Sunday, August 28, 2016

Thumb Up Fly Casting Application

Lefty Kreh was the master teacher for fly casting, and appropriately so.  I’ll never forget his appearance at a convention in the Ozark Mountain Springs site in northern Arkansas where he gave a presentation in which he began by demonstrating a technique whereby he first cast the line for an extraordinary distance with the full rod, then with the rod tip only in hand, and finally with his hand and line only.  He emphasized several sustaining issues.  First and foremost, use the tip of the rod, and technique, not your arm to cast the fly.  To this purpose, the back cast should not pass 2 o’clock and fore 11 o’clock.  Everyone has some tendency to exceed that boundary, most especially beginners.  Most over-power the line with a firm and excessive grip.  That is one reason women more easily adapt to the requisite better form, with less tendency to overpower the rod with wrist and arm.  As a doctor fisherman, I have a facilitating Rx for such a patient.

The casting hand has five fingers.  I recommend a divided responsibility, using the thumb as a backboard for the rod’s back cast which automatically achieves the requisite short back rod movement of the tip to 2 o’clock with its straight up block. (for the rod tip to stop at 2, the rod base cannot pass 12 o’clock).  The forward motion to 11 o’clock is a simple thumb push forward like ringing a doorbell.  There is no downward motion towards the water as the “tight loop” goes straight out at eyelevel to drop peacefully onto the water at the end of the line.  It works the same for whether a full backline cast or a looping roll cast.  You want to feel the tip of the rod casting, not the whole rod, and to use it well it helps to “feel it” do its work.  That’s up to the thumb block back and the short straight snap forward.

The forefinger and middle finger remain free to accept the line management responsibility.  They first secure the line against the rod for a tight string back cast, and then drop free with the cast to give line to the forecast instead of gripping the rod, a softening maneuver to prevent overpower and tight grip.  It also frees them for a quick translation of the line which needs to return to those now extended two rod fingers as the fly drops lightly to the water in preparation for “stripping” by the other free hand as soon as the fly alights on the water, ready for instant fish strike and maintaining a “tight light straight line” capable of immediate soft hooking of imminent fish strike.  So the thumb accommodates the 11-2 o’clock ideal path of the rod tip while the next two fingers stay free for line management.  That leaves the bottom two fingers to hold the rod, discouraging overpower and facilitating a soft quick hook set.  Hard sets pull the fly out or break the tippet, especially on the larger trout.

One additional tip to avoid the tangle that occurs secondary to the line “running into itself by the back cast incompletely laid out behind hitting the loop of the forecast” is to follow a different pathway, one back and the other forward; i.e. if you come back with a straight up vertical, deliver with a slight sideward cant for the forward path and, vice-a-versa, if you want to do a straight overhead vertical forward cast, bring the back cast proceeding with a slight sidearm tilt.  Obviously you don’t want to have to watch the back cast to see the exact moment of its finishing straight out back, and the timing depends on how much line you have out, much longer for a lot than a little.

Lefty has a massive wrist and forehand and gifted intuitive rod motion that is perfected he can achieve a remarkable distance even by hand and arm without rod.  Most fly fishermen put out way too much line and cast much further than necessary for maintaining a no drag drift of the fly.  It is amazing the distance that can be achieved without much effort when the tip of the rod is the managing tool instead of the arm or wrist which lose feel for the tip.

A high percentage of takes (or strikes) occur almost instantly as the fly alights upon the water.  The earlier one can prepare for this instant “soft set” of the hook without jerking the better.  To facilitate this readiness the hands need to be in a close to one another position for a sharing transfer of the line to the two awaiting fore and middle fingers of the rod hand.  This sharing transfer improves line control for setting the hook as both hands become involved.  Fishing upstream against the current requires “stripping” as soon as the fly lands to keep a “tight line” without loops and without disturbing the free float of the fly downstream towards you.  Both hands likewise are needed to feed line forward on a downstream cast to allow a “drag free drift” of the fly without so much slack as to hamper a quick set on a downstream take.

