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The Backstage Pass

Fly Fishing for Double Digit Bonefish in the Cook Islands

May 03, 23

Aitutaki is a part of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific and has only a population of a little over 2,000. This is the corner of the earth where crystal-clear waters and stands of palm trees paint the landscape. Geographically, Aitutaki is an atoll with a barrier reef running the perimeter of the lagoon which is roughly 20 square miles in area.

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With both the lagoon and barrier reef, the fishing options are virtually endless. Stepping onto Aitutaki is like taking a step back in time where life is slower paced and enjoying the beautiful destination seems to be the number one goal of locals and tourists alike. Aside from the fantastic tropical setting, Aitutaki is one of few places on Earth where one can catch double-digit-sized bonefish.

Aitutaki is off the radar for most anglers, but make no mistake, the crystalline waters hold some of the largest bonefish found anywhere and is famous among saltwater fly fishermen for holding some of the largest bonefish found on earth.

To put the size of the bonefish in perspective, the world record bonefish weighed in at a whopping 16 pounds. The average size of bonefish at Aitutaki is 7-8 pounds but rumors of fish as large as 20 pounds have been circulating. This is a location where you could catch your fish of a lifetime on any given day! There’s nothing that compares to wading and stalking huge cruising bonefish. Even though the bonefish are large, fishing can still be challenging.

Saltwater fly fishing is challenging regardless of what species you’re chasing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Bahamas or a remote atoll in the Indian Ocean, saltwater fish are always on the move and ever diligent of nearby predators. Fly fishing in Aitutaki is no different. The big bonefish here are just as wary as any bonefish found anywhere in the world. And even though bonefish will be found on the flats, a large number will also be found in the deeper water channels and drop-offs from the flat. Deeper water lends itself to a larger margin of casting error, but on the flats, it's a different story.

That poorly placed cast? Say goodbye to your trophy bone. But with that said, don’t be disheartened. Once you do connect with one of these bonefish all those botched casts and spooked fish will have been time well spent. Be sure to hold on tight though! Even with proper reels, anglers will regularly be strung 200 meters into their backing.

Since the bonefish are larger in Aitutaki, break-offs are somewhat common and a few pesky coral heads in the lagoon are the perfect places for a smart bone to wrap your line and escape. Be sure to bring your ‘A’ game! An 8 or 9-weight rod will be perfect for not only punching line into the wind but putting the heat onto a big bonefish when finally hooked.

For lines, be sure to bring an intermediate fly line and a floating line for the occasional windless day. An assortment of different weight bonefish flies should be packed so that, depending on the conditions, you can reach different depths. As for the leader, 9 feet should do the trick. Make sure to take some advice on bonefish leaders and tippet from the professionals before your trip. And if you’re having trouble shaking that pesky ‘trout set’ be sure to read up on some pointers on how to set that hook. Even though double-digit bonefish are the name of the game at Aitutaki, there are a number of other saltwater species found at the atoll.

Giant Trevally, Emperors, and milkfish are all found in the shallow waters of the atoll. If you enjoy tossing big poppers to hungry Giant Trevally then you’ll certainly enjoy fishing at Aitutaki. And if the Giant Trevally doesn’t get your adrenaline coursing then chasing milkfish is a terrific alternative. Pack a heavier popper rod so that if a GT opportunity does present itself then you're ready for action.

As far as lodging goes, Yellow Dog works with Bonefish E2's Way, a premier guide service. When you stay with E2 you're in the hands of the best guides on the islands and no one knows the waters better than the owner, Itu, and his brothers and cousins. For accommodations, anglers can choose from a couple different options ranging from beach style bungalows to more inclusive beach resorts. No matter what accommodation you choose, all will serve terrific island cuisine that consists of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, pork, and fresh fish dishes.

If you are thinking of fly fishing the Cook Islands then we highly suggest booking your trip 12 months to 18 months in advance. This destination is growing in popularity and with a limited number of guides and operations availability can be slim.

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