Aitutaki: World renowned for trophy Bonefish – By Tony Hildesheim
Winters can be enjoyable, Taupo river trout fishing, snow skiing, kids Saturday sport, relaxing by the fire red wine in hand. But on the other hand it sucks, cold, wet, short days and iced up rod guides on the Tongariro. So when the opportunity came for me to spend a month out on the tropical island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands with local bonefishing guide Itu (E2) Davey, fly fishing for trophy Bonefish and Giant Trevally, how could I say no.
A pretty boring itinery was planned, if you’re not a crazy mad keen saltwater fly nut.
- Day 1 chasing Bonefish
- Day 2 chasing Bonefish..
- Day 4 oh lets chase GTs for something different ok Itu..
- Day 5 chasing Bonefish..
- Day 28 chasing Bonefish..
- Day 29 oh shit time to go home..
Aitutaki is a short 50 minute air flight from Rarotonga. Landing at Aitutaki absolutely takes your breath away. The Aitutaki lagoon is pro-claimed to be the jewel of the south pacific. The turquoise colour of the water in the lagoon is just sensational, little Motus scattered round the outer coral reef, brilliant white sand, palm trees lining the shores of all the islands – it’s just another world out there, and yet, so close to sweet home New Zealand. Why hadn’t I discovered this little paradise sooner?
My first introduction to the beautiful island of Aitutaki and its bonefishing was some 24 months ago at the Napier Hunting and Fishing store, where I work in the fly fishing department. A very good customer of ours, Jim Mcivor, came bouncing in one cold wet day looking very proud of himself and said, “Tony I’ve found paradise and have met this excellent bonefishing guide, Itu Davey. I’ve told him all about you and he’s keen to meet up and for us all to fish together”. So from that day on my Aitutaki dream started, exchanging e-mails, sending Itu fly tying gear and searching the web for as much info I could find on the Cook Islands. So began the planning of my 4 week fly fishing holiday.
The Aitutaki Lagoon is rightfully regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. It is not over-commercialised; I was totally blown away by the laid-back, relaxed and friendly atmosphere of Aitutaki and its peoples. Some great cafes/burger bars where fish & chips consisted of battered yellow fin tuna, fresh island salad and perfect French fries all for only $10 or $12 bucks and there is plenty to keep the whole family entertained including lagoon cruises, island tours and resort activities. A good range of accommodation to suit all budgets is available on Aitutaki.
The Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources since 2009 have been developing a guide based fly fishing industry for Bonefish. With the shift from commercial netting to sport fishing for bones, it is hoped that the people of Aitutaki can ensure this incredible resource continues to sustain the people of the atoll as it has done for generations, providing brilliant bonefishing for travelling anglers.
On Aitutaki the bonefish is known as the ‘Kiokio”. For its weight the bonefish is probably the strongest and fastest of any salt-water fish. Around the world the bonefish is known as the “grey ghost”. Bonefish have of silvery transparent appearance, with torpedo-shaped bodies and a conical snout. Bonefish more than any other flats species, prefer to reside in extremely shallow water, often in water that is less than 1 foot deep. The average weight of a Aitutaki bone is about 7 to 8lb’s with many anglers hooking trophy statues fish of 10lb’s plus.
Bonefish can be found cruising over clear flats and often seen “tailing” as they burrow there noises into the sand while hunting in shallow water for shrimps, small molluscs and crabs. The thrill of seeing a tailing bonefish starts the adrenalin pumping like no other fly fishing has done for me, it’s just simply magic. Bonefishing almost always involves stalking as you try to spot and entice the fish into taking your fly, before it sees you.
Being a reasonable fly caster is important, once a fish is spotted having the ability to shoot your fly line out quickly and accurately with just 2 or 3 double haul casts is a big bonus. Good presentation of your fly is critical to not spooking the fish. Eight weight fly rods do the job perfectly, especially on windy days and if a long cast is needed to reach the fish. Most bonefish anglers are accomplished trout fisherman looking to further their fly fishing passion, so casting is not too much of an issue, but certainly take the time to practise before you go and tune-up your 8wt skills.
When it all goes to plan the bite is sensational, a stripe strike is a must, it has 2 distinct advantages, one is to set the hook and the other is that it keeps the clouser type fly moving along the bottom, if the fish misses the fly, you can then go back to a slow retrieve again and the fish may swim back for another look with their keen eyes. Avoid Trout Strikes as they tend to lift the fly off the bottom to much which spooks the fish. We used 8 weight tropical intermediate shooting head fly lines and preferred to have them with a floating running line which came in handy when wading the flats by not sinking and getting caught up on coral and weed. We used Rio Outbound intermediate lines for both boat/flats fishing and the Rio tropical floating line with 9 foot clear intermediate tip for flats fishing on calm days. Both lines worked extremely well and were Itu’s favourites.
Bonefish have deeply forked tails that provide immense power, once hooked up the reward is a blistering run that just seems to go forever, at least 60 to 80 metres is the norm. This is when a top quality saltwater reel with good drag system comes into its own and it should have a fast retrieve rate like a Loop Opti Speedrunner because once the fish tires they seem to swim all the way back at you prompting a frantic wind in to the boat, then at least another couple of short powerful runs before landing and releasing the fish. A running bonefish usually remains within sight throughout the fight making each hook up very exciting and special.
I found fly selection in Aitutaki to be absolutely critical. This is where I highly recommend you take the services of a local bonefishing guide. I know Itu Davey has experimented extensively with lots of different patterns over the last few years and has come up with his own fly formula. His flies far out fished any that I brought from New Zealand or ones that I was tying myself. Wading on the flats one of the fish I landed was on a tan crazy Charlie brought from home and another bone off the boat on my own “Tonys worm fly”. The remainder of the bones I caught were on Itu’s secret magic fly, which I am not at liberty to disclose. But Itu himself will only be too happy to share his secret weapons with you.
If you want the best possible chance of catching a bonefish in Aitutaki then it is essential to fish with a local certified fishing guide, out in the amazing lagoon on one of their flats boats. Sure you can hook fish on your own by wading the nearby flats close to your accommodation, but that takes time and experience. These guys don’t cost a lot of money, $450nz per day for 2 anglers, and like most guides are well worth their weight in gold.
I was very fortunate and honoured to be a guest of Itu Davey, who has an extensive knowledge of the Aitutaki Lagoon and flats, and an uncanny ability to spot bonefish. My thanks go out to him, his twin brothers Rua, Tia and their families for their warm and sincere hospitality and Itu thanks mate for sharing all your extensive knowledge of the elusive Aitutaki Bonefish with me.
For more information on Aitutaki Bonefishing Tours visit www.aitutakibonefishing.com.
See you out there doing it…
Tony Hildesheim has been fly fishing for over 30 years, and has provided professional guided trout fishing services for over 9 years. In addition to trout fishing, Tony is an experienced saltwater fly fishing guide and qualified coastal skipper. When he is not fishing he can be found relaxing at his home beside the sea in sunny Hawke’s Bay New Zealand