SI Vault
Clive Gammon
December 26, 1983
More than 200 years after Captain Cook came upon Christmas Island, the remote Pacific atoll and its splendid fishing have been discovered by a wave of modern adventurers
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December 26, 1983

Greetings From Christmas

More than 200 years after Captain Cook came upon Christmas Island, the remote Pacific atoll and its splendid fishing have been discovered by a wave of modern adventurers

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Well, yes, certainly, one of those sun-desiccated anglers might reply, but only in deep water, not on the flats, in the skinny ankle-to-knee-depth shallows where they can be artistically stalked. Hadn't the archpriest of the art, Lefty Kreh, written in his seminal Fly Fishing in Salt Water, " far as fly-fishermen are concerned, [bonefish] are found only in Central America, the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. In all other areas, bonefish feed in deep water, inaccessible to fly-fishermen." Kreh could hardly be blamed for that statement; no doubt it will be corrected in future editions—but oh, how joyful to be a Christmas pioneer, to catch Pacific bones on the flats and prove Kreh wrong!

And so, sparsely, since the early part of this year, a handful of fly-fishers had done just that. By the time my 727 began its approach to Casady Airfield on Christmas Island last month, a hemisphere had just been added to fly-fishing history, and I was looking forward to being part of its early chapters. I was unaware then that I would be sidetracked by Eddy and his devils.

The first morning I fished, Eddy, a massively broad and tall islander, born on Christmas 25 years ago, newly a guide but old in the ways of fish and outrigger canoes, instead of heading for the bonefish flats inside the lagoon, had gone straight through the reef gap to the ocean side of tiny Cook Island, where the great navigator had first anchored.

"Try for re rereba," said Eddy now. I looked blank. "Hawaiian men call ulua," he said impatiently, "you call trevally." I placed it. Trevally was the Aussie name for one of the Carangidae, a member of the jack family but one that, like the related Gulf permit, ventured into very shallow water. I'd heard that they, too, could be caught on fly in the Christmas lagoon—gentlemanly sized fish of 10 pounds or so.

This didn't seem to be what Eddy had in mind. Already he'd picked out a 30-pound outfit that I had brought along in case I got a shot at wahoo or yellowfin tuna, and now he rummaged in my tackle box and came up with an immense blue-and-white surface plug that had proved itself on Nantucket stripers. "Throw long way," he said succinctly. "Bring back fast."

And so began four successive mornings of attrition. The typical scenario, in fast sequence, went thusly: The splash of a plug, the appearance of a brown shadow, the explosion in the water, the screaming reel, the thumb foolishly blistered once or twice trying to slow a big devil down, the hang-up in the coral, the break-off. Once in a while the trevally would decide to head for the open sea, and if it were small enough, under 35 pounds, say, I'd get it in. Most of the time, though, the life expectancy of my lures was somewhat less than that of a tail gunner over Berlin circa 1943.

There was no point, I thought, that fourth morning, in giving the last of my poppers the chance to live to see Cape Cod again. On it went, and was summarily crashed. "Big Devil," Eddy said, laughing infuriatingly.

"How big?" I asked him.

"Seventy pounds," he gurgled.

"Last plug," I said.

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