2015 Trip Report

THE VILLAGES LODGE ON KIRITIMATI (Christmas Island)

Sad News
For those who haven’t heard, the head guide at the Villages, Neemia, was involved in a vehicle accident and, as a result of his injuries, passed away. I have sent condolences to his family and friends on behalf of the Australian fishermen. I am sure many of you have had the opportunity to avail yourself of his expertise and consequently enjoyed many a good days fishing with him.
Eketi has now assumed the position of head guide and no doubt he will work hard to make sure everyone has a great visit to the island.

Weather
The conditions encountered with the prevailing EL Nino system resulted in higher than normal rainfall than in previous years. On the positive side, the Island have been in a period of drought for a number of seasons, so the rain was needed to top up the aquifer that supplies the majority on the water for the island.

In addition to the above, the abnormally high water levels (somewhere between 25 and 30cm) caused by the low pressure system associated with El Nino, has also meant that there is a larger volume of water moving in and out of the lagoon. This has resulted in more sand being stirred up and consequently cloudy water particularly on the run out tides. This is a temporary system that is expected to pass by 2016 however, to give an idea of how high the water has been, the photo below which was taken during the full moon tides shows water covering the beach and approaching the lodge. Not once during the nine weeks did we have to walk out into the water to get on or off the boats. They were parked on the beach each day.

2015_1Scientists who were there doing coral sampling said that this phenomenon has occurred previously. A smaller one happened in the 1990s with the one similar to the current occurred in 1972.

The Fishing
The lack of sunlight in the overcast conditions made the sight casting conditions difficult at times. On the spring tides, many of the lagoon flats normally fished now had a metre of water over them even at low tide. Others could only be fished one hour either side of the low tide. On the high tides, a lot of the shallow water flats fished, were those that are normally dry or very shallow. Consequently these don’t have the food to attract large numbers of fish and, the fish that do venture there, are small. This probably accounts for the large number of small fish reported.
 2015_2This photo was taken at Y Site showing the water well over the hard coral edges. There were a couple of reports of small bonefish being caught swimming along the car tracks that traverse this area.
Where are the larger fish? Most likely still feeding on the flats that are now in deeper water. There lies the problem for sight casting. Deep water made cloudy by a large volume of water movement, throw in cloudy conditions and this probably explains the lower numbers and smaller fish.

A comment was made by one of the guides that overfishing was the cause of very spooky fish that were encountered on occasions. I don’t think that this is a creditable reason but is rather a quick comment on the spur of the moment to justify the situation. If you average out 30 fishermen per week (and that’s being generous) by 50 weeks then that is 1500 per year. The lagoon is very large with massive numbers of fish so it is hard to imagine it being overfished. Maybe places like Paris Flat that can have fifteen to twenty fishermen and 7or 8 boats in close proximity for five of six days in a row during the full moon would have the overfishing problem but it doesn’t appear to be so.

There are many factors that will influence how the fish will react. Bear these points in mind.
Tide time – fish tend to feed more aggressively on the rising tide.
Fly selection – light coloured (pink/tan) for lighter bottoms, dark (orange) for darker bottoms.
Eye Size – check that the fly is heavy enough to hold the bottom in current. Use lightest possible eyes in shallow water.
Travelling fish tend to be more spooky than ones that are stopping and looking for food
Presentation – lead by more if you have difficulty presenting the fly softly. Particularly important if the weather conditions are calm.
Fly Movement – vary the stripping technique to find one that works. With light flies, strip slowly otherwise they will lift off the bottom and spook the fish.
Rod Movement – when fish are close, crouch down and use a lower rod angle to make the cast. A small roll cast is good in these situations.

The wind has been lighter but from unusual directions. Consequently, even though it was often cloudy, sight casting was still possible by choosing shallower water with white sand bottoms. The best fishing was from tidal run half out to half in. Areas at the back of the lagoon on average were the most productive. The exception was that some good fish were caught at Paris Flat on the full moon and a few days after.
Fishing the Korean Wreck was a no go as the high water and breaking waves stirred up the beach sand making fishing impossible.
Despite the sometimes adverse conditions, plenty of fish were caught. Lots of small GT’s and some larger specimens, Bluefin trevally and ladyfish were landed in addition to bonefish. A couple of good sized Goldens were hooked and lost on bonefish flies.

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Trigger fish again proved to be tough adversaries with many tales of broken or straightened hooks and busted leaders. You have to be lucky to land one on 12lb tippet. For a little bit more security, 20lb is a better option.

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Pic on right – a long way to go to catch a Tilapia.

The offshore fishing in early July was spectacular with plenty of tuna, wahoo and a couple of sails were landed.  All on spin gear. We had a try with fly but all we managed to catch was a dozen or so birds. They are so thick over the schools busting up on the surface that they either fly into the line or pick the fly up when it hits the surface. One marlin, believed to be a blue, was hooked and eventually jumped off.

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The fishery for milkfish is becoming more productive as more people get involved. It is still a work in progress developing flies that will work consistently but the improving successes are encouraging. They are definitely a fish of a thousand casts and, even when hooked, many more are lost than are landed. Daniel Ivanoff with a good specimen in the above pic on right.

