Christmas Comes Early

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Camille Egdorf, Alaska native and Bozeman, Montana local, takes her first hosted trip and learns how the other half lives.

I woke with a jolt. My heart was pounding and adrenaline was searing through my veins. The room was dark with a sliver of light from the city outside shining through the drapes. I rolled over and looked at the clock, it was 3:30am, I had only been asleep for 4 hours. “Jeez,” I whispered to myself. I couldn’t recall what I’d been dreaming but the thought of going back to sleep was vacant. I was in Honolulu and in roughly 8 hours, I’d be on my way to one of the most sought after bonefish destinations on the planet. Sleep? Yeah, right. I bounced out of bed, grabbed my Simms Dry Creek duffel bag, pulled out 7 reels and started rigging them with leaders and checked the drag systems one more time. Once I finished with that, I moved on to sharpening hooks, then to organizing my fly boxes….again, then decided to look over my orientation notes. This was my first hosted trip and to say I was nervous would have been an understatement. I was hosting the trip through a travel agent called Fishing With Larry, based out of Columbus, Montana. I had two couples joining me on this trip, Jerry and Katherine and Nick and Maria. I wanted to be sure that I was prepared and ready to roll once we landed on the island. I glanced at the clock again, 4:30am. “Ugh, noon might as well be a year away. Guess I’ll re-organize my fly boxes again.”

I stepped onto the Christmas Island tarmac and glanced around. A small white building with a couple small gates was all that consisted of the airport terminal. The wind carried a fresh saltwater perfume that wisped through my hair causing it to puff up into an afro. The humidity was definitely higher than in Montana and I quickly grabbed a hat to tame my rogue hair. Christmas Island is about 1300 miles South of Honolulu just north of the equator in the middle of the Pacific. It’s by far the remotest place I’ve ever been. I’d met up with the two couples in Honolulu so we made our way through customs and met up with Neemia, the head guide from The Villages Lodge which would be our home for the next 6 days.  After the initial greetings, we loaded our gear into a truck that looked as old as King Tut then piled into an old hippie van with broken seats and no AC. It was nearly a 45 minute ride to the lodge and in those 45 minutes we got an up close look at the culture and living quarters for the locals on the island. The houses were not houses. Instead they were little shanties built from palm tree leaves, sticks and old tin roof. I was amazed at how third world the culture was. I definitely wasn’t in Montana anymore. We arrived at the lodge, went through a quick orientation then began setting our gear up for the next day. Everyone was so jacked for the day ahead that I don’t think any of us could sleep. I woke up at 3:30am again, heart racing and adrenaline flowing. So I walked over to the lounge area where I found four others with the same problem. I sat there and listened to their stories of fighting 70lb GT’s and casting to 12lb bonefish for the next two hours. Talk about making a girl drool.

The sun was just rising over the horizon. The sky was a crisp shade of orange with pink highlights decorating the edges. It was 5:30am, we had just eaten breakfast and were making our way towards our boat full of guides ready to take us out for the first day. Crabs skirted away as we walked down the path and I couldn’t help but feel like my exposed toes would be pinched at any moment. We climbed into our skiff and after a couple pull starts the motor fired up and we were off. The flats were calm and glistened with the coming sunrise. Manta Rays, a massive yet beautiful creature, finned their way along the surface engulfing small fish and plankton. The boat was buzzing with excitement. Jerry was squirming around like he had ants in his pants (as was I), Katherine was snapping pictures like a maniac, Maria was laughing all the time and I was frantically trying to figure out which flies to hand out to everyone. Nick was the only who seemed to be calm and collected. One by one, we each were dropped off on a flat with our guide where we spent the rest of the day walking and searching the water for bones and GT’s.

The first day was a huge learning curve, which is typical. You can’t expect to be an expert your first time doing anything. We all caught fish, had a great time and had some great stories to tell. Maria and Katherine were beginner flyfishers (women) and despite the tough wind conditions they both hooked and landed their first bonefish. I could tell from the look in their eyes and the smiles on their faces that they were ready for more.

Bonefish are literally like ghosts. One minute they are there then the next they are gone. I’m happy we each had our own guide because I know for a fact I wouldn’t have seen 70% of the fish myself. However, after the second day I started figuring out what to look for. My most memorable fish of the trip happened to be one I spotted. My guide that day was Shimano (Katherine and I called him our “reel” man) and we were dropped off on a flat called Texas. The sun was harsh and I could feel the sting of the sun bearing down on my exposed arms and face. I quickly rolled down the sleeves of my Simms SolarFlex shirt and pulled a buff over my face, I was thankful to be wearing my Simms Flyte pants otherwise my legs would have been cooked well done. We walked slow, scanning the water, searching for movement. A small Puffer fish nonchalantly swam by seemingly un-concerned about our intentions. We had seen and hooked into a couple small bones but the coral surrounding us made it impossible to keep the fish on. Once a fish went around a coral head, the 15lb test tippet was no match and I’d lose both the fish and fly. It was a very frustrating yet unavoidable situation. We had been walking for nearly an hour when I saw it. My heart immediately went into panic mode, this was a big fish and the odds of me screwing this up were all too good. I pointed it out to Shimano who told me to, “Cast.” I made two quick false casts and laid the fly about 4 feet to his right. “Wait.” said Shimano. I waited. Then he started making the strip motion with his hand, so I started to mimic him. The bone turned and made a bee-line for my fly, I felt a slight tug and that’s when I set. Nothing. I took it right out of his mouth. My heart sank and my only thought was, “I screwed it up.” but Shimano tells me to cast again. So I laid the fly in nearly the exact same spot. I didn’t even have time to strip the fly before I felt a strong tug. I set the hook once more and this time things connected. The bone took off like a rocket, taking line from my Allen reel as if it was a drag free spool. Finally after several big runs, I was able to bring the fish in and marvel at its perfect beauty. It’s easy to understand why these fish are so difficult to see once you get an up close look at them. Their scales have an iridescent shimmer that when turned to the sun mirror the shine of water, causing them to blend in perfectly with their environment. An amazing and beautiful creature. We snapped a few photos then I gently released it and watched it swim away. “About 6 pounds, I’d say.” says Shimano. I’ll agree with that.

