Bonefish in a lot of ways epitomize what saltwater fly fishing is all about. Wary fish call for ultra-precise casts and great presentation to get a bite. Anglers must be virtually silent and remain stealthy when stalking bonefish on the flats.
They can key in on vibrations in the water made from the anglers on the skiff’s platform or a sloppy cast made in the fish’s vicinity. But don’t let this discourage you, with a couple of pointers, you’ll be on the flats and casting to brilliant bones in no time.
Line Management & The Double Haul
There are many challenges when correctly presenting a fly to bonefish. The cornerstone of any presentation, be it trout or bonefish, is the cast. On the flats probably the most significant factor affecting angler's casts is wind. Properly casting to a bonefish with the wind in your face is a large part of the struggle. If you don’t have a great double haul, be sure to practice, practice, and practice some more before leaving on your bonefish trip.
If your double haul is perfected, shooting line thirty or more feet into the wind won’t cause any headaches. Part of casting well and something that goes hand-in-hand with it is line management. Anglers should always be vigilant of the location of their fly line. With constant monitoring, tangles at your feet, or tangles on your rod can be easily avoided. Having your line free of impediments will ensure that when clearing your line with a fish on, all the line off the reel will easily feed through your rod guides.
Casting to Feeding Fish
If bonefish are feeding in shallow water or the mud, anglers must be able to quietly and stealthily present the fly within close proximity to the fish. Too close and you can spook the fish, and too far away and the fish will never see it. A lot of tailing bonefish will kick up debris from the flats giving away their position and making it somewhat easier to land a fly unbeknownst to the fish in their area. If the fish isn’t feeding and rather swimming in a definite direction, the presentation will subsequently change.
Casting to Cruising Fish
When casting to cruising fish, you’ll need to lead the fish as not to spook it. The key is to have your fly land far enough in front of them that by the time it’s in the fish’s vision it has sunk to a level that will make eating the fly a no-brainer. Sink rates of flies play a critical part in presenting to cruising fish. For this reason, be sure to carry different weight flies, or make sure to lead the fish a longer distance. It could make all the difference. It should also be noted that when you present your fly that it’s drifting with the current rather than against it. Big bonefish will ignore your fly when they realize it’s not naturally drifting with the current.
How to Hook a Bonefish
Hooking into a bonefish provides an adrenaline rush not found a lot of other places in life. Even small bonefish can streak across the flats with your fly in its mouth an awe-inspiring speed. To get to this point you need to make sure that you first set the hook firmly in the fish’s mouth. Strip setting is the name of the game. As your guide is telling you to strip, strip, strip, you’ll feel the take of the fish. Make sure to wait for a second or two before you set the hook- after the pause, pull the line tight and pull the rod straight back while keeping the rod tip down. The biggest mistake anglers make is pulling the fly out of the fish’s mouth or waiting too long till the fish spits out the fly. It takes some practice and some feel but before long you’ll be strip-setting in no time. After you’ve firmly set the hook make sure to clear the line of any obstructions and it runs smoothly through the rod guides. After that the fight is on!
Bonefishing has proven addicting for more than one angler. Poling, stalking, and casting to wary bonefish is in a lot of ways is the pinnacle of the angling experience. After lots of hard work chasing something that’s seemingly invisible and finally seeing your beautiful fish up close is the ultimate reward.
For more information on bonefish lodges, trips, how-to articles, and more visit our Bonefish Fly Fishing page.