Flies
The normal culprits, crazy charlies in orange and pink with tan wings are still the most productive.
A couple of variations that were tried worked well and are worthwhile taking with you on the trip.

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Left – salmon pink thread overwrapped with clear Tiewell “stretch back”, body coated with clear nail polish, tan wing and no flash. Worked well on white sandy flats.
Centre – tan thread, body of cinnamon UV Straggle, tan wing and no flash.
Right –orange thread, body of orange ice Straggle, tan or orange wing and no flash. Triggers liked it and it proved to be effective on broken coral bottoms and at the back of the lagoon.
Small crab patterns worked well for Trigger fish and they caught the odd bonefish as well.
One of the guys caught a 20lb GT on a bonefish fly but normally large baitfish patterns in tan or tan and white to replicate mullet or white and grey/olive to mimic milkfish. Black flies also worked on a couple of occasions.

Illegal Fishing
Unfortunately the practice of chumming as well as illegal netting is still going on in the lagoon. Any nets have to be tended at all times. This one we found in the Poland Flat area was not. It can be clearly seen it contained bonefish. The other photo is of a canoe that is often seen each afternoon netting in the area close to the villages supposedly targeting milkfish. As well as milkfish, few fish look remarkably like bonefish. These activities has been reported to the fisheries for action.

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A couple of the lodges persist in chumming for GT’s and bonefish. Rarely will they take a fly once they are introduced to chum. The option then is to hook a bit of flesh on the fly. I got off on a flat one day, and as soon as the boat pulled up, 4lb bonefish appeared and were swimming around my legs but none were interested in a fly. When questioned, the boatman informed me that this was one of the flats where the practice occurred. I hope it does not continue to spread as it will ruin the fishery.

Developing Other Options
The option of chasing tuna and sailfish on fly has, in general, been curtailed by lack suitable boats. This will change in the New Year with the arrival of 2 fiberglass longboats fitted with 140hp 4 strokes from Fiji
The boat drivers and guides will be introduced to techniques for approaching schools of tuna to enable shots with fly and the use of teasers to draw sailfish and marlin within range to make a cast.
The Villages now also has its own dive operation with qualified local divers and a clean air compressor for filling tanks. I am told that the diving is spectacular with unspoilt reef, masses of reef fish and 90ft visibility. The following link shows a sample.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgrFzVw4kV4&feature=youtu.be
For bookings and additional information on diving contact Howard McKinney –  howard@fishabout.com

Huff Dam Area
The Villages has been allocated Friday and Saturday to visit the dam area. If you go onto the land on the dam side you must have a fisheries representative with you as is a National Park. Any other part of the area away from the milkfish area can be fished at any time without a representative.
At times, some guides catch milkfish and throw them over the wall to excite the GTs. This is against the local laws for the area. To avoid the possibility of being banned from the area (remember there is a fisheries rep close by) this activity should be discouraged.

Weight to Length
In an endeavor to take the guess work out of the estimation process, a couple of nets with scales and some measuring half pipes were taken over. Over a period of six weeks I hoped to get enough data to compile a weight to length table.
Unfortunately, not sufficient numbers of fish were measured to establish a margin of error. For example, some fish measuring 35cm weighed in at 1lb while others that were 34cm weighed 1.25 lbs. A similar inconsistency was found in larger fish where a 49cm fish weighed 3.5 lb while one weighed 4 lb was 49.5cm long. Oh hell, I’ll have to go back next year and catch more to get the information required.

Trip Notes
The notes now read like “Gone with the Wind” but for anyone going to the island for the first time they contain a wealth of information to make it a trip to remember as well as hassle free as possible. If you are going and for some reason we have overlooked sending you a set, give us a call and we’ll get one away to you.

Baggage
There have been a number of cases this year when, because of weight issues, luggage has been offloaded in Nadi. While not trip destroying, it certainly puts a damper on it when your personal gear does not arrive and you are relegated to using borrowed gear.
In an attempt to help overcome this eventuality, we have had stickers printed that identify fishermen’s luggage and should not be unloaded. We are hopeful this will help baggage handlers identify priority baggage when they are selecting bags to unload. The stickers were used for the first time in late September and all baggage arrived safely. They may have worked or it was just good luck……time will tell.
We suggest that all fishermen, carry a set of fishing clothes, wading boots, socks and essential medications in carryon bags. Do not include reels, lines or rods as they will probably be confiscated.
As from next year there will be 2 x 7wt outfits available at the lodge for anyone to use if their gear does not arrive. Their use will be on the basis, you break – you pay. We ask that, if you find yourself in the position of having to use a loan rod, you treat it as if it was your own, wash it down, dry it and pack it up before returning to the head guide.  We want the gear to remain in serviceable order for others.
A reminder for those travelling to CXI about baggage security. Cable ties are not sufficient security as they can be easily cut. Aviation approved locks are the best deterrent. While they do not give absolute security as they can be broken off or the bag can be cut, they are still the best option. If bags are opened for legitimate security checks, a sticker will be affixed to the bag.
On the all legs of the trip, check your baggage out as soon as you collect it, and if you suspect it has been tampered with illegally, report the incident to Air Fiji security at the airport. Send me an email detailing items missing so that I can follow it up.

