The day was balmy with a slight onshore breeze. You could cast where the guide told you the fish were almost effortlessly. Conditions were perfect, so perfect in fact that you could even see the dark shadows that were gliding across the white sand bottom. The Scott Meridian performed flawlessly, shooting that new Rio Bonefish Quickshooter Line like a rocket over the azure water. One quick strip – BOOM! Your fly is in the hard mouth of a Bone. Fighting off your trout fishing instincts, a strip set drives the hook home and the 8 pounds of muscle is suddenly tearing away from you at Mach 1. Like a car wreck, in almost slow motion, you notice your reel is squealing and grinding. Noooooo! You scream in your mind as the reel seizes up, causing the rod tip to jerk to the water and the Seaguar leader is separated from the fly in the mouth of your very first Bonefish. As you trudge to the guide’s boat in anguished tears, you wish you had listened Bryce at Stillwater Fly Shop about the reel he had recommended.
In the Salt a Reel is More Than a Line Holder
The two things that are paramount to look for in a reel for the salt is a drag that can stop a truck and sealed drag. A Bonefish will swim from Florida to the Bahamas with a fly in its mouth if the angler doesn’t put the wood to it. The reel you are using should have a very adjustable drag that when fully tightened the fisherman can’t strip line off of the spool.
There are several great reels out there designed for the saltwater environment. They are tough, have sealed drags and are anodized. My new favorite is the Einarsson Invictus because it is rugged elegance with a very unique drag design that converts torque smoother than any other reel I have seen. However, Tibor and Nautilus still set the mainstream standard for saltwater reels. These extremely durable reels are proven by not only fish but by the abuse that salt and flats anglers have heaped upon them for years.
I Have Nothing to Wear!(sniffle)
Fortunately your trusty guide had a spare reel. Your epic first day of bonefish fly fishing continues on with so many fish landed by cocktail hour your casting arm hangs limply by your side. This is when you notice that you feel like you have ran barefoot over broken glass. Couple this with the sensation of having been thrown into a blast furnace as the wind from your boat ride back to the lodge tears at your skin. The ER is sounding better than a cocktail! Such heresy can be prevented by a few simple pieces of clothing or boots.
One of the allures of flats fishing is the weather. Bonefish live in the tropics. Anglers want to fish in the tropics. The tropics have searing sun, salty water and cloth rotting humidity. These are just the conditions above the water’s surface. Although postcards make the flats look like an oasis of easy living, the reality is that the environment is harsh and unforgiving.
Sun protection is the first thing you should think about. SPF clothing that is light and breathable should be purchased in bulk before any trip. The Simms Solarflex Crewneck shirt is one of my faves. This shirt has a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), like the Patagonia Sunshade Crew, both dry quickly and are quite cool in the tropical sun.
For your bottom half, shorts or pants (this is what I would go with) need to dry quickly, resist tearing and have a high UPF. Saltwater can weaken clothes quickly in the sun. Clothing that dries quickly stays strong and keeps you from being rubbed the wrong way – literally. Chaffing can be prevented by choosing the righ pants or shorts. Loose, comfortable flats pants and shorts that are tough and UV resistant like Patagonia’s Sandy Cay Shorts and Simms Superlight Zip-Off Pants will make your fishing experience that much better.
If the Shoe Fits
One of the most important, if not the most important piece of gear that is often over looked is what you wear on your feet. I have seen anglers show up will old tennis shoes or flip-flops for their first saltwater experience. Lodge operators have seen it all and usually have some flats boots on hand for clients that come under-prepared.
Flats boots are important for lots of reasons. First and foremost, protecting your feet from coral, rocks and pesky aquatic sea life should be your greatest concern. Most anglers think of these things. Protecting the tops of your feet from the sun is often forgotten. Sun burning the tops of your feet can put a very painful end to your trip. Seeing this happen more than once has spurred me to buy the Simms Oceantek Boots for the best protection of my feet top and bottom.
Almost like Disneyland
Enjoying your trip onto the flats can almost be assured by having the right gear. Your lodge, guide, and fly shop( like Stillwater) will have practical suggestions that will give you the most comfort while chasing these powerful sport fish. Their clothing and gear suggestions, as well as, your experienced friend’s equipment choices should all be taken into account when planning your fishing trip. You are going to where Bonefish live. A place that will probably be remembered as your “fly fishing Disneyland”.