The evenings on Christmas Island are nothing short of perfect. We were greeted with happy smiles from the staff and questions from fellow anglers about our day. After a cool shower we’d all meet at the lounge for drinks and sushi which was as fresh as fresh could get. Giovanni, an Italian fisherman and fellow guest, was the supplier of fresh tuna and wahoo each day. He loved his blue water fishing and I think he took pride in bringing home the bacon. One evening we were treated to a barbecue and special performance by the island locals. One thing that really struck me about this place was its simplicity. The people there barely have enough to afford shoes, yet they’re some of the happiest people I’ve been around. They don’t have internet, cell phones, computers, fancy clothes, cars or any of the other unnecessary things we have back at home. I found myself suddenly feeling embarrassed that I live a life where I don’t have to worry about when my next meal will be or if I’ll be able to provide for my family. In our society we have so much, yet take it for granted. These people live a beautiful life even if we may think it’s poverty stricken. I can’t help but feel as though they could teach us more than we could them.

Our last day on the island came in the blink of an eye. It happens like this all the time. You get so caught up in the fun, adrenaline, excitement and drama of things that the time just flies by. That’s exactly what happened to us. Our plan for that day was different from the previous 5 days. Instead of going out on the flats as a group we decided to split up. Gerry and Katherine decided to spend the day at the lodge, Maria wanted to fish for a half day then partake in a culture demonstration at the lodge and Nick and I decided to hit the blue water with another angler. Blue water fishing is when you leave the lagoon of the island and go outside the surf. Instead of fishing 3 feet of water like on the flats, you’re fishing depths up to 300 feet. Tuna, Wahoo, Barracuda, Sailfish, Trevally and sharks are all considered to be “big game” and steel leaders, 80lb test braided line and massive stainless steel hooks are a requirement.

I’ve never been deep sea fishing before and neither had Nick, so this was an experience far beyond anything we had been a part of before. Glenn, the fellow fisherman from the lodge, was an expert and graciously set everything up for us. I just watched, not understanding any of the equipment and contemplated on what we had gotten ourselves into. From what I was looking at, the gear we’d be using looked as though it could bring a sunken ship up from the bottom. We rounded the corner to the open ocean, the swells had started getting fairly large and I couldn’t help but beg myself not to get seasick (which I didn’t). The thought quickly disappeared when I saw a dolphin swimming beside the boat. It glided effortlessly through the water, surfacing to breath then diving under the bow pacing the boat perfectly then angling off and disappearing into the deep blue. About 30 minutes later we reached our fishing area and it was time to get our lines in the water. Birds were flying everywhere which was apparently good because that meant fish were around. It wasn’t long before I was hooked into my first Tuna then soon after that, a big Wahoo.

The line from the reel was literally “singing” as the fish took off. I immediately had this feeling of “Oh crap, what did I get myself into? The Tuna was easy but this is something else.” as I felt the weight of the fish. This was serious business and I was the one who had to reel this thing in. “Time to put your big girl pants on, Camille. There’s no way I’m letting someone else reel this thing in for me!” I whispered under my breath. I gritted my teeth and bore down. Pumping the rod up and reeling down, over and over and over, the fish made another run, taking twice as much line out. In my mind I was seriously sending out every obscenity I could think of to that fish. My arms were burning, sweat was dripping into my eyes and my will was depleting. Nick and Glenn were behind me, cheering me on. I never thought I need moral support to fight a fish, but I was glad for it. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I started making some serious headway and before too long I could see a bright blue torpedo shaped object beneath the boat. “WAHOO!” yells the guides. I raise the fish’s head and bring it into the boat. I was in absolute awe. It was about 40lbs, solid muscle and had teeth like a saw. My first Wahoo and I was both exhausted and exhilarated. “Nice job, Camille!” says Nick. “Thanks.” I reply. “Now it’s your turn.”

The rest of the day was unbelievable. Nick caught the monster of the day with a 100lb Mako shark. I was happy to be the observer when I saw how strained and tired he was while fighting that thing, but he was a trooper and conquered the beast. I’ve always been a catch and release fisher with the exception of keeping a walleye or salmon on occasion. Killing fish has never been something I cared to do. However, this was different. All the Wahoo, Tuna and the shark we caught we kept and took back to the village to feed the families in need. After seeing how little they have and how virtually nonexistent the natural resources were on the island, I was more than happy to keep these fish and give them away. We brought back 11 Wahoo, 2 Tuna, 1 Barracuda and 1 shark for the community and I felt not a single shred of remorse for it.

Our week on Christmas Island was unreal and I’ll never forget it. The people, fishing and entire experience was extraordinarily special and I can guarantee I’ll be going back. The folks I had the pleasure of fishing with were fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for a better group for my first hosted trip. I was so proud to see the ladies get out there and get with it in the tough conditions and literally kick butt. Maria was an all-star when she hooked and landed the Ryan Gosling of fish. A 40lb Giant Trevally—and the only one of the trip at that.  To anyone who is interested in visiting Christmas Island, I highly recommend it. It’s a magical place full of life and is a fisherman’s dream. I’m back in Montana where it’s just started snowing and my thoughts turn back to the light blue flats and the bonefish occupying them on an island out in the Pacific. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be going back.

You can book your own trip to Christmas Island with Camille by contacting Fishing With Larry.