They're like watching the Blue Angels fly directly above your head. One minute they’re there and in split seconds they’re gone. No trace, just wakes of water oscillating towards calmness again. When you see them you have one shot. When you walk, you walk ready. Fifty plus feet of fly line trails you in a loop swaying this way or that depending on the rise or fall of the tides. You walk heavily protected from the sun, only squinting eyes hiding behind polarized lenses are doing the work, the rest of your body is on auto. Auto meaning the millisecond you see that hydrodynamic shadow capable of traveling at 38 miles per hour underwater comes into view you stop. You wait silent and still for when they come into casting distance and the geometry is in your favor for a presentation. Because when that happens you get one chance. It’s the moment you’ve traveled oceans for, the moment you dream of writing stories about. You lift the rod, haul a back cast as hard as your forearm allows, and watch the cast unfold while allowing the fly line to slip through your fingers at a controlled rate. You change direction only when it is time. The rod passes 12 and you haul with every bone in your body, against the wind, sun shining from the left, 1 hr before sunset, right arm extended directly at a calculated, precise presentation zone as if you are a magician commanding the line, and you hope to God that everything goes right.
Urua in the Gilbertese language (language of the original inhabitants of the Kingdome of Kiribati) is the name for Giant Trevally (scientific name: Caranx Ignobilis). A powerful alpha predator, the gangster of the flats -this who we came for. I had never fished a 12 wt before. In fact, the first time that I ever cast a fly rod was 3.5 years ago. So naturally, I asked around in preparation for the trip specifically from people who had previously visited the island and targeted GT. Many rods entered these conversations but the one I kept on hearing was the Exocett by Thomas & Thomas. When the opportunity arose to bring this rod along with me to Kiribati (also nicknamed Christmas Island or CXI), I took it… and am forever thankful that I did.
Day 1 was a hard one, we actually had several good shots at GT, however, we hadn’t quite honed in on how to perfectly present a massive fly in 35 nanoseconds. This knowledge proved to come with time and failure as with most things learned in fly fishing. Day 2. I was determined to catch my first GT however at this point I had never even caught a bonefish, so I guess you could say I was aiming a little high. Don’t get me wrong, I may have only been fishing a few years but the amount of fly fishing I do most people don’t believe. Some people say I’m lucky but that’s because they only know what they see. I believe in setting goals and attaining them no matter how much energy you have to put towards it. And this is exactly how I saw this trip, I saw it as an opportunity to get what I came for because I believed I could.
Back to fishing. Even when we walked the flats on low tide I carried the 9ft 12 weight in my right hand for that moment just in case. We came across a school of what we thought were bonefish but were actually a mix of bones and juvenile milkfish and just as I was about to swap rods with the guide for my 8wt I noticed one fish in the school seemed to turn significantly quicker and sharper than the others. I said what the heck and bombed one about 5-10 feet in front of the direction it was traveling. Strip strip…BOOM. Never had I felt such a tiny fish have so much power. No match for the weight of the rod he traversed about 3 overlapping circles around me before I could tail all 1 lb. (if that) of him. OMG my first GT!! I had told myself I came for a GT, but maybe now two GT.
Third day. I started to recognize the type of tides that the GTs came in on and the amount of water they needed to roam the flats. That combined with prior research on the optimal moon phases and how they affected the bait and thus the GT, gave me confidence that the GT we came for were just around the corner. We knew the stars were soon to be aligned optimally and the anticipation was peaking. We all called it GT Sunday. This day was tomorrow (day 4) so I knew I had to be prepared, I had to be the quickest I had ever been on the draw and I had to cast with precision and time everything. I saw this third day as my last practice day of sorts. It was around 10am and the tide was receding. All the triggerfish houses became partially exposed and the flats were ground to walk on again with maybe an inch of water here and there. In the middle of a given flat there was no water to be found at all. It was as though little islands had emerged from the ocean everywhere just for a couple of hours.
In these hours we would fish the edges where fish could still school cautiously and the GTs could hunt. Depending on which way the current was pulling we’d navigate the flats in a certain direction. If the current was pulling water from the flat towards what we called The Blue we would slowly walk the edge along the crashing waves waiting for GT to cruise. At times the current was so strong that as soon as your line touched the water off it went completely perpendicular to you. It was like small rivers carrying debris and food from the flats into the sea were suddenly everywhere. And the GT would just be there at the mouth of them waiting. Circling for a chance to burst from their stealthy depths in the moments prey, not strong enough to swim against the current, would be coming down the cafeteria line conveyor belt.
After crossing an entire flat we approached one of these temporary streams. I had my 8wt in hand since bones and triggers were all that we had seen in the last mile or so. I noticed a bonefish peculiarly alone sitting in about 6 inches of water nose up stream. I cast to it but the moment I let the fly land I was already thinking 'oh that’s about 8 feet too far from his eating zone, I had better cast again,' but before I could grab the line. This “bonefish” turned into a small hydroplane soaring towards my shrimp pattern, hooked himself and immediately started ripping line. I thought hmm that’s a little out of character for a bonefish but hey he was on now! It literally wasn’t until I was seconds from tailing him that I realized he was my 2nd GT. All 3 lbs. of him, my second GT!! In that moment I could have left CXI content. That little fish took my 8 wt for the ride of its life and definitely brought me smiles. As it turned out however, the fish Gods had a couple more surprises in mind and I could feel them coming.
