Christmas Island Fly Fishing | GTs & Bonefish

I’d never caught a bonefish before I went to Kiribati. Of course I’ve always wanted to and I knew it was about to happen, I was on my way to the world famous Kiritimati Island after all. In the Kiribati language a ti is pronounced as an s so the word “Kiritimati” (a respelling of the English word “Christmas”) has a pronunciation far less exotic than it appears. Kiritimati is one of the most prolific bonefish fisheries on the planet. My first afternoon on the flats quashed any suspicion that the hype around the fishery was at all disproportionate.

Fly Fishing Christmas Island


I kind of got the idea that this place was the real deal as we began our approach into the world war two era runway in our little prop plane. After hours of flying over the big blue by way of the tropical shores of Fiji we were told to fasten our seatbelts and stow away our tray tables, which I took as my cue to start looking out the window to my right. The atoll is the world’s largest and from the plane it was hard to make sense of what was land and what was flats. Kiritimati has a maximum elevation of about 43ft above sea level on an isolated hill in the southern corner of the atoll. 

If you’re not standing on sand you’re standing on coral when you’re on the ground there. The pancake flats are a sight to behold from the vantage point of an incoming plane. The deep blues of the inner lagoon and the maze of bleach white sand flats that infiltrate it have an almost hypnotising effect if you stare for too long.

Bonefish on fly at Kiribati


I didn’t catch a single bonefish that first afternoon and it certainly wasn’t due to a shortage of fish or opportunities. After driving a distance too far to cover again on foot we happily waved goodbye to our driver and a few moments later I realised that I had left all of my bonefish flies back at the hotel; all of them. By the end of the week I could empty my backpack and find at least a half dozen Crazy Charlies and Christmas Crackers crawling around the inside of the bag but not today, not on day one.

It turned out my guide Aaree was fresh out too, I couldn’t help but to laugh. I’m sure he was about as impressed with me as I would have been had the roles been reversed but the sentiments quickly wore off as the laughter continued to flow. It really didn’t matter, for the first time in my life I was standing on a bonefish flat.

I had a rod and a reel and a fishing guide with almost as many years guiding experience as I had life experience, it was going to be a good afternoon. Plus, I did have a box of Giant Trevally flies and as it turned out G.T.’s happened to not only be at the top of my list of fish to catch but they also happened to live pretty nearby to where we were standing.


We spent that afternoon walking across flats and casting a trimmed down clouser minnow to bonefish who knew better while Aaree schooled me on the finer side of sight fishing in the salt and respectable presentations. I was feeling pretty contented by the end of the day but as the story tends to go, it was then that I saw a fleeting flash behind my fly.

Christmas Island Baby Giant Trevally

My guide and my instinct instructed me to cast again and after a few short strips I came tight to my very first Giant Trevally. Topping the scales at only three or four pounds the fish had some growing to do before it earned the prefix that it was titled with. My guide and my Scott Sector 12 weight fly rod were almost brazenly underwhelmed so I tried to play it cool but my ear to ear grin was a dead giveaway.


A week on Christmas is almost like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone or a tropical version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. Most of the atoll is as flat as a table top with the highest features being coconut palms. The sun sets and rises at more or less the same time every day and the temperatures and precipitation are mundanely predictable.

Mid-century military infrastructure is still widely utilised on the island and is slowly being reclaimed by groves of beach naupaka. A small shrub that has tightened the undulating roads to only just passable in some places. Allied forces occupied the atoll during the second world war and it became a nuclear testing ground for the US and UK militaries over the subsequent decades. Apathetic frigate birds, boobies and an army of land crabs give the place an almost Galapagos feel. Kiritimati functions on the IIT(International Island Time)Standard so you can forget your watch and your schedules when you’re there. You're not in Atuitaki anymore, Dorothy.    

The variety of water and species on the island are enough to keep even the most distracted anglers’ attention. I spent the week casting at a steady flow of happy bonefish on endless flats that gave true meaning to the terminology “Fish Factory.” It wasn’t long before I learned to appreciate the allure of the trigger fish either. Spooky, weird and frustratingly difficult to hook and land. I have a collection of crushed and broken stainless hooks on my tying bench at home from the unforgiving beaks of the Christmas Island trigger.

