I can still vividly remember the cover shot. It was Australia’s well known fishing scribe and presenter Mr Steve “Starlo” Starling, some twenty years ago on a well known monthly fishing journal.
At just under 65cm this bonefish could be considered a trophy at most destinations in the world, we saw literally dozens of fish this size whilst fishing the flats in Aitutaki
I think the article was call ‘Christmas in April’ and the cover was a majestic shot of Steve holding up a bonefish whilst wearing his best Panama hat on the flats of Christmas Island. Steve’s writings have always inspired but, if a picture tells a thousand words then this cover shot has been rambling subliminal messages to me ever since!
Catching a bonefish on fly has long been the Holy Grail for many fly anglers around, not only this country but the world. The bonefish is an enigmatic fish that has had volumes written on its behaviour and locations, a fish that seems to dwell in some of the most beautiful untouched corners of our world.
To Catch A Bonefish. Opportunities to catch bonefish are quite limited around Australia and while numbers of this species are caught along our tropical coastline each year, most are accidently caught on bait. Some of our ardent fly anglers will be aware of Brett Wolf ’s True Blue Bones in Western Australia. A location where some anglers have been able to tick this species off their bucket list, a proven and reliable destination for such events under Brett’s guidance.
For me, opportunity knocked whilst my wife was looking at second honeymoon locations in the South Pacific region. The Cook Islands are known for their beauty, climate and remoteness. Found in the French Polynesian triangle the Cook Islands are made up of 15 main islands in an area of 2.2 million square kilometres of ocean. The island we chose for our retreat was Aitutaki. Found in the southern group of the Cook Islands. Aitutaki is accessed by daily flights from Rarotonga, the main Cook island. The internet made for a swift assessment of the angling prospects around Aitutaki and with a big emphasis on bonefish, I was keen as mustard to get Simone to make a booking!
As a sport fishery Aitutaki is still being developed and this expansion has come with the recognition of the big bonefish that call this little atoll home. Called by many as the most beautiful lagoon on the planet, few who have actually been there would argue that point. Vast flats of sand and crushed coral have secured the perfect environment for both fish and angler.
An early morning walk around the resort island of Akitua usually meant a few blue trevally to waken the senses
Research suggested Aitutaki’s bonefish were big and difficult to catch and, while it was possible to persevere and catch bonefish without assistance, I wasn’t going to leave it to chance. I hired the skills of local guide Itu Davey.
Itu is an ex- professional net fisher, but has now hung up his nets in an endeavour to protect both the fish and the environment from further ruin. Itu has a natural instinct for these fish and knows the lagoon and its islands like the back of his hand. As a guide he has been professionally trained and his ability to cast a flyrod, tie a fly and find a fish is second to none on the island!
My wife Simone is a keen angler herself and, while not versed in fly casting, she was very keen to stand on the pointy end of Itu’s flats skiff and flick a plastic to some of those big bonefish. While Itu does specialize in fly fishing he was very hospitable to Simone’s wishes and certainly treated her as any other client.
Itu picked us up in his boat from the resort where we were staying, Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa, and within fifteen minutes I was shouting “You Beauty” as my first ever bonefish was slid to hand. It almost came a little too easy! The next fish exited the flat and found some coral in the deeper water to hasten its freedom. Simone’s turn next and I think both Itu and myself were amazed to watch this big bone cruise up to the little Berkeley Ripple Shad and very purposely chase it down and eat it! The shallow, braid friendly, spool of the Pflueger haemorrhaged rapidly and within seconds the shiny base of the spool was growing larger. Simone wound the drag up and the fish began to arc around slowing the loss of line. Some fast poling from Itu and quick winding by Simone had enough line back onboard to allow its second and less progressive run. What a fish it was, at 27.5 inches or 70cm from tip of head to fork of tail and estimated at around twelve pounds or nearly 5.5kg. It was an ecstatic Simone that released a great fish and what turned out to be the fish of the trip!
Catching bonefish on light spin gear and soft plastics was an art in itself and in some respect proved no easier than fly casting for them. Simone tried a number of different plastics and leader sizes before the fish came a little more consistently
Other Options. Over our eight day stay on Aitutaki we employed Itu for two days of guided fishing, this included more than flicking a fly to bonefish but also poppering for GTs’ on the outer edge of the atoll. A pastime that quickly depleted my tackle box of its trinkets and had me winding up the drag on the Zeebaas. I did manage to stop one small GT and I figured next time I’ll bring the heavy stick. (I was already planning a return trip!) Other assets that Itu possessed was his historical and mythological notes on the various islands we fished near or chose to have lunch on. After two days of fishing we had also experienced a full personalized guided tour of the atoll and its islands thanks to Itu.
