ISLAND CYCLES

    A three-hour flight over monotone ocean gives way to a menagerie of cyan, blue, and teal, and you realize how truly beautiful water can be—that even the most stoic could cry looking down at this South Pacific lagoon full of bonefish and triggerfish and the coveted, seabird-marauding Giant Trevally.

    You’ve come a long way for minimal resources and have settled into the island’s cinder block cabins and daily lunch of ham and ketchup sandwiches.

    Friendly villagers in houses akin to lean-tos.

    Warm beer in a fridge that sometimes works.

    Flies spun in the light of a flickering bulb at night.

    You’ve stripped yourself of luxuries; they distract from your intentions.

    A couple mornings later the chug of the boat fades after it drops you in a corner of the lagoon, a water desert dotted by far-away palms and frigate birds on the breeze. Your eyes are tuning in, teeth bared from squinting; you wade from flat to flat because a skiff feels like cheating.

    Wind ripples the surface, sending a shiver over the aquamarine to a pair of large, peach-faced triggers bobbing in the chop 50 yards ahead. You instinctively crouch, camouflaging the few inches that might give you away. They pick through the coral, exposing their backs as you smoothly pull line from the reel and wade forward. Everything inside is screaming, even as you quietly watch and move.

    Cast, Johnny whispers.

    He’s stocky, and the kind of guide who likes to cover long distances on foot; he’s permitting you to cast away the nervous energy. And so it goes from your belly, into your muscles and nerve endings, exploding twice in the bend of the eight weight, through the line, to the pendulum drop of the fly.

    It can either plop quietly within their path or drop directly on their heads, scattering them off the flat. This cast is the former. The table is set; now it’s just a matter of wait—

    Strip! Johnny breathes.

    You give it a few quick, short tugs.

    Stop.

    A few more.

    One shadow races the other and Johnny tells you, hold. Keep holding. The shadows close in and you picture the fly on the drop; Johnny’s shoulders drop instead.

    Ahhhh, he sighs, defeated for you, right before the fish drop off the shelf to the deep. It’s only been a couple days, and you already know these fish are assholes.

    “Johnny,” of course, is his guide name—his native moniker tumbles clumsily off visitors’ tongues. He’s one of several on rotation for the week. They work hard for your success, securing knots with long fingernails, supplementing flies with a few of their own, slapping the water for the attention of the trevally.

    At the end of the day you work just as hard to beat them at the pool table. Sunburnt and thirsty, always thirsty, you lean back in the windowless bar that has a simple cooler of Budweiser in the corner as Matt—his skin a deep brown from the season’s work—sinks another corner shot for the win. Everyone laughs and he orders you another consolation beer.

    The next day it’s you and Max, though a friend is just a flat away. Separated by a narrow, deep blue chasm, you watch her exchange rods with her guide and Max extends his hand to do the same. A lit cigarette dangles from his lips; he wedges the 12-weight under his armpit, and you pull line on the eight. Max was born and raised on the island and these flats are like his children—each one different; some admittedly favored over others.

    2020 Saltwater Season Quote

    Max was born and raised on the island and these flats are like his children—each one different; some admittedly favored over others.

    He is also your eyes. He gestures to what seems like nothing.

    Thirty feet, he mumbles around the cigarette.

    The take is hard, and the bonefish runs away with your line. The slack whips violently through your fingers and you gradually start to pinch, bridling it like a wild stallion until it’s reigned taught to the reel.

    Yeehaw, you think, and the reel screams.

    It bucks and turns and contorts for a while before you bring it to Max who lifts it with both hands, cradling the shiny white flesh, and places it in yours. Its skin like armor, its meaty girth—nothing like the trout back home.

    2020 saltwater quote two

    Its skin like armor, its meaty girth—nothing like the trout back home.

    For the next hour you pluck bones from the water like rabbits out of a hat. When you’ve finally lost count you look up and, in the distance, your friend holds a giant gray slab.

    GT. Geet. Giant indeed.

    Easily 60 pounds! her guide announces when you reconvene on the boat.

    The occasion calls for extra beers at the lodge that night, which inevitably turns to liquor and stories, then dinner of freshly harvested mantis shrimp, then liquor and stories again. Too soon a rooster crows while you fumble to quiet the alarm in the darkness. Pulling yesterday’s salt-crusted sun shirt over your head, you creak open the bungalow door and shuffle barefoot through the sugary sand for the communal pot of instant coffee.

    It’s hot, chalky and acidic. But it also provides a recharge. Pinks and oranges start to come through the clouds as breakfast winds down; the wader socks are still wet despite having been hung out all night in the South Pacific breeze.

    Such a pain, you think groggily, grunting through the process each morning. But of course you don’t mind. You’ve got unfinished business with some triggers.

    And so the cycle goes—fish, rinse, repeat.

    WORDS BY: ERIN SPAULDING

    ON THE WATER

    SALTWATER TOOLS

    Bonefish to Tarpon, presentation to power, recommendations from our reps and ambassadors on the perfect saltwater season setups.

