Fly fishing for bonefish is a unique combination of
hunting and fishing at the same time. Almost all of the fly fishing is sight fishing
so while you are not casting you are hunting; scanning the water for some trace of these
silver ghosts of the flats. The fact that they take a fly fairly readily and that
bonefish can run at 22 miles per hour ( compared to 8 miles an our for a salmon or trout!)
makes for a fun day of fly fishing. The locations we serve that have bonefish are: Bahamas; Christmas Island; Belize; Mexico and Venezuela's Los Roques. If you ever decide to visit one of
these destinations please consider talking to us about the trips we offer.
Table of Contents
1.Christmas in October
2. Bonefishing 101
3 A Few of the Best Bonefish Flys
4. Large Arbor Reels
I squinted through
the late day sun I saw the flash of an enormous forked tail almost all the way out of the
water. It hung there for a few seconds, did a little wiggle and then slid back
beneath the glare. It was too far for me to cast and I had the wrong angle with the
sun to see the fish through the water. I stared at the water for some sign.
After a few minutes, I walked slowly to get the sun a little
more behind my back when the tail appeared again, this time almost within range, assuming
I don't get too nervous. I decided to be patient and wait for the tail one more time
and deliver my fly right on his nose. "Wow, that's a big tail. OK, OK, it's
only going to be about forty feet "- a piece of cake if my heart wasn't pounding so
"There it is!" and with one false cast I let it fly
putting it within a foot of the fish. "Yes!", the bonefish must have been
staring at the bottom because he didn't spook. I waited a second and gave a few
short slow strips, but nothing - maybe he did spook.&n
bsp; The water was about ten inches
deep and I could see well to my right but not to side where the fish was. "Come
on, where are you?" What seemed like a few minutes passed (probably more like
10 seconds) before he tailed about five feet further to the left and even closer.
This time I didn't think I just threw it. A second after the fly hit the water he tailed
again, I stripped once, the line came tight, I gave it a good strip strike and the fish
exploded toward the deeper water . "Holy Bonefish!" I stood
there in a stupor watching the line slash through the water and listening to my reel
scream as the backing was peeling off. There is a line of sharp coral by the edge of the
deep water and I realized that I had to keep the line above it. I took off towards
the coral, running and tripping toward the edge with my rod flailing as high
overhead as I could hold it. In a matter of seconds there was over a hundred yards of
backing between me and the fish. I knew I had cleared the coral, now I was just
hoping the fish would stop before my backing disappeared. "He is not slowing
down!" as I stared at my empty reel. Finally he turned and I began reeling like a
madman to take up the slack. I got so
me of the fly line back on the reel which
seemed to be the signal for another run as blistering as the first. Each run after
that went out about half as far as the last run and I began to sense victory.
Another few minutes and the bonefish was in my hands, my biggest ever, ten pounds of
bright silver that somehow turned a relatively intelligent, grown man into a babbling
village idiot . I eased him back into the water and watched him swim a
few feet and somehow disappear, a ghost in my memory.
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BONEFISHING 101 - A PRIMER
What I didn't write about in the above story was the four big
fish earlier in the week that didn't end up on the end of my line. The one that spooked as
soon as I raised my rod, the huge one I didn't see until I almost stepped on it, the one
that spooked when I landed the fly on its forehead or the one that had a smaller fish ne
to it that ate the fly first. Bonefishing is as much an art and luck as it is
technique, somehow knowing which way the fish will turn or when he has eaten a stationary
fly. Entire books have been written about flyfishing for bonefish so this short
article will just give you just enough information to be dangerous! There are three
general parts to hooking a bonefish; seeing the fish, casting to it, and enticing it
Zen and the art of bonefish spotting.. A bonefish's mirrored
scales reflect their surroundings so well it is almost always difficult to see them.
The easiest way to learn to see bonefish is to go out with a guide in an area that has
lots of fish to practice
on. With his help you will learn to spot them much more
quickly than on your own (although my first bonefish was without a guide). Each time
you see a fish memorize the look, another fish that comes from that direction will have
the same look. Each time you release one follow it away for as long as possible.
Each time you spook one follow it away. Try to focus on the bottom of the flat
rather than the surface of the water and scan for anything that might be a fish.
