Archive for December, 2007

10
Dec
07

Christmas Island Flyfishing Recollections

Journal entry of random, disjointed thoughts:

CHRISTMAS ISLAND

Kiritimati, Kiribati

November 26 to December 5, 2007

Well, the adventure is over and I am writing my present recollections, which are a compilation of colliding thoughts and images. Hence, it will not be crisp and chronological, but rather a patchwork of many parts of the whole. As time passes, I will be able to better understand the experience. That being said, I am glad I made this journey.

Really, the underlying conflict has been: a lot of money spent v. did the experience justify the expense. An additional point of contention is: I have worked long and dutifully and deserve it v. removing resources from my family. I am not quite selfish enough, but have that inner voice that, at my present age, says the clock is ticking, so enjoy your self; this is it.

As time drew near, I made lists and packed and unpacked. The family motto of “Always prepared” was never more apparent then as I tried to anticipate my needs and also consider backup to those needs. I would pack and then reconsider what I was bringing and then repack. Eventually, I zipped up the suitcase and it was time to leave. The day came and I had a new passport and a visa (which I did not need, as it turned out) to Kiribati (pronounced like Keer-ah-boss). I had already paid for the room, airfare and purchased new gear to prepare for saltwater fishing.

I flew via Northwest Airlines to Honolulu. Our landing was very frightful. A last second adjustment to a side wind caused a ground pounding landing that was unlike any I had ever experienced and did not want to ever experience again.  We exited the airplane to humid heat. A tropical feel was in the air. The open air feel of the airport let me know we were in the tropics. I took a shuttle to the Airport Marina Inn, only a few blocks away from the airport, in an industrial area. The gear was quickly dropped off in the room and I headed to the lounge for an adult beverage. I spent time getting to know my travel~fishing companions. My fishing companions were two exceptional men, by their life’s accomplishments and their class.

A fitful nights sleep had us up and to the Honolulu Airport early Eventually, we boarded our Air Pacific jet for Christmas Island and sat back in a full plane as passengers considered their destinations of Christmas Island or Fiji and beyond. As the island came into site, I snapped pictures out the window. It was immediately apparent the island was bleak and surrounded an enormous lagoon filled with water. It was unlike anything I had yet witnessed. The landing was easy going, as a fire truck of sorts, positioned itself near the runway, should we become a disaster. In retrospect, I am not sure what the lone driver of the fire truck would have done had we crash landed.

Soon, there was the airport, as I had earlier seen it in other’s photos and yes it was just as quaint and satisfyingly fourth world as I had hoped…part of the adventure. “Welcome to Christmas Is”. We collected our luggage off a cart and entered inside to be processed into the country. Really, it was a painless process and we were soon met by men, who I would later realize were our guides. Our gear went one way and we all crammed into a van. Eleven of us made our way to the Mini Hotel. We had thought there would be only four at the ‘hotel’ and the remaining party of seven thought they were to be the lone occupants.

This over crowding led to shortages in overall service throughout the trip. We were relegated to a back annex, which would become our base of operations. A nearby bathroom satisfied our basic needs and an alcove was our meeting place for a gin and tonics, cigars and discourses on profound topics such as the best rods, reels, travel to far off destinations, fishing and the personal banter and teasing that demonstrates increasing comfort and license to poke fun at fishing partners.

Upon arriving at Christmas Island we took minivan ride to the Mini Hotel. I saw neighborhoods that are seemingly poverty stricken. I say seemingly, because perhaps my view of poverty would be a surprise to these inhabitants, but I must say the thatched dwellings on stilts and old abandoned cinder block houses suggested otherwise. There is little room for an economy beyond tourism (I use the word loosely). The islanders looked poorer than most remote villagers I have encountered in Mexico. But as I strolled about the town of London (not to be confused with nearby Paris and Poland), I was smiled at and did not receive the usual scowls of suspicious men. People scurried about on little motor bikes or flimsy pickups and bicycles.

The Mini Hotel is an adequate place to stay. The yard is powdery sand. Cars set up on blocks, maybe to be fixed someday. The floors inside are cement or tile. The place is reasonably clean despite the cockroaches on the walls, biting spiders, black flies buzzing and biting. Yes, mosquitoes were present and there were warnings of Dengue Fever. I never got a mosquito bite until I arrived back at Oahu. My only adversarial encounters were either while I walked across the yard in the dark. I twice encountered scurrying crabs, pinchers elevated, that made me pay closer attention to my footsteps as I ambled across the yard. It was easy to look upward at the many bright stars filling the sky, not at the ground and the scurrying sideways walkers.

