• Leigh Dowell

Christmas Island

We have just returned from another successful Christmas Island trip, and as I write successful I wonder what that means to you. We had a group that are all at very different skill levels in fly fishing. They varied from 12 months to 40 years of experience. We had two members on their fifth trip to Christmas Island, five members on their very first saltwater trip and I was taking my third trip to the island of bonefish. So how do you measure your success? Within our group we all had different goals and expectations. I know some people measure success simply by counting numbers, and if that’s your way Christmas island is a good choice as there are plenty of fish to be caught. Some need big fish, and some base their success on the simple enjoyment of the trip. For me all these things add to the success of a trip. But I only ever ask for an opportunity. If I get an opportunity to cast to a fish that’s enough. After that its up to me and my ability to succeed. Personally, Success for me comes down to the challenge involved. I can sit on a point, with bonefish coming through all day one after the other, I just stand and deliver my fly and they eat it. Big numbers of fish can be gathered by days end. This does not rate highly on my success scoring sheet.

If I have had a difficult morning with bonefish not playing the game, but then I change something, and I start to catch fish, maybe only a few but this rates much higher on the score sheet. In this scenario I have learnt something new that I can add to the knowledge bank. This knowledge bank is my way of succeeding more often in the future.

On this recent trip I certainly added to my knowledge as I hope all the other members did. If at the end of the day you haven’t learnt anything maybe you should have just stayed in bed.


So as a teacher of fly casting I was always thinking of what I can pass on to my students. I asked our guides ´what was the biggest thing guests struggle with at Christmas Island? ´ They both said wind. Particularly wind blowing onto their casting shoulder. They said, “Guests don’t have the ability to cast off shoulder, opposite hand or deliver the fly on the back cast”. The guides are great at setting you up for the wind, but fish don’t always run to the script. I caught fish in all zones and even caught one with a snap cast to a fish 25’ away. If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to the guides from Christmas Island. Get out and practice in the wind, practice both sides of your body and practice in close casting 15’ to 40’ is where you will make most shots.

Below are 5 things which I believe will improve your success for Christmas island. By success I mean more fish, more enjoyment and possibly that fish of a life time.


Number 1. Get a line that is matched to your ability and style. Make sure it loads your rod of choice well at 15’ to 40’. Practice with it making change of direction roll casts. Yes roll casts. There is no need for 5-6 false casts, false casts will not improve your success.

Number 2. Flies. Christmas island flies are not difficult to tie. Less is best. If you are not a fly tier, purchase good quality flies on good hooks. If you don’t spend some money on these, you are wasting your money on the trip. One thing that is important with flies is weight, you will need light to heavy flies and you need to think about why you should be changing these. Weight will make a difference between catching and not catching fish.

Number 3. Your guide is not your servant, work as a team, four eyes are better than two. If you want more success, ask questions and talk with them. They know a lot more than you probably think. Have you ever shared your rod with your guide and let them fish? I suggest you do. Look at how they present the fly, strip the fly and set the hook. I guarantee you will learn a lot. Even on this, my third trip to the island, I learnt some finer points on stripping and setting the hook by talking to the guides about it. So glad I asked.

Number 4. Line management. Imagine your walking the flats and have 40’ of line off the reel, what are you going to do with it? Will you be using it? If you don’t think you’re going to use it get it back on the reel. If conditions are tough for seeing fish and you can only see fish at 25’ that’s all the line you will need. If you need 40’ or more, you will need a system to maintain the line and a way of flowing into a cast. Christmas Island is not the place to work this out or practice it. This should be done months before, at home in your practice sessions. You also need to know what line length you have out the rod tip. Work out a way of measuring this or mark your line. Once you have landed a fish you want to be able to strip off back to the required amount again. The amount of line varies from session to session and day to day.

This brings us to my final piece of advice.

Number 5. Get some lessons from a casting instructor who understands what you need to be doing. A good instructor should be able to show and teach you casts for different winds, short casts as well as longer casts, short change of direction casts, teach you stripping and setting the hook. Get them to show you how to hook those bones that eat when you only have the leader out the rod tip. Best of all they will save you money by helping you set up your gear properly.



Christmas Island is a special place with beautiful people, it is much more than a great fishing location. If you’re thinking of going, I highly recommend it. It is a great place to get your teeth into saltwater fly fishing, but do some planning and preparation, it will increase your success, what ever that success is based on.



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