Bonefishing Tips and Tricks

Some store bought leaders have weak butts that collapse onto your fly line when pushed against a strong wind. Add a couple feet of 30lb or 40lb hard mono to your fly line then tie your leader to that. You can also build your own leaders with hard mono or fluorocarbon. There are formulas regarding the proper length for each section. It's all overkill. Equal parts or lengths works just fine. A good high wind leader is 3ft of 40lb, 3ft of 30lb, then 3ft of 20lb. A good all-around leader can be built using 3ft of 30lb, 3ft of 20, then 3ft of 16lb. 

Generally a 9ft leader with a couple three feet of 16lb to 20lb fluorocarbon tippet works well.  Ten pound tippet is too, no, no! I have a guests who has been coming every year since I opened. He outfishes everyone in the lodge, has been on the front page of my website three times. Twice with the biggest fish of the year and another time with most fish ever caught in a day, 50 fish. He uses 25lb flouro tippet. Seems like every week I hear someone says they lost the biggest bone of their life. I ask what tippet they were using. It's always 10-12 lb.  Do not be concerned about the tippet size spooking fish, they don’t mind. Pound for pound bonefish are the strongest fish you will ever hook. Every time I go fishing I'm hoping I'll catch the fish of a lifetime. I don't want to be messing around with 10lb tippet. And if you're fishing the mangrove edges you're not going to stop even a small fish from ripping through the mangroves.

You can buy a lifetime supply of fluorocarbon on a 300 yard spool from Wal-Mart for less than you'll pay for a single 10 yard spool of fluorocarbon that says "tippet" on the spool. 

Don't cuss the wind. No wind is a bad thing. The fish are spooky and can see you as well as you can see them. A 5-15 mph wind is perfect for casting and poling.

More about casting in the wind - In a perfect world the wind would always be at your back when casting. In reality it doesn't work out that way. You will spend half of your fishing day casting into the wind. Winds are predominantly easterly. That sets up great in the morning with the wind and sun at your back. Sooner or later the sun is going to move into the western sky putting you directly into it. You cannot see a thing, you are as blind as a bat. You will have to turn around and fish into wind. When casting into the wind some fishermen will push the rod forward with all their muscle as hard and as fast as they can. It results in a big fat nasty tailing loop that gets blown back into your face and lands at you feet. They'll pick it up and throw it forward even harder with the same results. Forget about muscling the rod. The key is a smooth acceleration to an abrupt stop on both the back and forward stroke. 

  • I'll do my best to explain. A rod only has so much love to give.  When you use too much force throwing it forward the rod tip is still blowing in the wind behind you. When you push it forward too hard and fast it never has a chance to recoil, spring back, flex forward, rebound, kick forward, etc....make sense?  Here's the casting fix. First, stop muscling it.....go easy. On the back stroke pick the line up while accelerating to an abrupt stop. When you feel the rod load bring the rod forward accelerating into the finish with an abrupt stop. As you get better you can use the same motion but drop the rod to a 45 degree angle to get it out of the wind and add the double haul. Thoroughly confused?... there are lots of videos on youtube that will help.
  • Last note about casting into the wind - I'll still do this myself on occasion. All of the false casts might be perfect with a penetrating tight loop but on the final forward casting stroke some of us will throw the rod tip ends in a big fat loop that the wind will chew up and spit right back in your face. Keep the same stroke into the release.

More is not better. When false casting; having too much fly line in the air can lead to wind knots, and loss of control and timing. The front half of the fly line is the belly or body of your line. It is usually around 30 feet long not including the front and back taper totaling up to 50 feet, depending the manufacturer. The back half of the fly line is uniform thin running line.Check the box your fly line came in, there's usually a profile pic. Mark the end of of the belly with a marker. That's the point where you line begins to taper from fat to thin running line.  Don't false cast past that mark. That's all you have to work with and is much easier to control. Anymore than that and things start going wrong. RIO makes a Bonefish Quickshooter line with a total belly length of around 35 feet. It loads quick even with short casts and is color coded. The belly is blue and the running line is tan.

Most guides will tell you that a common mistake fishermen make is too many false cast. We're not dry fly fishing. While you're making a dozen false cast that fish is closing the gap. What was two opportunities become one and then zero. Make two or three strokes and shoot.

Fast Rods!! Most fishermen would be better served by a med/fast action rod. Manufacturers seem to be competing to see who can make the stiffest rod. They're labeled "tip flex". The rod might be a 9wt but needs a 10wt line to load properly. Here are couple examples...... I have a friend that brings down prototypes of next years models for testing from a major manufacturer. I was casting the previous years model I had just purchased and was having difficulty getting it to load. Even the guide mentioned that the line seemed too light for the rod, wasn't loading. The gentleman that brought the rod said, as a matter of fact, "Oh yeah, you gotta overline these rods by a weight or two." I did and it worked fine. On another occasion I was on the the flat in front of the lodge helping a fisherman with his cast. He had no distance. The rod was strung with the line weight recommended for the rod. I made couple casts and the rod would barely load, I couldn't cast it. We upped it by one weight and BAMM, turned it into a cannon! It loaded and he doubled his distance. If you're having trouble feeling the rod pull tight at the end of your strokes try overlining your rod by a weight.  