When casting less than 10 feet of line after the 9-12 foot leader and tippet, it is best to keep the free line hand close to the rod gripping hand for quick transfer.  When casting longer lines, and especially when using a single or double “haul” for maximal distance, as in salt water fishing, the diverging free hand used to hold the line during the cast needs to return to the rod hand as the line extends straight out before the fly hits the water so that the rod hand fingers can secure the line for a take at the moment the fly hits the water.  Then too, stripping in of line as the fly drifts towards you on an upstream cast has to begin as soon as the fly hits the water without any disturbance of the natural downstream drift, the speed of which has to match the water current flow.

The forementioned “light and easy” style gives automatic sense and feel to the tip of the rod which is the essence of a soft but sufficient small loop and straight line out for dropping softly to the water from eyesight level instead of splashing downwardly unlike a mayfly.  And quick soft hooking are a prerequisite for catching more trout.  The hardest part of the sport is achieving a quick and undamaging release of the trout to maintain a good life in the water.  That’s a subject for another day.

Walter A Ruch 
Taylor Creek Customer and Fryingpan Aficionado 
Photos courtesy of Taylor Creek and Outdoor Sporting Library

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Yellowstone Charley

One day I decided to try my luck
So I grabbed my tackle and loaded my truck
Then I set out for my favorite stream
Where the trout are larger than you’d ever dream

When I arrived the water was clear
I could feel in my bones Ol’ Charley was near
Ol’ Charley is a big old trout
Who will teach you what fly fishing is all about

I’d hooked Ol’ Charley twice before
And he fought me ‘til my arms were sore
Each time he managed to break off the hook
And all I could do was stand and look

Now I cast my fly in a cross wind
And almost hook myself in the other end
When I finally got my line straightened out
I thought I was ready for that big ol’ trout

So I did a false cast to form a tight loop
And watched my fly do a loop-de-loop
So I tightened it up on the next back cast
Then I knew for sure I was ready at last

I searched for that fish up and down the river
Watching my line for the slightest quiver
I searched the riffles and searched the pools
Trying to observe all the fly fishing rules

I finally spied a place that would hold a big fish
But the ideal spot was as big as a china dish
So I cast the fly as true as I could
And Ol’ Charley hit it like only Charley would

He flew in the air as I drew the line tight
And I knew I was in for a heck of a fight
He made a deep dive and then a great run
I thought he was headed for the setting sun

He finally turned around in a knick of time
‘Cause I looked at my reel and was about out of line
He came charging up the river at a startling pace
As he came by me he splashed water in my face

I knew I couldn’t fight him much longer
For I was getting weaker and he was getting stronger
By now I was sure I had hime securely on
But he did a splish-splash and then he was gone

Now I’d had Ol’ Charley on my line thrice
And I was standing in the river trying to talk nice
Have you heard of or ever seen
A big ol’ trout that could be that mean?

He’ll give it a tug and give it a snap
And he’ll throw that fly right back in your lap
Now, Ol’ Yellowstone Charley is his given name
And so far he’s ahead of the game

But one of these days I’m going to capture him
Then I’ll measure him up and let him swim

Cause you see, Ol’ Charley is a friend of mine!

This old poem is by our friend Ray Jones.  Ray was one of the designers of the moon rover, which still sits on the moon today.  Ray has been retired from NASA for some years now, and is always happy to recite this poem about this special fish by heart for those willing to listen.  

Poem by Ray Jones
Photograph courtesy of Tom Spooner

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Spring can be a difficult time for many fly-fishers.  Most freestone rivers are beginning to rise and discolor with the advent of warmer weather and spring runoff.  Though somewhat disheartening, opportunities still abound and prevail.  The Fryingpan River, which is controlled by a dam, remains in beautiful shape, with low and clear water providing excellent fishing conditions.  As more and more rivers become swollen with increasing snow melt, tailwaters like the Fryingpan will also become more crowded.  For me, this is the perfect time of year to explore beyond trout and fish for warmwater species of fish like bass, panfish, pike and carp, which are becoming increasingly more active with the warmer weather. 

