Standing on top of a pancake flat in the middle of Christmas Island’s massive lagoon, I was literally a trout fisherman at sea. An hour earlier, I’d never even heard of a pancake flat, and here I was the king of one. As my guide pulled away with my wife, I assured him that I’d be fine and was a proficient enough angler to figure things out on my own — but the truth was I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I paced in circles for an hour and then stood on the edge of the flat, peering into the dark blue water in front of me. Suddenly, I remembered a fly a buddy gave me that I’d never heard of — it was a Lefty’s Deceiver, a fly that my friend claimed was insanely good. So I tied on the unfamiliar pattern using the saltwater knot I’d learned only hours before.
What ensued is still a blur, and actually quite embarrassing, but it needs to be told.
I picked up my head, and in an instant, I was face to fin with a swimming garbage can. I wish I could say that I remained calm and cool, but if I did, I’d be lying. Instead, I screamed like a girl, swung my fly rod at the aquatic beast and raced for safety in the center of my pancake kingdom.
As the jet made its final approach to Christmas Island last February, I was telling some first-timers about that face-to-fin introduction to giant trevally 17 years earlier. I know the term life-changing is overused these days, but that first experience did indeed change my life — and not necessarily for the better.
After that initial trip to Christmas Island, a territory of Australia, I became crazed with everything salt water. Gone were the days of trout exploration across Montana, Oregon and Idaho. All I could think about was giant trevally and what else I had been missing for all these years. I obsessed over Bimini twists and Huffnagle and Albright knots until I could tie them blindfolded. My travel cases were now filled with 12-weight fly rods, and my 5-weight rods were pushed farther and farther back in the closet.
Over the years, I have heard it all concerning the downfall of Christmas Island’s flats-fishing. Too many people, too many fishermen, netting and even global warming are all said to threaten the habitat and fishery. Well, I won’t argue that the fishing is as good as it was in the early 1990s, but that said, it offered some of the best fishing I’d had anywhere this past winter. The only thing I know for sure about Christmas Island is that it produces. And I mean year after year it offers the traveling angler some of the most consistent flats-fishing in the world. Just 119 miles north of the equator, it has a location ideal for great year-round weather — as long as you consider the mid-80s with a nice breeze to fit the requirements of great weather. This is not to say that the island doesn’t get rainfall, because it does, but nothing like I have experienced in other locations.
Christmas Island flats offer the absolute best of both worlds, as even less experienced saltwater anglers have countless opportunities at cruising bonefish. There isn’t a better place to sharpen your saltwater fly-fishing skills. The best way to become a better fisherman is to catch a bunch of fish. As far as I’m concerned, the guides are some of the best in the world and have eyes like eagles. With these guys at your side, you’ll hook and land your first bonefish before you realize a fish is within casting distance. With one guide per two anglers, the person who needs the help gets it, and the one who likes to fish solo can. I don’t consider myself in the same league as these guides, but like many experienced fly-anglers, I love hunting the flats on my own. Nothing beats spotting your own fish, making the cast, watching the fish eat your fly and setting the hook on the fish.
After a few days, you'll notice that you are spotting fish easier and getting more fish to eat. The biggest problem occurs when Mr. GT shows up and you’re toting only a bonefish rod. I recommend casting anyway — it makes a great war story even if you get spooled and lose your line. That being said, make sure to pack a few extra fly lines.