brie cheese. We didn’t want anything for the fish but they insisted. We watched them dissect the bonefish before heading back to the boat ramp. 

The final day was a half day of fishing, then lunch, before packing up and heading to the airport. For the morning fish, Connor and l stayed on West Island for a land-based session. Bones were the target and we both managed one good fish each and heaps of smaller ones. Later, back at the lodge, it started to sink in that this was the last day. Wow, what a trip. This really was one of those magic, once-in-a-lifetime flyfishing experiences. We met some amazing people and enjoyed some incredible, world-class flyfishing. I can’t recommend Cocos highly enough.

To book your Cocos Islands adventure, phone The Flyfisher on (03)96211246
Cost is $5500 plus flights to Cocos for 6 days fishing.