Between New Castle and Rifle sits two highly productive reservoirs; Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap.  Fly-fishers travel from great distances in efforts to catch two primary species of fish here; Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass.  I personally make the drive from Basalt down here about fifty days a year.  That number alone should tell you that they’re both worth the short drive.

Northern pike up to 50” inches are no joke on a fly rod.  If bigger is better, then these fish are at the very top of the food chain.  Eight, nine and ten weight fly rods are needed to throw the large flies used to imitate crayfish, perch, rainbow trout and juvenile pike.

Smallmouth bass, long heralded as pound-for-pound the hardest fighting fish in freshwater, is available in good numbers on both reservoirs.  As water temperatures reach above 50’f, smallmouth flock to the shallows in large schools in efforts to spawn and eat crayfish.  Fish up to 4lbs are occasionally caught, with feisty 10-14”inch fish being most common.

Fisheries management plans on both reservoirs are changing.  Rifle Gap is now being managed for tri-ploid walleye (sterile), perch, black crappie and stocked trout.  Restrictions have been lifted for both northern pike and smallmouth bass.  Harvey Gap Reservoir is seeing similar restrictions and management with the exception of banning spearing/archery for pike (with the recent introduction of Tiger Muskie, another synthetic man-made fish).

Recent discussions on internet message boards and forums pertaining to the new management and restrictions on the reservoirs are a hot bed of controversy.  While talking to both fishermen and park staff, it seems to me that the consensus is that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife is once again using our dollars to stock more trout and manmade fish, foregoing the high-dollar traveling angler that puts big money into the local economy via hotels, restaurants, outdoors stores and more in efforts to pursue pike and smallmouth.   

Will the days of seeing some of Colorado’s best pike and bass fishing go by the wayside?  I sure hope not.  If you’re as worried as I am about salvaging what little is left, I encourage you to contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist, Sherman Hebein, at 970.255.6186.    

Words by Kirk Webb
Photographs courtesy of Kirk Webb and Christian Hill


Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Knowledge Webb Diaries- Part 3

How did you get into fishing for carp?

Mike Kuzma – A high school friend and Australian who lived in Poland for several years.  He showed me how to catch carp the European way, with spinning gear, chum, boilies and strike detectors.  Golf course ponds (snagging grassy’s) and local reservoirs (Cherry Creek, Chatfield) are where I first really got into carp fishing. While working at Discount Fishing Tackle on the South Platte River along S.Santa Fe Dr in Littleton and Denver, I fly fished for carp daily. I was also enamored with carp while trout fishing 11mile Canyon and on Spinney and 11mile Reservoirs. 

Photo courtesy of Kirk Webb

What is it about this fish that keeps you coming back?  Why carp out of all other fish?

The challenge of battling wits with such a regal and smart animal (fish).  I can’t say this is a scientific fact, but carp have the ability to retain memory.  They remember flies, locations, bad presentations and other facets of memory retainment.  Truthfully, I think that I enjoy carp and carp fishing because it reminds me of my childhood, coming back full circle; same reason I also am in love with bluegill and bass.  Plus, carp fishing returns on my radar in March, right after a long winter of trout fishing, light tippet and tiny flies.  I have solitude while carp fishing.  This is something that, besides fishing the high country, doesn’t happen much in this day and age.  The fact that I’m part Japanese also might play a role in my love and respect for carp.  The Japanese have long regaled the carp as the peaceful warrior (samurai), where it is said to represent bravery, strength and the ability to overcome obstacles, where when placed on the cutting board, it awaits the knife without tremble.  On another note, carp in my mind are the ultimate gamefish.  If you took the best qualities of every gamefish and blended them to make the ultimate gamefish, you’d come up with a carp. In my eye, they are most reminiscent of tarpon and redfish.  They live everywhere and in any environment.  They like to eat flies and spend time in shallow water where I can sight fish to them.  Lastly, they’re big.  Who doesn’t like pulling on big fish?

How much time and effort do you put into trying to catch this fish with no reward?