Or, my next encounter was not a near miss but rather an awakening bolt of pain starting on the back of my hand and immediately spreading up my right arm to the elbow and shoulder. The right hand was withdrawn from beneath the pillow where I must have placed my hand. There was no overhead light immediately available. I fumbled about for my head lamp while the pain ever increased in my right hand. I turned on the light and saw a quarter inch bleeding wound on the back of my hand. The hand was swelling and throbbing. I shined the light toward the pillow and slowly raised the pillow. Nothing was there. It had scurried away. What was it?

The next day, I received various suggestions of a biting red spider, a small scorpion or a poisonous centipede. By morning, my hand was swelling up and for the rest of the day it was difficult to close my hand around the rod handle. Ironically, this was my best day of fishing on the flats. It took two days and the swelling finally subsided and I never did figure out what nailed my hand. Safe to say, I did look under the pillow each night and under the box spring for hiding places.

As for fishing the flats, it is an amazingly beautiful place. The diversity of views and perceptions is really beyond my ability to totally describe here. Crystal clear water; a shimmering mirror of light reflecting up under the eyes; glowing lime green water with suddenly emerging fish marching directly toward you; relentless wind, 10-30 mph, causing your pants and shirt to flap and the cloth neck cover to flap away around your ears so hard you cannot hear yourself think, let alone understand the guide, with his less than perfect English, uttering casting commands.

Four of the six guides spoke reasonable instructions as to distance, location by the clock and the usual ‘you see fish?’ Rarely did I see the fish right away…sometimes never. I found this to be the hardest fishing I have tried because of my vision. I was sometimes with a guide, but other times by myself. With a guide, there were spotted fish and maybe I would cast well enough to entice the hit and rampaging runs or I spooked the fish by over casting or bonking it on the head or who knows why..they just ran away. Flies would be changed after a couple of refusals.

But, if I was off by myself I was often fishing blind with rare siting of fish. The wading shuffle or waddle with the rod at the ready, the long leader flapping out ahead of me and the fly line trailing behind on the surface. Sometimes, I held the fly in my left hand dropping it and swinging into a back cast to commence a cast. The shuffle would go on for a long distance only to stop and stare ahead, to the sides, back to the front. Several back casts and a power stroke to the front. Will it travel straight and true or will the wind cram it down or ten feet off target? A recast is only marginally successful in presenting the fly in the right spot and again only marginally successful in enticing a hit. Line management was encumbered by waves and wind. Staying in touch with your surroundings and your equipment being ready was the balance that had to be maintained or opportunities were lost.

The hit is not so much savage, but so quick that the run is immediately breathtaking. It is hard to differentiate between the fish taking the fly and how fast and far the fish runs. You slightly raise the rod and strip the line to set the hook. The fish is screaming away and the line is flying up the stripping guide. Easy does it as the line tightens to the reel. In seconds the fly line is out past the tip of the rod and often into the backing. Tighten the drag and the fish still takes line…even a smaller fish can strip away a great distance against a tight drag.

Aqua blue water beckons adjacent to the flat. The fish blisters off the flat over the edge. The line is at risk of a fatal abrasion against the coral. The colors are so varied depending upon the bottom: white sand, brown rubble, tan sand, drifting silt or snaggy coral.

Manta rays, bat rays, silver eels, black tip sharks all cruised the flat with us and dove off into the depths. As we shuffled along creating some surface disturbance, sharks would cover great distances toward us and race up to within twenty feet and suddenly stop and then just as suddenly turn and race away in search of bonefish or other prey. Puffer fish are the easiest fish to see and cause many false alarms for the novice fish spotter. Goofy little fish that swim right up to your feet and just wobble away.

Sand gets in the boots; gritty sand that invades socks and boots and eventually causes abrasion and raw sores. I borrowed oversize boots and despite two pair of socks and gravel guards, the sand packed into the boots causing sores on the tops of the toes, tops of the feet and the sides and bottoms of the feet. Given all I spent on so many other items, I should have sprung for flats boots that fit me.

This trip has taught me I need to reconsider my casting and improve my technique. My easy delivery had no place on the flats, which requires quick, crisp deliveries. Most of the required casts were under forty feet and most below thirty feet.

