Christmas Came Early
It would be tough to imagine a more picturesque setting than what greeted us when we parked in front of Crystal Beach Lodge. It had it all—palm trees, sand beach, vivid blue water, the atoll’s reef creating pure white surf: it was the whole package, but no one ogled the scene too long. There was gear to unpack and rig. Within an hour the scene in front of the cabins was a forest of rods and reels. With four to six rods each (you need a 7- or 8- weight for bones, an 11- or 12-weight for giant trevally, a surf-sized spinning or casting rig for blue water plus plenty of spares) we could have stocked a decent fishing shop, and those rods got plenty of use. These guys came to fish: we were all on the trucks for the short drive to the harbor at 6:00 or 7:00 AM every morning. Like fishing at Scott, the decision about fishing at Christmas is binary. At Scott, it’s trout or pike. At Christmas, it’s flats or blue water. We all mixed it up over the week.
Unlike flats fishing in the Bahamas, the shallow water wading here brought lots of unexpected encounters; there are more than bonefish hiding out on the miles and miles of flats. Nothing is more surprising than meeting your first triggerfish, a multicolored oddity that tails like a bonefish but is much more finicky eater. While they will sometimes take a well-presented crab fly, everything must be perfect with the cast and strip. When hooked they are a tough customer. Over the course of the week, many nice ones were landed. There were also bluefin and golden trevally to be found, all spooky and challenging. Of course there were lots of bonefish—it’s what Christmas is famous for. We got our share. Some had more luck (or skill) than others. Cory Craig, the Scott Head Guide, was the bone whisperer of the trip. He just could not keep them off his hook. At one stop I was fishing with a Christmas Island guide just a couple hundred feet from Cory who preferred to guide himself. With his fish-spotting eyes why not? Every time I glanced his direction that damn rod was bent. Over and over. Before I had my first bone to hand (with a guide calling the shots no less ), Cory had landed a dozen or more. It’s why his nickname is WCA, as in World Class Angler. He was the master of the flats on this trip.
The biggest fish from shallow water belonged to Graham Coulombe who found himself and his 12- weight fly rod attached to a massive giant trevally. Ripping out about 300 yards of backing, that fish clearly wanted nothing to do with Graham. With an audience of five other Scott guides, Graham kept his cool and kept the fish in check, finally stopping the run by really putting a nasty bend in his rod. These fish are incredibly strong. In an epic battle it was a long “pump and gain” game to bring the fish back but Graham was up to it. He brought the 50 pound plus beast close enough to shore for a tail grab. What a fish! What an experience! Most of the gang landed smaller versions of GTs on the flats as well as a bluefin trevally or two. Wading the flats at Christmas was like cruising around a supermarket, just picking treats off the shelf.
Another treat for many of our group was the abundance of seabirds, especially in some inner lagoons that were fished on two days of our trip. There were nesting frigates and boobies that allowed us to walk up within feet of their nests—the new chicks hanging on the most precarious of nests. It was just like being in the Galapagos Islands. The absence of any predators creates a unique opportunity to see bird up close and very personal, just a wonderful grace note to the week.
The blue water teams had some real rocking and rolling over the week. It was blowing for many of the days and, after all, this is the Pacific Ocean. There were some guys green around the gills on the blue water days but the action trolling or jigging made everyone forget about the waves. There was no problem getting into tuna, GTs, wahoo or a wide variety of bottom fish, most unknown species for Canadian freshwater guides. Every day the blue water crews provided the raw material for our evening dinners and probably fed the families of many of the staff at Crystal Beach Lodge. On one day when the wind was down, a single boat brought back around 500 pounds of fish, mainly tuna which were in the 20-40 pound range—all fighting machines. Jan Phoenix and Ron Spork were the ring leaders of the blue water group, going out nearly every day. Jan, who fishes salt water for most of the winter, was looking for a big wahoo. That species eluded Jan but not Steve Lindner, aka Biff Piston, who on the last day nailed a huge wahoo of close to 50 pounds. Another big wahoo was taken early in the trip by Jordan Baker. On the trevally front, Jan Phoenix landed a very nice bluefin and Matt Cornell got a 50 pound plus GT while trolling off the reef not far from the lodge.
There was a wonderful rhythm to the week: up early, fish hard all day, come back for cocktails, conversations with the Christmas guides, some very fresh tuna sushi, more cocktails, lots more beer, fish stories, more beer, and then dinner of fresh fish and rice (with the occasional lobster dinner thrown in) served under the stars, then more beer—a very tough routine. It was not unlike the summer pattern at a lodge 59 degrees further north. Like at Scott the vibe here was quite comfortable.
While fishing was center stage all week, the real payoff for Scott Lake Lodge and its guests was the team building process that played out. It was a beautiful thing to watch. On the water and at the lodge the Scott guides demonstrated the mutual trust and respect that makes the Scott Lake Lodge fishing experience so rich and productive. These guys really like each other. Maybe the roughly 900 beers the guys put down was an element but I don’t think it was a big part of the chemistry that developed. This is a brotherhood, a remarkable group of men who have a passion for fishing and a solid capacity for working together. Not content with just a week together, about half the group went to Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands, to chase the monster bonefish that inhabit those flats. It’s never enough. For the other half of the group the fishing trip ended sitting in the crowded waiting area at the airport listening to the anglers from the other lodges tell their stories–stories about bonefish landed, GTs lost and casts missed. Just change the species to pike and trout and you have the Day 5 experience sitting in the Last Cast waiting for the Twin Otter. Fish stories are an echo of primal instincts; our species really hasn’t changed that much since the time when hunting and fishing were survival skills not sports. The fish stories from the Christmas Island expedition will bounce around the lodge and in the boats all summer. Just another chapter in the Scott Lake Lodge story.