The Christmas Island Enigma

The Pacific Ocean’s Christmas Island is a fishery that’s amazingly consistent, but it’s also riddled with inconsistencies, frustrations, challenges and rewards.

I’ve chased bonefish and an array of other species at Christmas Island during six trips to the atoll, and the one great constant is the fishing for bonefish is just brilliant every time. Interestingly (well, interestingly for me) I have caught roughly the same number of bones on each of the six trips – a possible indicator that I’m not improving. The only real change or trend is the fish seem to be getting slightly bigger. Which is pleasing.

I’m willing to concede, however, that there may not be any strong evidence the fish are getting bigger. It might simply be that I’m now haunting the very areas that bigger bones frequent. These areas are normally gnarly, corally-type flats, often skirted by leader-snapping coral reefs.

Are the bonefish getting bigger, or is it just us?

Or maybe the average fish size is bigger because my eyesight isn’t quite as sharp as it was, and I can no longer see the small ones. Who knows? I did, however, catch my biggest Christmas Island bonefish on my most recent trip. Even this is not evidence enough to support the theory of improvement in average size. (Although it is a good chance to tell everyone about my big fish!)

Anyway, under the umbrella of this consistent, productive fishery, lie enough inconsistencies to drive you crazy at times.

For example, sometimes the bones are easy to catch and sometimes they are hard. I have no way to explain this, but there can be occasions when seemingly every bonefish you cast to Hoovers the fly up and you quickly rack up 10 or 15 fish. However, at other times, they may accelerate to the fly, then scoot off at a rate of knots. Or they’ll follow the fly for a metre or so, then disregard it. And the troubling thing for me is, I’m not entirely sure why it seems that sometimes they are on and sometimes they are not? Could it be water depth? Could it be tide? Could it be current? Could it be flies?

Heading off for another day on the flats – will they be easy, or hard?

We all want to talk flies don’t we? I’ve been of the view that the pale orange Crazy Charlies work in the corally, reefy water, while the pale pink ones work on the broad, sandy flats that have fewer features. So I tied a stack of both colours for my latest trip and, by and large, they served me well. But I get bored easily when tying flies, so when I got to the point that if I tied another pink or orange Crazy Charlie I’d go nuts, I decided to tie a tan Charlie – only because I thought its dullness might lessen the likelihood of spooking a curious bone. So I tied about twenty and gave some to my friend Mark Weigall (a fly-borrower of some note) and asked him to give them a try. Which was a waste of time because he’s colour blind. But don’t feel sorry for him. Mark is a very tall chap and he can see fish that people of normal height cannot see. I always penalise him 25% of fish landed due to this abnormality – it’s almost cheating.

Mark cheating again!

Anyhoo, on the second last day of the trip, after getting numerous refusals on the standard pale orange and pale pink flies, I finally gave the tan prototype a go. A seismic shift occurred, and I caught fish after fish including the monster (couldn’t help myself – I had to mention it again). Yes folks, Jon Clewlow had cracked the code for fussy bonefish!

Mark had had a tougher day on another flat so I was eager to tell him of my brilliant discovery.

Another victim of my very cunning tan Crazy Charlie.

On the last half day, armed with the new indefatigable, relentlessly successful tan Crazy Charlies, we approached the flats. I caught three bones on the completely useless tan Crazy Charlie. Mark, on the other hand, reverted back to the pale orange version after every bonefish in the vast lagoon refused the garbage tan Crazy Charlie and subsequently landed about 25! So who knows?

Endless flats.

Christmas Island is an adventure into simple, isolated island life combined with superb bonefishing. Things can and will go wrong. Most of our challenges on our last trip had to do with bacon and ice cream – or lack thereof. So you can see what you might be up against.

Regardless, if you’ve never been to Christmas Island, or if you’ve never caught a bonefish, I suggest that you make the effort to get there.