There are standard fly line weights for each weight rod plus or minus 10 grains. A 7wt rod uses a 185 grain line, 8wt uses 210 grains, 9wt uses 240 grains, 10wt uses 280, 11wt uses 330, and so on. You might have already unknowingly overloaded your rod. Some manufacturers do it for you. The label might say 8wt but the grain weight of the line might be 9wt weight. RIO make some great products. They make a redfish 8wt line that is great for bonefishing with a head weight of 240 grains, 9wt equivalent. RIO has an 8wt bonefish shooter line with a head weight of 290 grains, 80 grains over standard, equivalent to a 10wt line. Rio’s regular 8wt bonefish line has a head weight of 225 grains, equivalent to the heavy side of 8wt. Next time you buy a line check the grain weight, forget about what rod weight it says it is for. If you want to overload your rod choose a weight 30-50 grains over industry standard.

It has been said that 90% of bonefish caught are within 30-40 feet of the fisherman. Want to know why? Because that's all the farther most fishermen can cast. They would catch a lot more fish if they could cast farther. I wanted to say that to make the following point...


Fly fishing for Bonefish is popular because they are an agreeable fish. They'll hit almost any fly most days. However, some days they can become selective, usually post frontal days. Fishermen will arrive at the lodge at the end of the day and report that the fish refused almost every fly in their box. It happens, that's fishing, some days are better than others BUT....When one boat comes in reporting refusals and another reports that the bite was aggressive I suspect it's has everything to do with casting distance. If you can lay the fly out 60-80 feet you are going to catch more fish. The fish doesn't know you are there and you catch it with its pants down. If your cast is 30 feet that fish can see you as well as you can see it.

Another possible reason for refusals is an improper strip. Making long, fast,  and violent strips is a common error. To make matters worse; I have seen fishermen strip the fly away from the fish after they had its attention. They get nervous and start stripping faster. If the fish is coming for the fly let him have it. Don't pull it away from the fish.  Imagine a kitten chasing a's the same difference when stripping for a bone. Pretend your fly is a live critter hopping across the bottom. Make a few gentle 3-4 inch short strips and let it settle. If you still don't have the fishes attention make a longer one foot strip followed by a few short strips. Watch how the fish reacts. If the fish is coming for the fly let it catch it. If the fish looks to be considering eating the fly but hasn't made up its mind make one little strip......tickle the fish. You'll see the fish nose down to pick it up. Then make a long, gentle three-four foot strip to hook the fish and then raise your rod. Do not set so hard that you rip the lips off the fish. You'll straighten your hook or snap the knot.


Get low - when stalking an approaching bonefish it is sometimes helpful to stop and squat as low as possible, get your butt wet. Lay out your fly on the line you think the bonefish will cross, get low and wait, start stripping when the fish gets close to your fly.


Some of the best bone fishing you can experience is on a falling tide. There is only one way in and out of some flats, coves, and bays. As the tide drops the exits become limited. Look for the channel. Sometimes the change in depth is very subtle and hardly noticeable. The exit will be slightly darker shade of blue.


Use your ears to find bonefish. You can sometimes hear bonefish splash ahead of you. It's very quiet on the flats, just the sound of the wind. If you hear a splash or gurgle around that next point pay attention.


When wading or poling, before you begin fishing,  strip all the line out that you think you can cast. Don't wait until you see a fish.


It sometime takes a dozen false casts to get your line out of the water when wading......frustrating. Especially if the tide is flowing hard or your line is sinking. Once you spot a fish reach back and pull as much line to you as you need before making the cast.


You'll also make too may false casts if all you have is three feet of line hanging past your rod tip.  The rod will not load. When wading or on the bow you should have at least 20 feet of line extended from the fly you're holding to the rod tip.


SHARKS! You'll see plenty. They love to eat bonefish. If you're seeing some sharks pay attention, there are some bonefish around somewhere.


If there is a shark chasing that bone you just hooked completely loosen your drag and let the fish run. DO NOT try to horse the fish to you. The shark will follow and you're robbing the bonefish of its speed. Use caution if the shark does hit the bonefish. Sharks always hit the tail first leaving you with the head half. If you are concerned for you safety let the shark have the other half before reeling in your line. If the coast looks clear quickly reel in what's left of the fish and put in the boat or throw it clear of you. Remember that there is a blood line leading directly to you. Step aside and out of the blood line.