Once you have a target keep your eyes
glued on that area and watch for movement, bonefish
are on the move 99% of the time. If it doesn't move it's not a bonefish! The
fish are easiest to see when they are pointed directly at you with their slightly darker
back more visible. Rarely do you see an entire fish, just some movement or a
shadow or the slight glow. If you think it's a fish, cast!
The key to spotting fish is practice. If you are out on your
own you will probably spook lots of fish before you see them, think of it as
practice. Sometimes when I am on a flat without a guide I will wade quickly until I
spook a fish or two and then slow down. I know there are fish in the area and I have
seen the "look" they have on that flat on that day in those lighting conditions.
To increase your odds pick a shallow area or a sandy area and just wait,
patience will give you the best chance to see fish. In fact on cloudy days
all I do is search water that is less than 10" deep so that I can see a tail, or a
wake to identify the fish. Even after years of bonefishing and guiding I can be standing
in one spot scanning the water 40 feet in front of me only to glance down and see a
bonefish swimming casually 5 feet in
front of me - how did it get there without me seeing
Rule 1 - If it doesn't move it's not a bonefish
Rule 2 - If it looks like a fish it probably isn't
Rule 3 - If your guide is pointing madly and raising his voice it probably is a fish
Now that you can finally see a fish let's cast to him. There
will be 3 categories of fish to cast to, cruising fish, slowly moving zigzagging
fish and active tailing or mudding fish. Cruising fish are not eating they are
simple traveling to the next feeding station. Very often schools of fish can be
found cruising in areas like Ascension Bay, Los Roques, the Bahamas and Christmas
Island. Most of these fish will eat if presented with a free meal. Since a
cruising fish is moving fairly fast you need to get that line out quickly, it is more
important to fire it out fast with a pretty good cast than to false cast till its
perfect. Since cruising fish will generally move in a straight line you can
lead the fish by quite a margin, lets say 10 -15 feet. You can just leave our fly
motionless until the fish is close enough o see the fly. This over leading is the
easiest way to avoid spooking
A zig-zagging feeding fish may have a general direction (usually
into the current if there is one) in which it is moving in but may move back and forth and
change that direction at any time. A quick cast isn't as important here but you
can't afford to lead by too much ( the fish will surely change directions) but you can't
land it too close either. Again guess the direction and lead by three to four feet
or so, wait till the fish approaches the area of the fly and then strip. If you
guessed wrong you can be patient and hope he zigs back towards your fly or take the risk
of recasting to a newly calculated (guessed) direction.
A tailing or mudding fish has tunnel vision and is looking straight
down much of the time. Here you want to put the fly right on top of the fish with
very little leading. A fish with current on the flat will sometimes almost hang there
feeding like a trout as food comes to it. Sometimes when they are feeding heavily in
an area they will stir up enough mud so they can't see well so again cast right in front
of his nose. If your fly is heavier, lead the fish by a larger margin. The perfect
cast is one that hits the water sinks to the bottom and
then fish swims calmly right over
it. It's almost a guaranteed hookup.
Rule 4 - cast quickly
Rule 5 - lead the fish and guess its path
Rule 6 - You will usually guess wrong!
Enticing a bonefish to eat is not as hard as getting the fly to the
right spot. If you have cast well and the bonefish is now swimming within a foot of
your fly one slow six to eight inch strip and you will probably see him turn towards the
fly. The hardest thing to do is nothing. Most of a bonefish's prey will
not swim quickly away but stop and try to hide. Think like a crab or shrimp,
scamper, stop and then hide. Once you see the fish is interested you have two choices
strip more in fairly slow 6-8" strips until he eats or leave the fly motionless on
the bottom until he eats it. The hardest but sometimes most effective thing to
do is leave it motionless, once you think the fish has eaten the fly strip again and
it should come tight in the fishes mouth. A bonefish does not spit an imitation out
it is used to eating hard prickly things and will hang on to the fly a long time.
Always use a strip strike so the fly will stay near the fish if the hook pops out.
