10 ways to improve your bonefishing
A few pieces of advice that might bring you nearer the bonefishing NirvanaBy Martin Joergensen
Gear up right
Get a line designed for the purpose. The tropics are hot—real hot—and a normal line will become very soft and limp. Equip a proper warmwater line with a polyleader, a tapered mono leader or a knotted ditto, but just make sure the leader can turn even the heaviest and bushiest flies. I haven't heard anybody go crazy over the ghost tip lines, but they might work better than standard lines. A full floater seems the safest bet, but if you bring backup gear, consider an intermediate line, a sink tip or just arm yourself with some sinking polyleaders.
Depending on the size of fish you expect to encounter, select a line in the 7-9 weight classes.
A 9' or 8'8" medium fast rod to carry it is good for the purpose. The shorter rod can pounce out the line in a heavy wind and will carry the larger or heavier flies easily.
Select a rod rigged for salt water with a large stripping guide and a second smaller one plus a large top eye to allow for the line to pass and clear easily with no tangles. Wooden inserts and nickel silver is nothing to bring here. Robust saltwater reel seats are the way to go.
Arm the rod with a good and not too small reel with a smooth brake and sufficient backing—which in the case of bonefish is a 200 yards or more. And trust me, you will need the backing...
Learn to cast precisely
Bonefish can be fickle fish. Cast too close to cruising fish and you will most likely spook them. Cast too far off feeding fish and they probably won't see your fly.
Precision is one of the keys to getting the fish to strike, and if you don't already master precision in your casting, spend some time practicing on a lawn or in water.
And do it with the proper rod, a heavy fly and a one-foot wide target.
You don't need to be able to hit it every time at 30 meters or 120' but get a good track record on your 40-60' casts or casts up to 20 meters.
Getting a consistent precision within that range will better your chances of attracting and finally hooking fish.
Learn to cast in odd (and strong) winds
In most cases a guide will try to put you in the right position to cast to a fish. He will put you upwind and preferably also with the wind carrying away from your casting arm. And if the sun is in your back too, you have everything helping you.
But those darn fish aren't always that cooperative. They will sometimes be upwind and you will sometimes encounter situations where the wind will seem to carry the fly right across your path, aiming for your back, shoulders... and ears!
So learn to cast not only into the wind, but also with the wind coming from any direction. When practising, throw your target in all directions on the lawn and learn to cast and hit.
You may also want to practise casting backwards or with your other hand.
In most cases you won't need it, but when that big one passes in a difficult spot, it's nice to be able to cast to it with some confidence.
Get a pair of flats boots
It might sound like an odd piece of advice, but trust me. The first time I fished the flats I just brought a pair of old sneakers and lots of old socks. It worked, but I spent a lot of time taking off my shoes and emptying out the sand that inevitably would creep in there.
Now sand in the shoes might not sound that bad, but when it is rough coral sand and soft, wet feet, you are in for a nasty surprise.
The second time I went to the tropics to fish, I had acquired a pair of genuine neoprene flats boots. Mine are from Bare, but there are others on the market. Divers boots can be used, but make sure they have proper, thick soles.
The boots are tight, have tall shafts and very comfortable and no sand will creep in.
They are well worth the investment.
Now, where the bonefish roam, just north and south of the equator, the sun shines. It really shines! And even though I usually don't get sunburns, I have been scorched by the sun while fishing in the tropics.
I usually wear long sleeves and trousers, and I recommend you do the same. Often I am tempted to roll up the sleeves and zip off the legs of my pants when I've been out for a couple of days. And mostly I regret it, because if I forget to rub myself in sunscreen the minute I reveal bare skin, I get burned.
You need sunscreen of the best and most durable kind. Waterproof is a must. Make sure you get the type with a high filter factor. I usually bring factor 8 and factor 16 plus a stick with some totally blocking screen for lips, nose and ears.
Use generous amounts of factor 16 generously from the minute you get into the sun, unless you are used to the extreme sun. Remember to rub neck and hands, the top of your feet and other exposed areas.
As you get used to the sun you can adjust to factor 8, but don't be tempted to go without unless you are really used to sun and don't burn easily.
Get proper sunglasses
The sun has one more effect apart from the burns. It glares. The surface of the water can act as a big mirror and spotting a fish through the glare is almost impossible.
The cure is a good pair of sunglasses.
You want polarizing glasses with fairly dark, brownish glasses, which are the best all-round type. They can be found in many makes and models, but make sure you get some with sufficiently large glasses and some that hold out glare from the sides.
Whether you want the closed type with shields on the sides and wide rims that cover on top and bottom or the more ordinary type, which looks like any pair of glasses, is up to you.
If you use prescription glasses, you will either need sunglasses large enough to cover your existing glasses or prescription sunglasses. A last option is lenses, which you can glue on the inside of ordinary sunglasses to get the correction you need.
Bring the right flies
Even though bonefish are not quite as picky as rumour has it and not nearly as picky as a selective trout, there seems to be a difference in what they prefer in different waters and in different regions.
While Belizian bones seem to be fairly indifferent, the ones in Ascencion Bay seem to prefer smaller flies, while the ones in the Bahamas are said to like them a lot bigger. The deeper Hawaiian waters in addition call for heavier flies, while really subtle lightweighters can be handy for in the shallows of the Caribbean.
Study the region you're going to in brochures, in books and on the web. Call or email the guide and ask, and make sure you have boxes full of the right types, weights and sizes of patterns for your destination. Remember that you will loose a lot of flies—to fish, to corals, to mangroves... and to friends and guides.
Learn to strip strike
Being a trout angler as are the vast majority of this world's fly anglers, I also had the bad habit of lifting the rod when a bonefish struck. "Don't lift! Strip strike!" was the immediate reaction from the guide.
Strip strike, huh? Yep! Hold the rod tip in the water while retrieving the fly, and when you feel any weight of a fish in the line, leave the tip there and strip hard to set the hook. These critters have hard, bony mouths. They dig all day, remember? Eat crabs, shrimps and other hard stuff. They need a hard mouth for that.
In order to set the hook in that, you need direct contact with the fly, so keeping the rod pointed at the fish is crucial. As soon as the hook is set and the fish starts running, you can lift the rod, clear the line and fight the fish.
Listen to the guide
The importance local knowledge and skill of a good guide is beyond doubt the single most important factor when it comes to initial success in bonefishing.
The guide will have the most important information at all: the whereabouts of the fish. It is first and foremost the job of a good guide to find the fish. After that the rest is basically up to you.
Of course the guide can and will offer a lot of other advice, which can and will be very helpful in attaining your goal: spotting fish, selecting a fly, even tying your knots—or at least recommending a good pattern and a proper knot.
A guide can make or break a bonefishing trip.
Don't listen to the guide
The guide will generally be interested in one thing: your success. If you don't have success the guide will do whatever needed to improve that situation. The probability is that it is your own fault, but the guide will still work hard to change your luck.
So you will be transported to better places, put in better position and equipped with better flies. This might improve your luck, but it is more likely that it might stress and frustrate you a bit.
Rest and relax in stead. If you want to lower the pace, just tell the guide. You pay, so you decide.
Maybe this will help:
Bonefish are known to be spooky, and they sure are, but they actually spook much more from a wrong cast than from your stealth approach. So go close. In stead of challenging your casting skills, challenge your sneaking skills.