I spend a great deal of time and effort in my pursuit of carp on the fly, but as is the case with all species of fish, I learn more from my failures than I do in my successes.  That being said, there have been times when I have gone weeks – months – and in the beginning YEARS, without catching a carp.  Nowadays, with the popularity of fly fishing for carp, some of the more popular destinations are seeing the fish becoming increasingly more difficult to catch.  This is okay with me, as this is how fly fishing for carp is continuing to evolve, where anglers are forced to come up with new tactics, flies, gear etc.  Fly fishing for carp is still in its infancy.  In a way, this reminds me of how tarpon fishing and its early fly fishing pioneers might have been like back in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  They were breaking new ground, just as I see carp fly fishing these days. 

Photo courtesy of Travis Lyons

How has the addiction to catching these fish affected your life?

It really hasn’t affected my life in any particular way.  Sure, I spend a lot of time in the field pursuing them, but I suppose carp have allowed me to introduce this awesome, fly-eating specie to others.  It did consume me for a period of maybe two or three years where I was trying to “figure” them out.  Now, I get more pleasure seeing others have success with them; I enjoy sharing my passion.  The pursuit of the hunt and the visuals of the eat are what continues to feed my love affair with the carp.

What is the hardest thing you have encountered carp fishing?

Hands-down, the hardest thing about carp fishing is being mentally tough enough to match wits with such a smart fish.  As a beginner carp angler, simply gaining some confidence that they will in fact eat a fly is often the biggest hurdle.  In thinking about this, that period of time when you finally get that first carp under your belt can often take a long period of time.  Again, having the mental fortitude to “never give up” is probably the hardest thing in carp fly fishing.  Once you’re able to break out of that initial slump, you get used to the extreme lows and highs of fly fishing for carp.  Like all fishing, a little luck never hurts either.

What do you gain out of fly fishing for carp?

Pretty simple; they make you better fly-fisherman.  They teach you so many things and there is no room for mistakes with them. 

How do you feel about people bow hunting and killing these fish.

I have zero issues with it.  It’s their God given right to do so.  Yes, there have been times when my own personal fishing has suffered due to a bow-fisher being ahead up me on the same piece of water, but that’s just a fact of life.  There are other places to go, so I just go somewhere where they aren’t.  The only issue I have had with the bow-fishers I’ve come across, is that they waste the fish, leaving them to die on the bank.  It truly breaks my heart to see any animal being wasted.  If you shoot it, you should at least eat it, donate it or use it for nutrients in your garden or something. 

Photo courtesy of Shannon Outing Photography

What are your thoughts on how invasive these fish are and what people are doing to stop them?

Boy, that’s a tough one to answer as there’s no one right answer.  I think Asian Carp are invasive and need to be dealt with more seriously than common carp.  Since I’m originally from Michigan, our Great Lakes had everything from carp to catfish, salmon to trout, bass to bluegill, pike to walleye – all coexisting in the same environment, with each one thriving.  Now if you’re referring to common carp in our part of the Lower Colorado River, all I can say is good luck.  The CPW has been trying to eradicate ALL invasive fish in efforts to restore populations of some native chubs and suckers.  I’m all for native fish and everything, but sometimes you’re fighting a losing battle with no chance of winning. This includes gamefish like smallmouth and largemouth bass and in particular northern pike.  I think the CPW forgets that rainbow and brown trout are also invasive (non-native).  Not to mention the fact that they are the ones who originally transplanted and stocked all these non-natives around the state in the first place.  All I know is that carp are like the cockroaches of the fish world; they will survive in practically any environment.  Even the CPW officers that I’ve spoken with, openly acknowledge the fact that they are wasting their time shocking the river trying to eradicate carp, bass and pike among other “invasive” fish species.  Simply put, the carp will continue to survive and thrive.  Should they be stocked in places where they haven’t existed before?  It’s situational; in some places definitely not, and in other places, sure.  These are tough questions to answer.  I’m a simple fisherman, not a politician or biologist.

What is your best story from carp fishing?

