Aitutaki - The Bonefish Destination

I had arranged a visit to Cook Islands about five years ago, but a move overseas scuttled those plans. My mate Jakub had fished in the Cook Islands on numerous occasions and his stories of Aitutaki bonefish were a constant tease, and  although we talked about doing a trip together, no solid plans were ever made.

When a bonefish trip to the Bahamas fell through I impulsively booked accommodation and flights all the way to Aitutaki, sent Jakub my itinerary via WhatsApp and hoped for a positive reply. Within minutes Jakub had called, his first words being  “bro… are you serious, you can't do that to me, you can’t go without me”. The next few months saw long distance chats about flies, guides options, locations and everything fishing mates mull over when a big adventure is on the horizon. And then, almost like a dream I found myself transiting through the city of Auckland. As I walked to meet Jakub at one of the airport bars it dawned on me. This was it, I'd be in Cook Islands in a few hours.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki


A little paradise means Aitutaki, home to approximately 1800 people and the world’s most beautiful lagoon. It’s only a 45-minute flight from the main Island of Rarotonga. Secluded and romantic,15 islets are sprinkled across this huge turquoise, sunlit lagoon. The crystalline waters hold some of the largest bonefish found on earth. The approach over the lagoon, just moments before the golden hour, in the twin engine SAAB was smooth and as we descended to land I caught a glimpse of the turquoise waters and pure white sand flats. Our playground for the week. They looked as good as I had hoped. I threw a glance towards Jakub and I could see that he was pretty rapt, no doubt because he knew what was in store for the week ahead.


We caught up with his friend and our guide Butch Leone from Aitutaki Blue Lagoon Fly Fishing. Butch expounded the merits of one fly, the yellow clouser, and carried only three flies whenever out on the lagoon, all "clousers in various states of disrepair". Boating around the lagoon on Butch’s skiff revealed the undeniable beauty of Aitutaki. The water was so clear and intensely vivid blue, the sandy beaches, flanked by dense coconut forests, were pure white. Absolute paradise.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki

We got into some nice bones straight off the boat on the first flat we anchored off. Large schools cruised in from our left, and both Jakub and I hooked up to some hefty fish on those trusty yellow clousers. The thrill of a bones first run is hard to express in words - it was an exhilarating and satisfying experience. As quickly as these fish entered our world they were gone. As we waded, straining our eyes to see a shape or flash of silver, an hour passed without any further success.

Butch suddenly gestured towards a large black shape moving across the shallow flat in the far distance. Big GT he shouted!  I noticed that Jakub had already started to move into a better position, his eyes locked on the target. His cast was on the money to the fast approaching fish and after a strip or two the beast charged and devoured his fly. The fight that ensued was violent. The power and speed of the massive fish was frightening and as it headed towards a reef about 150m out, we could only hope Jakub would turn its head.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki

Watching this alongside Butch we wondered at what point his rod was going to explode to pieces. I have never seen such a solid bend in a rod before. Jakub was doing all he could but, it was not to be. The tension on the backing disappeared and we were left only with those lingering questions fisherman ask after losing a big fish. These fish are difficult enough on a heavy popper gear, a fly rod of any sort is just asking for trouble. More wading brought us to the very tip of the flat and as I strained to spot bones I spied three large shapes over my left shoulder. A short quick cast saw me connect to the leading fish.

The take was subtle, the tussle was anything but. As I drew my prize closer to my feet Jakub tossed out his fly which was nailed straight away, a double hook up. Thoughts of the lost GT quickly evaporated as we fought and landed our fish. A pair of beautiful hard fighting Island trevallies! The following days fishing were great by any standards, however Jakub and I sensed that apart from a few fleeting moments, the flats had been subdued and the bones few and far between. We had really worked hard for the fish we sighted and successfully landed.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki


Despite bringing a combined total of 7 rods and 6 reels between us, gearing up for a flats trip to Aitutaki is a pretty simple affair. We took a pair of 8,9 and 10 weights with a 12 weight thrown in for the Geets. 9 weight rods are the perfect all around rods, when finished off with a quality silky smooth saltwater reel. These were spooled with 250 meters plus  of backing and floating intermediate lines.

The sinking tips got the flies down where the bone were, and also meant we did not have to go too heavy with our flies, which kept casting all day fun. Leaders suggestion is straight 16 to 20 pound fluorocarbon or a tapered leader/tippet set up. Straight fluoro just meant less chance of something breaking during a fight. Flies are a personal choice but anything gotcha-like in tan or sand, sizes 4 through to 1 would do the trick. Some might laugh at yellow clousers but they really did out fish any other fly on this trip. 

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki


The island has on offer multiple spots where you can hide from the harsh elements, still get some good fishing done and increase your species count. If the winds are making it difficult for you I would suggest moving to the other side of the island which will be most likely protected. Water taxi, kayak hire all exist on the island and will get you to a variety of places. The Lagoon has two bonefish nursery and spawning areas. If you intend to fish those you must be accompanied by a licensed guide. All non – Cook Islanders who wish to fish in the Aitutaki and Manuae lagoons and surrounding reefs are required to obtain a Visitor's Lagoon Fishing Permit. The cost of $50 NZD currency will get you a valid permit for a week, or a donation of $500 will see you with a lifetime lagoon permit.


Monday brought thunderstorms, heavy rain, flash floods and gusty winds. A perfect day to work on the vice and catch-up over tumblers of rum. As the rain beat down on the thatched roof of our bungalow and the rum warmed our bellies, we talked about how once this storm had cleared the fish would fire. With the swell, wind and cloud lingering after Monday's storm another DIY day on the flats was in order.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Aitutaki

We found the flats teaming with bait fish, turtles and definitely more currents moving through. Some nice bones were landed and many more spotted and spooked. Had the storm brought the fish on? It seemed so to me and Jakub only confirmed that this had happened to him few times in the past. As we sat sun kissed and satisfied at the iconic Boatshed Bar & Grill after a great day on the flats, we discussed plans for the following day on the Island. The weather forecast looked OK - albeit not great - would we wake up to gusty winds, chop and clouds? A phone call to Butch confirmed he was keen to head out again – definitely a good sign.


The boat ride to One Foot Island was a little quiet, reality had dawned, yes, we would soon be on a flight back to our respective responsibilities. A quick swig of rum however proved a tasteful reminder that right here, right now, we were still on a fishing holiday. Wading slowly across the long sand flat I caught a glimpse of a bone at about 40 feet out in shin deep water. As I lengthened my cast I saw another, then another and another...2 strips after dropping the one and only Yellow clouser as gently as possible I was on. 

Salt water fly fishing aitutaki

Playing my fish, what I thought was the shadow of a passing large cloud suddenly changed direction - the shadow was in-fact an enormous school of bonefish. Trying not to spook the school Jakub placed a cast onto the outer edge of the group, and with a strip he too was on! And, like so many fishy stories where the unbelievable is true and the unlikely happens, as if to tease us, our last days on Aitutaki were also our best - warm gentle breezes, bright clear conditions with schools of bonefish all over the place. I could clearly see now why this place does have a special spot in Jakub’s heart and all the reasons why he keeps returning.



About the Author: Jakub Kanok is a long time Manic mate, a superb fisherman, and a total legend behind the camera. Follow him on the gram here or visit his website for even more great content

Article first appeared in Rod & Rifle magazine. Reproduced with permission from the author.