The transportation was via an approximately thirty foot boat with a single pontoon. Weathered orange paint has chipped away on the boat’s finish. Rods are stowed away overhead under a canopy. Heads were eventually banged against the ceiling. You are bent over as you prepare to exit the boat lest you collide with the ceiling. You grab the railing and step down two steps into the water at the edge of the flat. You get your bearings. Easy if you are in one foot of water, but less so if you are standing in hip deep water with waves rolling through and the wind gusting. Not to forget, when you are standing there as the boat departs, you realize you are standing in an inland sea that stretches for a dozen miles. It is a bit imposing even if you are standing on hard submerged, packed sand.

Clouds and wind create poor lighting and visibility. It is difficult for the guides to site fish under such circumstances, but beyond difficult for me. Let the sun shine and the wind subside and I could maybe see more fish. Staring and staring, looking for a grey ghost, a shadow of movement. In the water they look small. Out of the water they are bigger. The biggest I hooked on the trip was 24 inches and two more at over 20 inches. The rest were mostly 14 to 18 inches.

I also hooked smaller blue Trevally of 12 to 16 inches. I did not ever tie into a large Trevally. I did hook a very big bonefish that broke my 15# tippet like a cobweb and swam off over the edge into the aqua blue. In six days of fishing I perhaps played forty fish of various species. All made enjoyable runs. Beyond that, I presented to another sixty plus fish that refused my offerings for all manner of reasons, but mostly poor presentation or a refusal of the fly.

Also it is evident, discussing casting, that my usual ability to judge distance during a cast was way off. If they said cast 30’ I cast 40’. I often lined the fish and spooked him. At 30’ the cast should have been 25’ yet I often could not tell distance because the canvas was without texture or reference markers so I could not figure the distance so easily.

I liked my clothing and felt well outfitted. I probably should have sprung for better polarized sunglasses of either dark or bronze. My inexpensive polarized ones did ok but I often felt blinded by a mirror surface that shimmered so much you could see the reflection on the bottom of clouds or bird’s wings. Also, I regret never getting a fish photo. The one time I gave my camera to Richard…an act of faith…he promptly pushed every button but the one button I pointed to and put the camera into a mode I was too blind from glare to correct, so I lost pictures of me and fish. I had 4 fish in particular that would have made good pics.

One morning as we were preparing to go fish, an adjoining house was slaughtering pigs and the squeals of the animals, as they were slaughtered, was loud and unrelenting for the half hour before we headed out. In the evening when we had returned, there were still distressed squeals. As much as I was tired of semi raw fish and octopus, I was not quite up for any pork about then.

Speaking of food: it was seldom to my liking. The emphasis on fish. It was diced into a slurry of a fish gravy curry and vegetables with the unflavored meat. Eating tentacles and slimy body pieces was very dissatisfying. I found only Trevally to have satisfying flavor. I mostly avoided stomach distress, but did ultimately suffer distress at a most inopportune time on the flats. Water was always questionable and even commercial water bottles were sometimes unsealed and suspect as to safety. I did have my water purifier for the questionable water. The only item that tasted ok was wheat bread, that was there when we arrived but soon disappeared at meals, save lunch for the P&J sandwiches. Probably the only satisfying meal was the P&J sandwiches, but eventually the peanut butter ended. We were left with cold rice and cold fish of some sort and warm water (do not drink tap water and bottled water–make sure the seal has not been broken). My stomach quivered at the smell, but I ate anyway so as not appear ungrateful. It was what the guides also ate everyday. Everyone had varying degrees of an upset stomach…watch hand to mouth and cleanliness.

The place where we boarded the fishing boats was heavy with the smell of brackish water and sewage. This was situated near the edge of the town of London, where sewage most probably seeps from the homes nearby. Yet families sit in this water up to their necks to bathe and cool off.

I have to say how thankful I am for the opportunity to make this trip happen. I have seldom felt comfortable doing such things on such a scale. I am not certain I am yet. I was with people who travel often and far. They consider themselves due these rewards in life. But, it is easier to rationalize such expenses if one’s means make it easier. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable and exhausting venture. I enjoyed meeting the gentlemen from HP and learned a great deal from them as some of them had been there up to five times.

It was Agnes’ birthday and we sang happy birthday to her and watched her blow out her candles with the help of a big eyed little girl. One day when we returned from fishing there was a Christmas tree set up with garland and decorations. It was an unfamiliar contrast of tropics and Christmas lights.