Jeff Forsee and a Christmas Island Bonefish

Bluefin Trevally of Kiritmati

A short boat ride through the entrance of the lagoon and you’ll see free jumping yellowfin tuna and schools of milk fish so vast it’s almost unfathomable that you don’t hook one on every cast, it’s just the contrary in fact. I had caught quite a few Giant and Bluefin Trevally throughout the week, both on the flats and on the inside edge of the reef. G.T.’s seem to have a reputation of being fierce and reckless predators. Sometimes they live up to that reputation but after a few flighty encounters I found myself reacting with the same caution that I would on a clear South Island trout stream when I came across them.


I had two days left on my trip. I had caught bonefish to my heart’s content and enjoyed a tropical paradise that not a lot of people get to see. I was going home a happy man. However, I did still have some unfinished business. I really wanted to catch a big G.T. Big is a relative term with these fish of course but I wanted a fish that required two hands and a bit of oomph to hold onto. My initial approach was pretty blasé but time was at a premium now and I had no idea when I’d have another shot after stepping foot on that plane in a couple of days. I decided it was time to shape up before I shipped out and I dedicated my last two days to searching for a single fish.

Operation G.T. was in full effect.

Kiritimati Fly Fishing Guide

My guides were fully on board with the program and it was great fun poking our way around the island and revisiting the places they had seen big fish in the past. I could imagine the experiences they’ve had in those locations over the years as we passed through them. I love watching a determined and experienced angler work a fishery that they know so intimately, it’s a true testament to the hunter that is rooted within all of us. We came across some pretty big fish on that second to last day but it never quite came together for us.

We went deep into the backcountry of the atoll on my final day. The backcountry is a protected area in which the lodges rotate their fishing days. It’s a similar concept to our beat systems here in New Zealand, which are designed to reduce pressure and give fishermen an undisturbed experience when they are on the water. The final morning was off to a productive start, landing three or four fish in the first couple hours of the day. We encountered aggressive singles and a school of trevally as ravenous as a pack of hyenas. It seemed like the planets were aligning but it was unclear if we were going to get the opportunity that we were hoping for.

It wasn’t long after we turned around for lunch that my guide Loran spotted a big fish staunchly cruising the edge, like a warden patrolling the yard in a prison and every bit as intimidating. He was heading directly towards a coral point that wasn’t too far behind us. I hustled down to the point and laid out a cast to intercept the Trevally’s path. I couldn’t see anything from my new location because of the glare but Loran said the cast was bang on and this wasn’t his first rodeo.

The plan was to wait for the fish to come to the fly and we were in the ideal situation for that to play out. After a painfully long wait and just as I was able to make out the fish through the glare, Loran gave the go ahead. I made my first strip and the GT closed the gap between himself and my fly quicker than I could blink. The fish followed through my fly like a linebacker making a game saving tackle. I couldn’t keep up with the follow through so I quickly started moving backwards. For a brief second I wondered if maybe I had missed him. That theory was quickly laid to rest as I frantically cleared my line from catching on anything as the trevally made his dash for the lagoon.

Giant Trevally success at CXI

This was it, this was exactly the fish I came here for and he was currently in the process of ripping backing off of my reel at an increasingly discomforting rate. I followed him out to the drop off to keep my line clear of any edges and nervously watched as my reel keep spinning. I was eventually able to coerce him back to almost the same place he made his little slip up and Loran was able to get a firm grip on the narrow wrist of his pitchfork tail.


We knew that this was mission complete. There was a mutual respect for the fish and the effort that went into catching him from both of us. Any other week on Kiritimati, that could have happened on day one and again on day two but I almost prefer this outcome. There is nothing sweeter than a finish line victory that seemed more tangible two months before the moment than it did two hours before it.


Central Otago fly fishing guide, Jeff Forsee, has cemented himself as a true blue american kiwi legend and is one of the most intrepid anglers we know. From guiding in the deepest areas of Mongolia, to tangling with Three Kings behemoths, and more recently ticking off the super epic box of a Fiordland Bluefin Tuna on fly - you know if it swims and there's an adventure to be had, Jeff's bags are packed and ready to roll.