They have tough mouths and will eat the same fly over and over if you don't yank it too
fart away with a bass pro strike! If the fish has seen your fly and turns away
before eating it is time to change flies. Don't get sunscreen or bug repellent of
the fly, bonefish have a keen sense of smell. Sometimes you have to experiment with
long slow strips, short quick strips and the motionless version. Use your bonefish
Zen take over! If you are lucky enough to travel the world bonefishing you will find
guides who want slow long strips ( like Christmas Island) or guides who want quick short
strips (like Ascension Bay)
Rule 7 - Line strike with your stripping hand
Rule 8 - Do what your guide says regardless of what you read here!
Once the fish is on, all hell breaks loose. Try your best to
clear the line as it rips through your guides and finally gets on the reel, and try
to keep the line off coral or mangrove shoots, so don't be afraid to run after the fish to
keep it clear!
Equipment tips - You will definitely appreciate a large arbor reel,
the bones will reverse course faster than you can - get abrasive resistant tippet like
ouro carbon and go as heavy as the fish will stand ( 12 - 15 pounds is OK in Christmas
Island while 8-10 pound is needed in Ascension Bay).
There, now you're dangerous!
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Large Arbor Reels - Should I get one?
Large Arbor reels offer some great advantages over standard reels
but with all the reels out there how can you make a choice. The main advantages of a large
arbor reel are the ability to retrieve line at a faster rate, a smoother start up to the
drag, and a consistent drag setting even with lots of line off the reel. Some of the
better large arbors will pickup about 10 inches of line with each revolution of the reel
which when faced with a large rainbow racing at you or a bonefish th
at turns toward you is
a huge advantage. The drag starts smoother on a large arbor because of the added diameter
of the reel. The added leverage just means that it is smoother and easier to pull the
first inch of line off a reel that is 4 inches in diameter rather than a reel that is 2
inches in diameter. The drag will also be smoother as it is not racing at a million RPMS
to keep up with the outgoing line. The drag will also remain more consistent if you get
way into your backing. With a standard reel, the spool diameter gets smaller and smaller
as more line goes out which means the drag actually gets tighter. With a large arbor the
diameter doesnt change nearly as much. One tip is to look for a large arbor designed
as a large arbor which usually means a wider frame than a standard reel. Many large arbors
are just as light as standard reels as well. I am using large arbors for all my fresh and
saltwater fishing these days. I recommend you try one!!
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Favorite Bonefish Flys
Table of Contents:
1. Crazy Charlie
3. Bonefish Clouser
HOOK: TMC 811S
THREAD: White. pink or tan 3/0.
BODY: Clear body glass over pearl Krystal flash.
WING: Tan or white calftail with pearl Krystal flash.
EYES: Chrome bead chain.
- Wrap thread back from eye of hook and attach eyes with figure 8 wraps .
- Wrap thread to rear of hook and attach 3 strands of krystal flash and the clear body
- Wrap thread to front
- Wrap the krystal flash forward and figure eight it around the eyes. Tie off in front of
- Wrap body glass to front and around eyes (stretch at different tensions to achieve
- Attach calftail and a couple strands of flash in front of the eyes.
- Whip finish head.
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THREAD: Uni-thread 3/0 pink.
TAIL: Strands of pearl Flashabou or Krystal Flash.
BODY: Pearl Diamond Braid.
WING: Pearl Krystal Flash over tan or blonde craft fur.
EYES: Silver bead chain.
- Tie in for eyes. You can use beadchain for the eyes but lead eyes are the
original for this pattern . Use figure eight wraps to tie in eyes.
- Tie in Krystal flash for the tail fibers. Use about 10 strands for the tail, cut
- Tie in a 4-5 inch strand of the Pearl Diamond Braid for the body of this
fly. . Wind the braid forward and figure eight over the beadchain , tie off in the head
- Tie in a small clump of tan craft fur for wing. Measure wing to be a little past
the bend of the hook. Add 5-6 strands of pearl Krystal flash and tie in over the wing (
same length ).
- Whip finish and cement.
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HOOK: TMC 811S #2-#6.
THREAD: Tan 6/0.
OVERWING/TAIL: Red fox tail with tan gaurdhairs.
WING: Red fox tail with black-tipped guardhairs over gold
Krystal Flash and rust Flashabou
EYES: Lead, painted dark red with black pupils.
Tie on eyes, dumbell or bead chain, (paint
red and black optional)
Tie in overwing starting at tail but winding thread
over body fisnishing in front of the eyes
tie in underwing materials in front of eyes
whip and finish the head, cement