An Outdoor View: Bonefishing, Part 6

Author’s note: This column is the sixth in a series about fishing at Christmas Island in 1987. — LP


Feb. 26 — In the wee hours of the night, I awake with a something-is-wrong feeling. I turn on a lamp and find one of the island’s ubiquitous land crabs in bed with me. I put it outside, check to see if it had friends, and go back to bed.

It’s still dark outside when Joe wakes us up at 5 a.m. We meet the other guys in the dining room and eat breakfast.

The five of us have our own guide and pickup today. It will be our first full day on the flats.

Before we left Alaska, the winter sun had been hanging low in the sky all day. Now, when we’re so close to the equator, the sun hammers us from directly overhead. Even with a high overcast screening it, the sun burns every part that’s exposed.

We’d been warned again and again to use sun block, and to cover everything possible. We slathered on so much sunblock, we were leaving oil slicks in our wakes. We wear gloves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts. To protect my temples, I wear a white cloth under my cap and draped down the sides of my face, earning me the title, “Les of Arabia.”

The flats are so vast, each of us has his own large area to fish. We’re often out of sight of one another. The constant trade wind and the birds make the only sounds.

Christmas Island hosts 35 species of birds. Like us, a few of these are from Alaska. One I recognize is the Pacific Golden Plover, which breeds in Alaska. The great frigatebirds — they’re about 3 feet long and have a 7-foot wingspan — perch in low bushes and seem to be quietly watching. They seldom flush from their perches, even when approached for a close-up photo.

On this second day on the island, we have an excellent morning of fishing. At times, bonefish come so near, it’s impossible to cast to them. We all catch fish.

About the guides here, guiding is a little different on this remote, Pacific island where fishing for sport is a fairly recent development. In Florida, I’m told, the bonefishing guides rig your tackle, pole you across the flats, point out the fish, and curse when you miss one. Here, the guides will sometimes point out a fish, and they laugh when you miss one. Some will take you to the flats, then go off on a walk by themselves.

However, Florida guides no doubt make more than the pitiful $10 per day that our guides are receiving. What’s more, tipping isn’t allowed on Christmas Island, so guides have little incentive to do much. I’m sure this situation will soon change.

To their credit, the guides here are polite and eager to please. One of them is especially eager. At Happy Hour tonight, we were telling lies about how many bones we’d caught today, when a guide came over to our table, flashed us a big smile, introduced himself and held out his hand. While he was shaking our hands, he reached around and gave each of our butts a little pat.

The plan for our group tomorrow is to have a “punt,” so we’ll be able to fish a different part of the lagoon. Two local Natives will accompany us, one as guide, one as captain. The punts are flat-bottomed, outboard-powered, wooden boats, about 20 feet long, and look as if they were designed on the back of an envelope at a lumberyard. They sport a wooden canopy, which keeps the sun off, and serves as an upper deck.

These punts may not look like much, but they’ll allow us to fish outside the lagoon. I go to bed excited about the prospects of casting plugs and catching big trevally.

Les Palmer can be reached at