I really don’t have a particular favorite story.  For me, they all blend together where the carp become the story.  If you’re looking for a big fish story, here’s one that I’m proud of though.  About four or five years ago, I was teaching a friend and younger angler how to carp fish.  He had that “drive” for trying to figure these fish out.  He got his ass kicked for a few years, stuck with it, began unraveling their secrets and finally started to “listen” to what the fish were telling him to do.  I took him to a lake that had a few giants in it.  These big-boys very rarely come onto the flats.  In the course of an average year, I might see 2-4 fish of this size. To not cause the usual big-fish anxiety, I simply told him where the fish was and how and when to retrieve his fly; slide it, bump it, baby bump it – SET!  I never told him how big the fish was that he was casting to – it was a freakin’ giant.  Adjacent to the flat was a deep drop-off where he was able to fight the fish over 40’ft of water.  That makes for a long fight, but is also the reason why the fish never broke off.  Anyhow, when we finally boated the fish and I netted about a 40” inch carp for him.  It was the biggest fish of his blossoming career and was the longest fight I’ve been witness to for carp – about twenty minutes.  That fish exuded regalness.  Hell, it’s tail was nearly a foot in width.  Now that’s a motor! 

Photo courtesy of Kirk Webb

What is your worst story from carp fishing?

This is an easy one.  I don’t have one!  Like I said earlier, it can often be about just how much pain you can take before you give it all up.  My pain threshold is exceedingly high.

What is the carp fishing community like? Where do you see the sport of carp fishing going in the future?

I’ve often said that it’s like being a free-mason; like being in a sub-culture within a sub-culture.  The carp anglers these days are better than they ever have been, and it’s certainly gaining in popularity due in large part to social media and fly fishing films.  The younger generation has no disdain for carp like it was when I began fly-fishing for them.  I’m excited about that and am glad to see the sport evolving and accepting carp.  It continues to make for the never-ending clash of the class wars within fly-fishing, which I’ve always felt was a good thing.  Sure, the downside is that there are now more and more people fishing for “my” fish in “my” spots, but I’m glad to see the continued and increasing interest.  This increased pressure has really just allowed me to reach out to the beyond and expand my horizons, finding new water and new fish where there is no pressure.  Kind of like tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys versus tarpon fishing in the Florida Everglades…or something like that.  You gotta keep pace and continue to evolve as an angler and guide too.  I always want to have a few tricks (or places) in my bag that others do not have or know of.  I challenge myself to learn something new each and every time I’m on the water.    

Questions from TC Guide Shannon Outing
Answers from TC Shop Guru Kirk Webb
Photographs courtesy of Shannon Outing Photography, Kirk Webb and Travis Lyons

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fly Fishing and a Guide's Meditations

Recently I attended a seminar called “Developing Consciousness” at the Aspen Chapel. Consciousness and the potential to expand one’s consciousness has always been an interest of mine since I read “Captain Trips,” a biography of Jerry Garcia, in the eighth grade. “Either you’re conscious or not,” I thought as I pondered this enigma. I pursued this question of consciousness via numerous avenues including but not limited to short stints in an ashram, a Zen Buddhist monastery, and an intentional community in California, the Esalen Institute. I pursued it through literature, reading Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber and Ram Dass. And I still pursue it as I stand in the frosty depths of the Roaring Fork River casting fly line to suspecting trout.

The idea of consciousness and how it pertains to fly fishing is worth giving some thought to. These days it seems there is a “Zen and the art of” just about everything; painting, motorcycle maintenance, even underwater basket weaving. Yet, it seems more of a marketing ploy than a match made in heaven. I would contend that Zazen (Zen Buddhist meditation) is closely aligned with techniques employed in fly fishing. Zen and the art of fly fishing is apt.

In Zazen, one sits in a focused state allowing thoughts to drift by without participating in the drama that these thoughts might incite. Allowing your flies to drift down the river while intently focused on them produces a state of mind similar to Zazen. The clutter of the work week recedes and leaves you more present in the river. You can choose or not choose to react to a cluster in your line, a lost fish, or a slip in the river that has left you cold, bruised and on your ass.

I think it follows that meditation can facilitate the expansion of consciousness. When your mind is free of the stress-inducing chatter of everyday life, the environment and your participation in it comes into clearer focus. You notice the bald eagle perched in the evergreen evaluating your fishing technique. You appreciate the winter snow pack as it runs coldly over your wading boots. You’re conscious of the source of the river and where it flows. You are aware of how your participation in this environment is impactful and how it may contribute to or detract from the experience of future generations.