Tipping
Remember, a tip is gratuity for good service. Within reason, if you feel that you had really bad service and the guide did a poor job, withhold the tip and explain that you will speak to the head guide about the matter in question. Make sure you do this immediately you return to the lodge.
It is important that the matter be sorted out as quickly as possible so all parties know where they stand. Under no circumstances, get involved with discussions with the guide in person apart from telling him you are withholding his tip. It is best to let the head guide manage guiding matters.

Aide
A total of about 800 pairs of reading glasses and a bag full of medical supplies were given to the resident doctor. They were all gratefully accepted and distributed to the folks who were in need. Thanks to all who went to the effort to collect them. Your efforts have made life a bit more enjoyable for a lot or islanders.
Carlton Smith through his voluntary organization, PIMA (Pacific Island Medical Aid) pacificmedaid@aol.com does some amazing work by organizing groups of volunteer doctors to visit the island 3 or 4 times a year to carry out medical procedures.  He arranges for those who can’t be treated in the local hospital to be transported to Honolulu or the US for the required treatment. While I was there a group of doctors performed 80 odd cataract surgeries in 5 days. One story they told was about this old guy who hadn’t seen for years. His wife was there when they took the bandages off his eyes and the first words he said to his wife were “I didn’t think you were that old”. This cracked the room up but I’m not sure how well his wife took it.

Building Activities
Construction goes on at pace. The new meeting house and bar are all but completed while the gift shop is due for completion by December. The old meeting house will be demolished and rebuilt as it is starting to lean owing to the fact that the PVC pipes that support the building are not filled with concrete. Consequently, it is beginning to become unsafe.
An Australian Company has been give the contract to construct 3 new power supply stations with NZ aide money and the manager of the project will be staying at the Villages on and off for 2 years. He is shipping a Hilux over and kindly offered us some space in the back of the 4×4. Consequently, we purchased over $7000 of much needed tools to make the work of construction and maintenance a bit easier and quicker.

Gifts for Children
There is a recently formed preschool next to the lodge. Some of you would have had the pleasure of seeing them do some local dances. They run the school on a shoe string and are grateful for any donations. The Ballarat Fly Club who visited the Island in September brought over a stack of colouring pencils, crayons, colouring books and readers. The teacher was very thankful as it will enrich the lives of the kids who basically have little. For those who would like to help, taking more of similar supplies will be a worthy cause for visiting groups next year.
A note of caution, giving gifts directly to children should be avoided as it will encourage a begging behavour. This is already evident in London where you are harassed by children wanting gifts. It is preferable to give any gifts you have to ad adult for distribution.

Activity Board
The daily activities that are written up on the whiteboard after the nightly meeting with the head guide are merely a starting point. They have been selected by taking into account tide times, weather conditions and what you have indicated you wish to do. There are just a couple of words written on the board and these can be open to interpretation. To prevent confusion, don’t assume the guide knows what you want to do during the day. It is important to brief him when you get on the boat.
Conditions on the day may change so plans need to be flexible. You are not restricted to the area that was discussed if conditions are not suitable and the fishing poor. Discuss options with your guide (he wants you to catch fish) but bear in mind travelling time involved with a long move and the locations of other fishermen who will be using the boat. When you get back on the boat during the day, find out where you are going and why. This will help overcome the perception of time wasting when the boat repositions you from one location to another.

On the Lighter Side
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Left – Boat driver – All he needs is a uniform with lots of “salad” on it. Not surprisingly his new nickname is Edi Amin
Centre – Probably the most confronting buff you have ever seen.
Right – Now, where did I park that elephant?

Rates for 2016
As you are no doubt aware, the island trades in two currencies both $AU and $US. The majority of local trade in done in the former however a lot of the purchases such as food are imported from Honolulu or Hawaii. Consequently, with the fall in the Aussie Dollar against the US dollar, the cost to the lodge has risen sharply and there has been no other option but to adjust the weekly price slightly to help cover these costs. 
Nevertheless, the cost still represents good value for those going to the Island from Australia for six and a half days on what is arguably some of the best flats fishing for bonefish in the world.

2016 Dates
For those who like to plan ahead, these are the dates block booked for 2016 season. If these don’t suit, email me with your preferred dates and I’ll check availability. Bear in mind that the first 6 months of the year are usually fairly heavily booked by fishermen from the US and, as a consequence, vacancies during that period may be limited.
6 – 13 July – New Moon 4 July
13 – 20 July – First Quarter 12 July
20 – 27 July – Full Moon 20 July
27 July – 3 August -Third Quarter 27 July
3 – 10 August – New Moon 3 August
10 – 17 August – First Quarter 11 August (Fully Booked)
17 – 24 August – Full Moon 18 August