    BONEFISH

    The ideal bonefish combination should be able to effectively handle conditions that can vary from completely calm to extremely windy and this set-up does that to perfection. It will effortlessly deliver a silent presentation that won’t disturb even the spookiest bonefish in quiet shallows, yet it is equally as efficient when it comes to driving a tight loop into a strong head-wind with precision. The high-capacity reel’s silky-smooth drag never misses a beat and protects the lightest tippets even when a double-digit monster heads toward the horizon on a signature blistering run. When it comes to stalking bonefish, this is the quintessential outfit.

    — Jon Cave, Sage Ambassador
    Rod:
    SALT HD 890-4
    Reel:
    SPECTRUM MAX 7/8
    Line:
    RIO DirectCore Flats Pro WF8F


    PERMIT

    Catching a permit on fly requires patience, perseverance, and the right fly rod and fly line. To be successful you must be accurate with the fly presentation in all types of conditions. The 9 weight SALT HD rod with RIO FlatsPro Fly Line gives you the confidence to be successful and meet the demands of permit on fly.

    — Raz Reid, Southeast Sage Rep
    Rod:
    SALT HD 990-4
    Reel:
    SPECTRUM MAX 9/10
    Line:
    RIO DirectCore Flats Pro WF9F


    TARPON

    Bar none, Tarpon are the most rigorously demanding shallow water gamefish of an angler’s tackle, and the SALT HD stands up to the test. The responsiveness of KonneticHD Technology provides my anglers with the ability to present flies delicately at short distances to laid up Tarpon in off-colored water, while still maintaining the ability to reach out far to strings of swimming fish. The low stretch properties of DirectCore incorporated in the Flats Pro makes the insurmountable feat of penetrating a Tarpons mouth more feasible and ensures in increasing more quality hook ups, amounting to less fish jumping off. The dynamic duo pairing of the SALT HD with the Flats Pro aids in leveling the playing field for all anglers in pursuit of these mythical dinosaurs that lurk beneath the surface.

    — Capt. Camp Walker, Sage Elite Pro
    Rod:
    SALT HD 1190-4
    Reel:
    SPECTRUM MAX 11/12
    Line:
    RIO DirectCore Flats Pro WF11F low-viz color Gray/Sand/Kelp


    General Purpose Flats

    Your flight leaves in a few hours, accommodations are reserved, and bags are packed. It’s annual family vacation time and hopes are high to be able sneak away for a few DIY sessions on the water. You’re unsure as to what opportunities you might find when you get there, and you need a tool that will get the job done no matter what. Enter the 8 weight MAVERICK. Its powerful blank design ensures the fly hits its target in a variety of conditions, and that said target, whatever it may be, makes it to hand. Built on our tried and trusted Konnetic Technology, the MAVERICK is just as much at home on a shallow flat sight-fishing to finicky Bonefish as blind casting the surf of Cape Cod searching for a cruising Striped Bass. Paired with a SPECTRUM MAX 7/8 and RIO Flats Pro WF8F, the MAVERICK 890-4 gets the job done in style.

    — Alex Blouin, Sage Community Coordinator
    Rod:
    MAVERICK 890-4
    Reel:
    SPECTRUM MAX 7/8
    Line:
    RIO DirectCore Flats Pro WF8F


    MADE IN THE USA

    CUT-AND-FIT

    Achieving precision is not always easy or quick. At Sage, our handcrafting process includes an attention to detail in the cut-and-fit stage that far exceeds the industry standard. We taper fit each of our rods, one section at a time, starting at the tip. Our rodsmiths hand-cut and hand-fit each individual section. Then they check and refine the connections for wobble or tightness as well as fit and flex before the rod makes the grade.

    The result is pure harmony—a smooth, end-to-end connection from a handcrafting process that results in a lighter rod with precise alignment. It’s complicated, but even a thickness-of-a-hair variance can drastically alter the action of a rod. Yet we believe every millimeter and every cast matters, which is why we take the extra time to make it right. It's our trademark.

    Words & Photography

    ERIN SPAULDING

    Editor / Writer Erin Spaulding is a writer based in Seattle, WA. Born in northern Michigan, she grew up chasing bluegill and walleye with worms before picking up a fly rod and moving west with her husband to the land of searun cutthroat and high alpine lake trout. Her work has appeared in The Flyfish Journal, Chicago Athlete Magazine and a handful of Michigan newspapers, and she has been featured on the Writers on the Fly Cascadia Tour. On her first trip to Christmas Island—the first known all-women trip to the location—her group was stranded an extra week due to a cyclone in Fiji. During this extended stay she dialed in the fishing and got her ass kicked by the guides in several games of pool.

    ANDREW MILLER

    Photographer Andrew Miller is a multidisciplinary photographer with a niche in the outdoor industry space. His work has taken him all over the country shooting in often remote locations capturing moments overlooked by the average eye. His imagery has been featured in reputable publications such as The Fly Fish Journal as well as commercially with several notable brands in the outdoor industry.

    CHRISTMAS ISLAND OUTFITTERS

    Want to learn more about the chance to fish the flats for Bonefish, GT's, and the elusive Trigger? Check out our friends at Christmas Island Outfitters who recently hosted us on this amazing saltwater experience featured in the story and images above. Inquire below for full details.