So next time you find yourself with laser-beam like focus on a little plastic bubble or tuft of fuzz floating down the river, consider the possibility of expanding consciousness and give a little nod to good ol’ Jerry Garcia.
Words by Nick Ferraro, Taylor Creek Guide
Image of Jerry Garcia and Zazen courtesy of Omharmonics, Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner
Reprinted from "Fly on the Wall" 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hitting the Hard Water

Fly fishers can get a little cagey this time of year.  Ice on the banks, ice in their line guides, ice in their beards.  Sure, tying flies for next season and planning a few trips can break up the monotony, but sometimes we need to step outside our comfort zones in the winter.  One of my favorite distractions is hitting the “hard water” and doing some ice fishing for pike and trout.  From Granby to Twin Lakes, and Ruedi to Lake Dillon, conditions are perfect for punching a few holes and seeing what is down there.

Can you simply go on the ice with a bucket, rod and an auger?  Sure, but we like to get a little more sophisticated with our excursions.  Snowmobiles, gasoline powered augers, shelters, heaters and grills producing hot food take our ice fishing up another notch.  Keeping beverages cold is as simple as setting them on the ice.  Lure selection can get as involved as matching the hatch on the Fryingpan, but simple white tube jigs get the job done on most days.  Rods vary from short and wispy for smaller trout to lengths of forty inches for deep jigging to large mackinaw and toothy pike.

Quite frankly, huddling up in a warm shelter with a few buddies can be a lot more fun than river fishing day in and day out.  The real allure for most of us is that you never know what you’re going to pull out of that hole.  It could be a kokanee salmon or arctic char if you’re fishing Lake Dillon, a monster pike if you are over on Harvey or Rifle Gaps, or the lake trout of your life on Granby or Twin Lakes.  Smaller lakes produce excellent brookie and cutthroat action as well. 

Variety is the spice of life, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy our abundant waters all year long.  My program is being on the ice on the cold days, and in the river on the warm ones.  Before we know it, we’ll be fishing the strong spring baetis and caddis hatches, but for now I’m having some fun on the hard water!

Words and Photographs by Scott Spooner
Reprinted from the Aspen Times

Monday, February 1, 2016

Christmas Island Bonefish, Part 2

Now that we have covered the bonefishing at Christmas Island, let’s get into all the other species you will have a chance to pursue.  For many repeat visitors to the island, bonefish begin to take a back seat to the exhilarating giant trevally, barracuda, milkfish, sharks and triggerfish lurking nearly everywhere.  Black tips are the prevalent species of shark found on the flats, with other species preferring to hang out near the deeper reefs.  Like any saltwater destination, some guides don’t want anything to do with casting at sharks.   Others say, “I can handle.”  It goes without saying that these creatures can totally mess you up if you give them a chance.  There is no hospital to speak of here, so exercise your best judgement and err on the side of caution.  In my experience, Go Like Hell flat has sharks cruising it nearly every day.   
The same flies you throw at giant trevally are generally fine for sharks.  Ten to twelve weights and 100 pound tippet are the norm, and you can certainly throw a steel leader into the mix for these toothy brawlers.  When casting at sharks, match your retrieve to the speed of the fish.  Keep the fly on their nose, speeding up when they do, slowing down when they do as well.  Most of the time black tips will follow the fly the whole retrieve and then sulk away, but other times, it’s game on!  Let your guide handle the shark, but if you’re by yourself, use a hook release and stay behind the shark, moving quickly.  Just cut the tippet if things get too hairy.

 My personal favorite fish of the Christmas Island flats is the trigger.  Triggerfish can get as big as all get out, they fight hard, love to jam you up by burrowing under coral heads, and no two look alike.  For starters, triggers are coral munchers, so finding taller coral is the first thing you have to do.  Taller coral presents a few issues, of course.  Leaders, tippet and flies will be abused when casting at triggers, no way around it.  A perfect shot gets hung in the coral more often than not.  From personal experience, you’d better be sure your hooks are strong and your knots are bombproof.  Blood knots simply won’t hold up to the tremendous pressure these fish will exert.  Cheap hooks will be flattened instantaneously. The triggers shown below are on the small side, but even these are quite powerful.  We hooked a few that were much bigger, but read on to find out why they're so hard to get to the hand.