The night before we left I did not sleep well, as it was very windy and the palm trees were crashing against the building’s side walls. The dogs barked often during the night and the roosters stared crowing at 3a.m. We were up at 3:45 a.m. and envisioned a casual time to finish packing and leave at 5:00 a.m. but because of the usual miscommunication, we were suppose to leave at 4:15 a.m. Of course, no showers, no food, no coffee. Hurried dressing and grabbing of gear and we were on our way to the Christmas Island airport. The processing of 25 flats fisherman, all hailing from three different fishing villages was an interesting study of part time bureaucrats herding people, gear and rods through a maze of lines; sometimes lines crossing through other lines in a sort of conga line dance with a final destination in a holding cell like room that once entered could not be exited. I left Christmas Island humbled by the challenge, but enriched by the incredible scenery and natural energy.

I think because of the overbooking into the Mini there was a shortage of food and they had to scrounge to provide guides and several were not up to the task, either with their abilities or speaking skills. This lead to a dilution of services that had there been less guests would have not occurred. New places to stay will emerge and better cater to the flyfisher…there were guides I spoke with wanting better services for visitors.

We flew back to Honolulu and yet again, another hair raising landing took place. I mean crap, twice landing into a cross wind. This time the cross wind caused a fully loaded jet to come in low while the left wing dipped hard left ready, it seemed at times, to hit the water, then just as sudden the left wing swept upward as the landing took place, first on the left wheel and after what seemed like forever the right wheel, which not so softly pounded down on the tarmac.

We got our gear, went through Customs and rented a car. The thought was we would store our gear and explore Oahu. We departed Christmas Island on Dec. 5 at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Hawaii on Dec. 4 at 10:30 a.m. Weird, but worse was no flight out for us until 11:30 p.m. that night. So, we were going to kill time for thirteen hours. We explored the perimeter of the island and had a great time driving the East side of the island up to the North shore. We eventually arrived back at Honolulu and decided to drive down into Waikiki. I must say the whole area was nothing like I had envisioned. Dozens and dozens of high rise buildings towering over hundreds of shops; it seemed like Las Vegas on crack, yet no casinos. People everywhere on a cloudy windy day with sputtering rain and humidity. I am not sure I like it there beyond a short visit. Other parts of the island were nice and less crowded, but there were not many accommodations or shops. I am sure other parts of Hawaii are more relaxed and less hectic.

We got to the airport and deposited the rental car. Then we found out our 11:30 p.m. flight was now a 1:15 a.m. departure with a 8:00 a.m. arrival into Portland. We hung out over beverages for a few hours then finally boarded for a bumpy ride home. So, we arrived into Portland on the red eye in a daze. We were up about 36 hours with only a little fitful sleep thrown in here and there.

Time will diminish the minor difficulties and mostly only the positive recollections will remain. I had a good time. I met interesting and fun men. It was an excellent adventure.

This is an entry for my fishing journal. Consequently, I must make some abbreviated entries re gear:

-prescription sunglasses; review Kauffmann’s. Wear the best you can afford…period!

recommendations for suggested requirements

-side blinders for sun glasses

-extra fishing reel housing, not just spare spool

-form fitting flats boots

-extra socks, higher socks

-extra wading pants

-total leader material to rebuild leaders

-more moleskin and material for injuries

-scissors, pocket knife

-eye glass cleaner for salt spray

-wind proof lighter

-finger strippers (at least two sets)

-lighter wire material and shorter length in leader

-water proof tape

-less size 8’s. Use size 6 hook and vary silver eyes (red dots) weights

-orange, white, yellow, tan Christmas Island Specials

-wear gators over pants and boots, not under pants and only

over boots.

-apply sunscreen more often

-light tennis shoes (I got cuts walking in gravel in sandals)

-first aid kit on boat with fishing gear, not back at camp

-water proof boat bag was good and necessary

-backup eyeglasses (old pair along while fishing)

In another two posts here (query Christmas Island in search box), I describe my impressions…re Christmas Island. After writing the above journal entry, within days a cut on my left foot led to a severe staph/strep infection that really brought me up short…SO, keep wounds clean. The sore was from wearing improperly fit wading shoes and resultant blisters and abrasions from the sand/coral. Wash and maintain sores especially near septic waters near town.




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