Aitutaki is a photographer’s paradise. Unfortunately no photo will ever do it justice! We pondered as to why even on dull overcast days the lagoon was still iridescent turquoise / blue, its clarity belying its depth. I often jumped out of Itu’s skiff thinking it was shin deep only to be wet to the waist. This didn’t matter as water temperatures were very similar to the high twenties of the ambient air temperature.
Every direction you looked it was picture postcard perfect!
On the days not spent with Itu we usually had a morning and afternoon spin session around the small island of Akitua where our resort was located. Plenty of small emperor species, cod and trevally flocked to our lures. While most were small there was enough coral around to keep fish and angler on a level footing. The blue trevally were quite abundant, but others such as juvenile golden and giant trevally were also regularly caught. We watched queenfish smash mullet around the edge of the canal but their single-mindedness made them impossible to catch despite our efforts.
Using the kayaks supplied by the resort allowed us further access to the atoll and its flats, islands and abundant coral bommies.
Use of the resorts kayaks made for easy exploration and fishing of Aitutaki lagoon
Despite the vastness and clarity of the water within the atoll we never saw one shark on our visit. Surprisingly the locals assured us that no sharks enter the lagoon and no sightings have been made in living memory! That information certainly gave us some ease of thought whether paddling the kayaks or wading the flats.
The Aitutaki Vibe. We were lucky enough to meet a number of anglers that were visiting Aitutaki in an effort to catch a big bonefish. Dave Egdorf and his daughter Kim were visiting from Alaska and were being hosted by Ian Dollery. Ian Dollery is a lifetime fly angler who has been employed by Aiturtaki’s Marine Resources to assist in setting up and promoting the Aitutaki bonefishery. Dave and Kim run wilderness fishing tours in Alaska and are regarded the world over for their wilderness fishing camps. Despite the remoteness of Alaska, both Dave and Kim had heard the hype on Aitutaki’s bonefish.
Ian was also hosting other anglers for their fishing endeavours on the flats. The whole place had an inbuilt vibe that further encouraged and promoted the fishery!
A couple of anglers just walking the fringes. It didn’t matter where you were on the island fish were everywhere! It was just a matter of walking, waiting and watching
As a holiday destination Aitutaki holds little more than rest and relaxation. Those visiting quickly adjust to ‘island time.’ Simone and I made our pilgrimage in early March and the climate was perfect, not too hot with light winds most of the time. For the visiting angler there is a host of opportunities. With new ‘green zones’ being accepted by locals and nets being hung up permanently this small dot on our planet is set to become a highly valued sport fishery that will only get better as time comes to pass. I felt quite privileged to experience this fledgling piscatorial paradise and when leaving, it was good to know that such a destination is only going to get better for those that come after me.
Location. Aitutaki is part of the southern Cook Island group.
Getting there. There are daily flights from Rarotonga and connecting flights from various carriers in Aukland New Zealand and Australia’s State capitals.
Accommodation. We stayed at the Lagoon Resort and Spa found on the adjacent islet of Akitua (highly recommended). There are a number of resorts on the main island of Aitutaki. The Boat Shed is fast becoming the choice of visiting anglers, offering a good restaurant, bar and accommodation.
Aitutaki comes under New Zealand governance and the currency is the New Zealand dollar. Fishing Licenses are required to fish in Aitutaki and these can be purchased from the Marine Resources building and several other locations such as many of the local resorts and the Boat Shed.
I recommend getting in touch with Ian Dollery on his facebook page for all your fishing requirements and fishing package deals.
Tackle to take: fly rod #8 – #9 Floating Line with intermediate sinking clear tip. 15lb-20lb leader for bonefish.
#10- #12 fly rod for trevally full sinking line and maybe an intermediate line also.
Spin gear for bonefish and general inshore spinning 3kg – 6kg. A quality reel filled with 10lb – 15lb braid with 20lb leader. A range of jig heads weights with #2-#1/0 hooks. A selection of small plastics to match jig heads (see accompanying pics).
Heavy GT outfit 15kg-27kg -80lb leaders and plenty of big poppers!