Bend, Oregon is one of the top fly fishing towns in the country. Surrounded by nationally renowned rivers, streams and lakes, it offers anglers a dynamic range of opportunity. But it's not uncommon for local fly fishing guides to wanderlust for warm water and tropical fish during the cold winter months.
Quite literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Republic of Kiribati is a country that comprises of three chains of Islands; the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Our destination was Kiritimati (Christmas Island), the Northern most island in the Line chain. Found about 1,400 miles due south of Honolulu, it is indeed a journey to get there, especially coming from Central Oregon. To put in perspective, we were headed to a destination 144 miles North of the equator and across the international date line. Our journey began at 3am on a bitterly cold March Monday morning in Central Oregon. Two flights to Hawaii, one night stay in Honolulu followed by a quick 3-hour flight, we were wheels down on Christmas Island.
I have been fortunate enough to work in the Central Oregon fly fishing industry for the past 6 years and was presented with the opportunity to travel and co-host a trip to Central Oregon with Scott Cook from Fly and Field Outfitters. Our goal was to host a trip to Christmas Island with friends and clients of the shop. Fortunately, I have built some exceptional friendships through trout and steelhead fishing around Central Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. I knew just the guys to call! Ryan, Chris, and Forrest. Three guys that I have spent a fair amount of time on the water with whom I knew had the drive and motivation to broaden their fly fishing expertise from freshwater fly fishing to saltwater fly fishing. Our planning began roughly 9 months before we were to depart… the anticipation was substantial but being anglers, we know the importance of patience. Fortunately, the virtue of patience (and the required wait time) we were able to do copious amounts of research on targeting Bonefish, Triggerfish, Giant Trevally, Milkfish, and various other species that dwell on the flats and in the surf on Christmas Island. Salt water fly fishing is a natural progression for many trout and steelhead anglers. Fly Fishing is an exceptional sport because the learning never ends and one thing can lead to the next if you are eager and hungry.
Reportedly, from the local guides, anglers first started visiting Christmas Island in the 1960s to target bonefish, a.k.a the ghost of flats mainly. Bonefish earned their nickname due to their almost translucent color while cruising around the flat. Site fishing for bonefish takes a keen eye! Soon after, they realized this incredible island offered much more than just bonefish and as the sport of fly fishing advanced, so did the angling opportunities. Being a TINY island in the middle of the ocean, you would think the fishing opportunities would be somewhat centralized. However, we barely scratched the surface in 6 days of fishing there. Our days were spent on the flats, the surf, and a half day in the blue water. If you are on the flats, you are slowly wading in knee deep or less water, sight fishing for bones, triggers, and trevally that cruise on to the flat. Surf fishing puts you in deeper water, wading, with waves crashing over you, into you, and pursuing trevally in the depths and bones in the shallows. Bluewater fishing is typically in 100 feet or more of water, targeting tuna species, milkfish, barracuda, shark, and whatever else is enticed by the scent of dead tuna.
We were fortunate enough to be emerged with the locals daily, from our guides to the lodge staff, and having the ability to interact with the locals each day when we were not on the water. Kiritimati is a sub-third world country. Meaning, there is virtually no access to fresh water, fresh fruits/vegetables, and other resources that first world individuals are used to having readily available. The Kiritimati folk are some of the purest, genuine, and friendliest people I have crossed paths with. Our guides let us know that they typically build their own homes. Many without power, a solid roof, and running water. Spending time in sub-third world countries and with their locals is a great reminder to keep life simple and that something as small as a smile and wave can make someone else day.