I woke up the next day certain about a few things. Today the moon was in the most optimal phase that it would be for the week that we were there. I could identify GT if I saw them traveling. They swam effortlessly, with no discontinuities hovering just centimeters above the sandy bottoms. Sometimes if it was too shallow their dorsal fins would pierce the surface providing a free fish finder flag. I recognized how stealth, quick and cautious they could be. And I also knew I could cast the Exocett with finesse, ease and accuracy. From the days prior I really got a feel for the rod. The weightlessness yet sturdiness of it made a 50ft single haul cast an easy reality. It seems when you are chucking large gear the top two main considerations are 1.) Ease of cast and 2.) Strength and reliability so that you can actually fight the fish should you connect with your destined Personal Best (PB). It was not until I met my PB on GT Sunday that I knew the Exocett was optimally designed for and encompassed BOTH of these traits… to a T.
It was about 4PM, the tides were just right with waves periodically meeting your waist. Little did I know that Andrew, our local guide, had been saving the best spot for last. He knew that at this time of day massive, and I mean MASSIVE GT would be roaming this location, on the hunt and in search of anything that moved. The flat was of medium size with deep wide channels on either side. On one corner of it a circular shaped peninsula protruded into The Blue surrounded 270 degrees by bottomless water of the most brilliant turquoise color. We walked towards the peninsula, standing about 30 ft from the center of it, we had a first glimpse. Seven to eight dark mirrored objects seemingly swimming in congruence with each other emerged like a sped up version of the walking scene in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir dogs. By their speed alone we could tell that they were most likely the largest ones we had encountered thus far.
Slicing water just below the surface they were gone in a moment. My friend was with the guide and after taking casts for about 15 minutes instead of just standing there waiting for my turn I decided to walk to the far edge and wait for one to appear. They swam unbelievably fast and cut corners on a dime such that by the time you saw one they would literally be a rod lengths away. That plus the glare of the sun was not in our favor. We both took shots for about more 15 minutes as we encroached to and past the middle of the peninsula working our way out towards the edges. Andrew gave us 10 more minutes before he said “They know we are here, should we call the boat?” We all agreed to call it. Andrew radioed for a pickup which meant the end to GT Sunday.
While we waited even though I knew the fish knew we were there (because they now only skimmed the edges) I still chucked casts because they had to be in the vicinity. If there is one thing that I’ve learned (unfortunately many times) do not put your rod away until your feet are no longer in the water. Third cast after the boat was called, I didn’t feel it, I saw it. I cast maybe 30 ft off the edge into the blue stripped my black 6 jointed Chase Smith game changer once and before I could strip again, fly still on surface a wide open pearly mouth broke the turquoise and plunged toward my fly. I stripped again but felt nothing.
My immediate thought was that it missed my fly. I realized afterwards the momentum of the GTs attack was so great that it was still in motion towards me, thus no tension. Then I felt it. The most startling take I had ever felt. Before I could yell, “I have a fish!” I was already in my backing and my Einarsson reel was composing some of the most beautiful sounds I’ve heard. The line leaving my reel felt like a semi on I-5 was attached to it. It was actually quite frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of what was on the end of my line, but this was definitely the scenario. My instinct was to palm it, but a bruised left palm the next day (which didn't end up helping anyway) proved that to be a bad idea. I remembered what Steini Einarsson had told me about the reel and I imagined his Icelandic accent, "A big GT? It will stop them."
With the drag as my only hope any second, the fish paused I tightened the drag. The problem was the first time it paused, was after ripping more than 1/2 of the 350 yards of 70lb gel spun backing I had put on it. At one point I remember screaming out to the fish, "Please stop! Please stop oh God please stop!!" The Trevally pulled with the force of, I kid you not, all the fish I have ever caught before in one fish. And with it being my 64th species on fly that's a ton of force. The rod, in no moment whatsoever, once the fish was hooked did I feel that it would fail me. Even in the first 15 minutes when the rod remained completely parallel to the water and I could not lift it even a few inches to reel line I had no doubt. Suddenly I was on a battlefield fighting the fiercest opponent of my life and my weapon of choice became an extension of my skills and strength.
I felt afraid but at the same armored in hope and titanium. Thirty minutes went by and we were both exhausted. In the moment it was tailed and lifted my silent and focused autopilot mode poof disappeared and I completely and utterly lost all control. I could not even look at it without screaming of pure joy and adrenaline. I experienced a new feeling that day, one that I probably won't experience again for years to come. To say I took this rod to the middle of Pacific and test it would be an understatement. I put this rod through what it was designed for close to its max capacity and in no instant or situation during this trip did it fail me. I am hands down via personal experience a believer in the vision of T&T such that this is definitely a rod that I will eventually own.
I almost want to say I would be fine never catching another fish again... but that would be quite the boring life. Actually just 2 days later on the last day, Kiribati had one more present in store. In the last hr on the flats there I was reeling in my 4thand final GT (maybe 20 lbs less than the one from GT Sunday but a treasure none the less). The people I met and the beauty I’ve seen in this place I will carry with me for decades to come. Kiribati is a place of mystery, timing, and chance. You go there when you want to challenge yourself and test what you have learned thus far. When you want to be completely outside of your comfort zone and view your relationship with fly-fishing from a different angle. For me it was a chance to learn experience culture, test my beliefs and create friendships that would last a life time.
Last remark, I must say that the only reason I came to this place was because 1 year prior I saw a fellow female angler Maring Gibson catching massive fish in CXI like a gangSTAR and I asked her about the tape on her hands that she was using. That convo quickly lead to “Hey I’m going next Spring would you be interested in joining?” So Thanks Marina, for extending an invitation to a stranger because I really did have the time of my life! I will be back soon Kiribati and I cannot wait to see probably the most kind and talented guides that I have ever met. Andrew, Kabuta, Kurt, David, and others you guys are the real deal and I have the utmost respect for you, your lands and your culture.