 If you are out chasing bonefish and a trigger presents itself, rebuild the whole leader, tippet and fly before casting at it.  Crab patterns are what they like best, and the presentation is a bit different than casting at a bonefish.  When taking your shot at a trigger, first determine if the fish is happy and browsing the coral for food.  Most guides won’t recommend even casting at it unless it is in the right mood.  Secondly, you need to cast close to, but past the trigger.  You want to strip your fly right under it’s nose and encourage it to follow.  Most triggers will inhale that crab once they notice it, but others want to follow it a ways first.  My best trigger eats have happened when I stopped moving the fly after they initially notice it.  Once you hook up to the trigger, your real problems start to become evident.  First and foremost, they always run for the shelter of deep water or the closest coral head.  If your knots and fly hold up, you need to steer them away from danger immediately.  If it can go wrong, it will, and usually in the first few seconds after you set the hook.  Setting the hook is a whole other issue, as these fish have long teeth and small mouths.  The best hook sets seem to be in the corner of the mouth or right between the two front buck teeth. 

 The best triggerfish guide on Christmas Island is Kau Kau, also known as Tim, who usually works for Ikari House.  Tim is young and enthusiastic.  Sighting, hooking and landing triggers is his true pleasure in life.  While trigger fishing with him this year, I screwed up after the hook set trying to get the fly line unwrapped from my legs, and the fish (of course) retreated under another giant coral head.  Tim valiantly handed me his glasses, pack and hat and swam under the coral to attempt getting the fish out.  We didn’t end up with the trigger to the hand, but Tim won a client for life with his effort.  Guides in Christmas Island are a notch above the rest, and Tim’s notch goes all the way to eleven.  Trigger flies are primarily crabs in tan colors, and I can’t stress enough that they be tied on the best, strongest salt hooks you can find.  The body shape of the trigger is perfect for fighting you, and they will use it against you. 

Milkfish are probably more abundant than any other species on the flats of Christmas Island.  For the first few days of your trip to Christmas, learning the difference between milks and bones will present its own set of challenges.  If you boil it down, milkfish suspend, bonefish hug the bottom.  If there is a shadow under the fish, it’s usually a milkfish.  Many anglers come to Christmas solely for the milkfish, and catching one is no small feat.  Milks eat algae, which presents the first challenge.  The second challenge is finding a leader and fly that suspend, like the milkfish do.  Flies comprised of foam and sponge fit the bill, and bringing along some monofilament tippet and floatant will aid this endeavor.  Huge milkfish can be found outside of the flats behind commercial fishing boats, which kick up large amounts of algae and plankton. 
Pound for pound, milkfish will fight you like there’s no tomorrow.  Few fish can bend an eight weight like these fast fish can.  If you are targeting bones on the flats, don’t overlook the massive schools of milkfish.  Bones and milkfish focus on different food groups, but they can easily work together since they work different levels of the water column.  More often than not, a few nice bonefish can be picked out of a pod of milks.  Milkfish are the hardest thing to catch on Christmas Island, with the only exception being the venerable giant trevally.  GTs eat the fly just fine, but getting one in front of these fast thugs is a whole different deal.

Giant trevally make fly fishers salivate the world over.  They are ridiculously fast.  They come up on a flat like a drive by shooting, and most of the time it’s too late for you to react because they’re already gone.  Christmas Island boasts excellent numbers of giant, black, bluefin and golden trevally, but the giants are the true prize fish and prize fight.  Bluefin are practically everywhere, and provide a good fight, but rarely exceed a pound or two.  More than once a rascally bluefin has snatched a well presented fly to a bigger golden or giant in my experience.  Golden trevally are beautifully banded across their backs, and can get pretty big at Christmas.  Goldens seem to tail more often than their cousins, I have hustled across flats a few times after seeing one tailing at a good distance away.  Giant trevally, or GT, can push 100 pounds at Christmas Island.  You will see them up to twenty pounds every day, and when the true bruisers come in to play, your heart rate will give you a run for your money.

