I first learned of Kiribati and its 33 atolls 7 years ago and have since dreamed about wading in its seemingly eternal knee deep crystal clear waters over white sand and coral, stalking its host of incredibly odd & strong swimmers. Finally this fall it made sense to make the dive and experience time travel with my friends of Frigate Travel in Kiritimas – 1200 miles south of Hawaii, just below the equator. Unlike my usual sporadic wake and escape travel I found myself with just over 2.5 months to prepare. I loaded up with multiple weights of rods, fly lines, fluorocarbon and tied almost 200 flies hoping they’d produce.
Upon arrival I met some fishy people, even some who I unknowingly lived right down the road from. It was was like a pack of hyenas under the thatch, tough to break away from. I drank a few beers, decimated a basket of fried breadfruit and then escaped to ready gear for my 4:30 am wake up. My main fish goal for the trip was to catch Triggerfish (and I failed, hard) which are finicky escape artists and to put it bluntly – A pain in the ass. My first day I fished with Danny Frank of Delta Trout Force, pretty sure he’s my long lost brother. Our first shots on the flats were at triggers, both of us fed them but couldn’t keep them glued. We managed a few small Trevally & Bonefish but the clouds made it a tough day for sighting fish.
Our second day we fished Korean Wreck and the visibility was poor paired with 25-30k winds always at your casting arm. Danny worked the edge of the reef stalking GT’s while I stayed around 100 feet from shore, working a clock pattern blindly for whatever would eat. Between clouds I shot & produced some nice bones but had more fun gambling. I finished the day out double fisting new species, Darts, Queenfish, Snapper, Grouper, Trevally and weird aquarium fish that I identified by color. “Well, I got 3 of those black and white heavily scented polka dot day glo’s back there”.
Fished with Pete Sliwkowski of Fish Chappy/ Larry’s Tackle. Hilarious and super good guy not to mention an excellent fisherman. Just before the boat picked us up he lit up a big GT to the point where he had no line to work with. He stayed with it and kept the fish lit like a boss breaking out the classic Musky figure 8 trick – if he didn’t foul up on a straying fly line that fish would have eaten – Didn’t matter anyhow cuz he stuck a better one about 5 minutes later. I think he landed something like 8 sizeable GT in 2 weeks, jerk.
There were so many times I wanted to photograph my surroundings but couldn’t get out of stalk mode. In a matter of seconds all hell can break loose with the speed of the fish inhabiting the flats and the last thing I wanted was to be caught holding my camera while a GT crashes by. My collection of images reflects that I am merely a fisherman who owns a camera and I’m totally comfortable with that. There are so many wildly unique places with only miles separating them on the island that you could explore new, different territory for months maybe longer.
My first guided day I was blessed to fish with a man named Tyrone, who has over 30 years of experience guiding the flats and gets more excited than you when you catch fish. We fished Y flat and immediately started catching bones hand over fist. Whenever I’d make a shot Tyrone would say “Gewwwwwd caaasst!” and it would light me up. As we approached a raised coral shelf in comes 2 Giant Trevally – Without hesitation I dropped low, peeled line, waited, shot and as soon as the fly hit the water this GT ate and ran for the hills. Wooohooo! GT!
Right at the end of my last day we approached the shelf of the flat and I spotted the shadow of this mega bone cruising at about 40 feet out. I put the fly 6 feet ahead and a foot past (Gewwwwd caassst!) – and as the fly sank the fish smashed it. In seconds I was into backing then he turned at warp speed coming right at me. I sucked up almost 200 feet of line as fast as humanly possible and then the fish changed directions again. Keep in mind, Bonefish are one of the fastest fish in shallow water – swimming at speeds of 35mph or 50 feet per second. I tried to crank to a locked up reel and realized that my running line had delaminated and made several unthinkable wraps around the outside of my spool. I yelled “We’ve got problems, We’ve got big f’n problems” and in seconds Danny was there popping my spool off and freeing me up enough line in case the fish had any runs left in him. Luckily, the fish was tired and I led him to my hand. Teamwork was the game all week long.
I pulled this electric Bluefin from a frenzied pack of other trevally and one lonely, pissed off triggerfish. The trevally’s dorsal looked like a dogs tail wagging above the surface – So of course I shot at it.
In the beginning of the week we went offshore, about 300 yards from shore to be exact, rolling in 8-14′ swell. We caught a variety of Red Bass, Coral Trout, Sweet Lips, Giant Trevally and other weird fish I have no clue how to identify.
I stuck this beautiful Yellowfin Tuna and 2 other smaller ones (Thanks Crump!). We ate sashimi & steaks every night and shared it with everyone.This fish was the most beautiful creature I’ve ever caught, paired with spiny lobster and traditionally roasted pig was one of my most memorable dinners. With the fishing coming to an end I’m overjoyed to say – All of the flies I tied produced and they were the only ones I used. The Ikari house was excellent and I’d definitely go back, but for longer.
The morning that I was supposed to fly home, rumor circulated that the plane was an hour late. No big deal I thought, I planned appropriately for any disturbances. An hour later the plane was not coming and had passed over us – the best part about it was this information had came from a traveler with a sat phone. The Cassidy airport has holes in the floor, no computers, no phones, checks your bags in the dark and is about the size of a container van. We headed back to the lodge and I went snorkeling, saw some humuhumunukunukuapua’s the state fish of Hawaii. Upon return to the house, the crew had become rowdy, demolishing bottles of whiskey and anything with alcohol content. We loaded up in the van to head back to the airport, the tires blew out and then we loaded in another truck which contained a cooler of beer, we were happy. Returning to the airport, the employees seemed to have totally forgotten what had happened to us earlier and I honestly thought I wasn’t going to board – there are worse places to be stuck. So after much commotion, I found myself heading towards Fiji in the back of the plane with the stewards. Unlimited snacks and beer, swagger you must respect. Hustle 2015.