So you are going fly fishing for Bonefish for the first time. You have been fly fishing for years, dry flies, nymphs and streamers are your tools. Trout, steelhead, and bass fear your every cast. The flats will be the domain that you will conquer like Genghis Khan rolling across Asia. Then you arrive in the land of warm tropical breezes and fruity drinks with umbrellas in them…
By the third day you are sun burned, frustrated and tired of having your guide yell at you for just about everything. In the back of your mind you are thinking; “What have I done to deserve this torture.” The reason you are being tortured is not because of past transgressions, but most likely because you overestimated your casting skills and your equipment are’t up for the new challenges that the saltwater flats have provided.
Listen to the Guy in the Back of the Boat
When I was guiding there was nothing worse than having to tell someone; “That in your office you are the boss but out here I am the boss.”
This was in Alaska where the fish are plentiful, dumb and swim around with their mouths open – not in a huge ocean that has a multitude of predators that want to eat anything that swims. This is a huge difference between freshwater and saltwater fly fishing.
Your guide is part physicist, part Indian scout, and part Marine Master Sergeant. You paid for him to put you on fish. You paid for him to tell you what fly to use. You paid for his expertise. So listen to him! Forget your buddy’s stories or what you have read when you step into the boat or out into the water. Most local guides can see a dime in 8 feet of water at 50 yards, they can cast 70’ in a hurricane into a coffee cup and they aren’t there not to get you onto the fish. Do exactly what he says to do, this is the most important thing to remember.
Have the Right Gear
You have just flown 5 kazillion miles on your first trip to the flats. The excitement is coursing through your veins as you head to the dock to meet your guide that first morning. Your new rod and reel are glinting in the equatorial sunshine as you step into the boat. The first thing the guide does is to take the gear out of your hand while giving it a look of disdain. Then he says; “Hey man, we will use my stuff today.”
I suggest you adhere to the gear list you get from your lodge. Usually a fast 7 or 8 weight rod like a Scott Meridian or a Sage Salt. They are fast and accurate – the two most important characteristics you need when chasing bonefish. If your rod is your rifle then you need the right ammunition to hit the bullseye. That is where the appropriate line comes in.
A stiff line with a compact head will be what is recommended most of the time. The Rio Bonefish Quickshooter and the Scientific Angler Mastery Series Bonefish lines are great for the various conditions you will encounter. The stiff running lines shoot easily and are tangle resistant allowing for long, hurried casts that will fall delicately onto the water without scaring the most aware Bonefish. Stillwater Fly Shop has a large selection of fly rods, reels, fly lines and clothing that you will need on your trip.
Practice Your Casting
Casting quickly and accurately without slapping the water is the key to catching a bonefish. Doing this with a 20 knot wind busting onshore isn’t easy for most fly fishermen. Doing this without a false cast raises the level of difficulty exponentially. That is why everyone should practice shooting line 60’ or 70’ without just a back cast. You will be amazed by how easily you can do this with the right line and a little practice – even into a breeze.
Accuracy is important. But don’t obsess over a six inch circle, be happy with getting your fly into a ten foot area. The fish are feeding when they are on the flats. If they see your fly, you have a chance. Just get it close quickly. The right leader will help but it is only secondary to the amount of time you have practiced and the competence you have with your rod and line.
Start the Chainsaw – Strip Set
Missing the first bone that takes your fly will probably happen. Why? Because you will inevitably try to set the hook by raising your rod tip on the first take. Bonefish have mouths made of steel. You have to drive the hook home by strip stetting your Crazy Charlie. The first time I went onto the flats my guide told me to pull my line like I was starting a chainsaw. It worked and I got a nice bone from the advice. I just wondered for the rest of the day if my guide had ever actually started or even seen a chainsaw.
Go to Your Happy Place
Frustration will be your enemy. Your first time chasing Bonefish WILL BE FRUSTRATING! Saltwater fly angling is so different than what most fly fishermen are accustomed to that it takes some time to learn what it takes to catch these speedy fish. Keeping your cool and having fun is key to having a productive day. You will have limited shots at fish and if your head isn’t right you will have a long day.