The usual program on Christmas is for your guide to carry the trevally rod while you bonefish with your seven or eight.  The true guide test presents itself when the GTs come by, and their ability to see them, ready the heavy rod and pull line off in time for you to make a shot.  This rarely goes the way it’s supposed to.  When you combine their speed and your case of the yips, a general shit show usually prevails.  Chumming these big fish is becoming more and more popular, and to each their own, but we generally refrain from doing this.  Chumming doesn’t do these magical fish any favors, but for many anglers this is the way to do it.  Milkfish are usually netted and roasted for chum, but bonefish are often an unfortunate by-catch when netting the milks.  As mentioned, to each their own, but you won’t see me out there chumming fish in.

Christmas Island has thousands of volcanic shelves along the flats, and every one of these has small yellow snapper using them for shelter.  Seeing trevally rooting around underneath them is commonplace.  Trevally will eat practically anything they can catch, be it bonefish, milkfish, grouper, whatever.  Again, fly selection isn’t nearly as important as just getting the fly in front of the fish in time.  Tim Heng employs a good trick for these quick presentations by simply hooking a baitfish GT fly onto the hook of his bonefish fly and recasting.  This can present a problem if the fish is huge and you’ve got 10 pound tippet on, but at least you gave it a college try!  There’s one general rule on how to strip the fly for GTs.  Fast as you can.  You simply can’t strip it fast enough.  Once in a great while, true giants want the fly slowed down a bit, but this is pretty rare.  

 One of the best advisors around for GTs in Christmas Island is Sean at Nervous Waters in Honolulu.  His tiny shop is the only one in the whole state of Hawaii, and he really, really knows his stuff.  He is a strong proponent of 100 pound tippets and has a terrific assortment of bonefish and GT flies to choose from (ask about his special triggerfish flies too).  Sean’s fly shop is not far from Waikiki Beach, and you can reach him at 808-734-7359.  He’d rather catch bonefish in Hawaii (and I recommend joining him for a bonefish trip), but he’s been to Christmas Island many times to chase giant trevally.  Sean’s shop is funky, tiny, and chock full of everything you need to fly fish around Hawaii. 

 I love Christmas Island.  The people, the surreal scenery, raw nature and remoteness make this one of the most unique places on earth.  The best guides I’ve encountered are Otea, Nareau, Kau Kau, Kabuta, Eckus, and the famous Mowanua.  Some guides are “better” than others, which is relative.  Just like trout guides, some excel at certain species or methods.  What these guys have over some other guides is a complete absence of ego.  Treat your guide with respect, have a sense of humor, and tip appropriately.  When he keeps you out late when the fishing has been slow or takes you to a little-known area, make it worth his while.  They bend over backwards to get you on the fish at Christmas, so treat them just as well on the slower days as you do the ridiculous ones.  Buy them a beer back at the lodge, ask about their families, and send them a care package once in a while.  Wading boots, rain gear and fly tying materials are always scarce for these islanders.  I consider some of these guys very good friends.  I care about what happens to them, and like to think that they feel the same.

When you catch a big bone or manage to wrestle in a triggerfish or trevally, getting a bit emotional comes with the territory.  My guide Kau Kau gave me a little ribbing for the tears in my eyes after we released a gorgeous seven pound bonefish in October.   “Like a virgin,” he said.  We laughed about it all week, and he promised not to tell anyone except his wife.  Well, I’m not too embarrassed to admit beautiful fish in beautiful places make me a little weepy.  So be it.  Preparing for a trip to Christmas can be stressful (and a big part of the fun), and when the whole plan finally comes together and you’re holding that mirrored bonefish in your hand on a fly you tied yourself, I challenge you to not become a little overwhelmed and 20 shades of thankful.  That will never change for me, and I hope Christmas Island changes very little in the years to come. 

Words by Scott Spooner

Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner, Cameron Scott, Rocky and Janet Mangini, John Marlow, Randy Hughes