Want to catch a shark on the fly? There are tons of sharks around. They are a nuisance. The guides don't care much for catching them and they definitely do not want one in the boat! If you insist, they will put on one. Sharks have no bone....all cartilage, muscle, and teeth. If you have one by the tail they can swing around and bite your hand. I think it rude to hook a shark and then ask your guide to get your fly back for you. Blame it on me, I've asked them not to. The last thing I need is to be short a guide due to a stitched up hand or lost finger. Cut it or retrieve the fly yourself.

If there's a shark near you that's too close for comfort reach out and tap the water or poke the shark with your rod tip......he'll bite it right off. No kidding, it happens often. Rather than using your rod grab a handful of sand and throw it at the shark. Even that move is not recommended. Be sure the shark is well clear of you before sticking your hand in the water.


When landing a fish try to handle them as little as possible. Avoid putting the death grip on the fish. If you're not interested in getting a picture leave the fish in the water. Slide your hand down the line to the fly and pop it out. If the hook is deep wet your hands first and try to keep the fish in the water. Handle the fish as lightly and as quickly as possible. Once you've touched the fish it's odd of survival have been greatly reduced. You've broken their protective slime barrier and created a scent line. Once a shark gets a whiff of the scent line there's no shaking him off. After you've released a few fish you might see or hear a shark splashing on a flat off in the distance. He is eating that bone you just released.


Watch for feed marks on the bottom. On Andros the sand is a light tan. Just below the top layer is a darker blue sand. Where bones have been feeding you will see the round blue marks and sometimes you'll even notice a slight cloudiness to the water. The bluer and more uniform the marks are the fresher they are. As the tide flows the marks become longer, fainter blue streaks until they eventually disappear. Each tide change erases the marks. If the marks appear to be fresh pay attention. If there is a slight cloudiness to the water pay even closer attention. There are some fish around.


Water transmits sound better that air. It is important that you wade quietly. It is much harder to wade quietly in six inches of water than in twelve inches. If you are splashing across the flats you're spooking every bonefish within hundreds of feet.


It's also very important to remain quiet when poling on the boat. If you are slamming the cooler lid, dropping tackle, talking and laughing loudly, being heavy footed on the bow,'re spooking the fish.


Keep both feet planted when casting on the flats or poling on the boat. Do not rock back and forth lifting your feet. Again, you're transmitting vibrations.


Some fishermen like to remove their boots when fishing on the bow. It makes it easier to fish quietly with the added advantage being able to feel the line under your feet when you are standing on it. Countless fish have been missed because the fisherman was unknowingly standing on his line.


Line Management - Help a  friend out. When sitting in the boat waiting for your turn on the bow help your fishing partner manage his line and keep it in the boat. Keep it clear of snags and tell him if he is standing on his line.


Wipe down your line at the end of the evening when you get back to the lodge. It's good for and additional 20 feet in distance the next day and helps keep your line floating.


Some fishermen wade too slowly. If you're taking tiny steps and standing around waiting on fish to come to you it might be a long time before you spot a fish. There might be a tailing school of fish around that next point that has no intention of swimming your way. If you have clear view of the flats in front of you and there's not a bone to be seen a couple hundred feet out you need to start moving as quickly and quietly as possible. The faster you can move the sooner you'll close the gap between you and the next fish it quietly! I have had guests ask me why the guide was walking in front of them. That's a polite way of're dragging your ass. Keep up with the guide.

On the other hand....once you find fish or know there are some in the area SLOW DOWN. Stop and look around, check behind you, take your time. When you do move lift your feet, don't drag them.


You will wade some flats that stretch for miles. Eventually your guide will point you in a direction or line to continue wading while he goes back to get the boat. It is important that you follow his directions. I have had fishermen tell me that the guide had him wading in water up to his balls or in knee deep mud. The guide will tell me that the fisherman did not follow his instructions and wandered off in the wrong direction.


Sometimes you're so focused that every dark spot on the bottom starts to look like a moving fish. When you are wading and think you have spotted a fish STOP, stand still. Focus on the spot. If it still appears to be moving make the cast.


When poling you need to make longer strips to compensate for boat drift.  The boat is moving, the higher the wind speed the faster the drift. You might be stripping but the fly is not moving if the strip is at the same speed of boat drift. The guide will try to stop or slow the boat but in high winds it is difficult.


Things happen fast when poling! Again, the boat is drifting and closing the gap between you and the fish faster than if you were wading. Be ready to cast as soon as the guide tells you.


The boats have a shallow draft and run in very skinny water. Regardless, the lower units and propellers take a beating. When in very shallow water, bubbling out to deeper water to throttle up, throttling up, or coming off plane swing your butt around and sit down on the bow. When you hear the RPMs dropping and you're sure you're coming off plane move to the bow. If you wait until you're off plane the prop has already hit bottom. The guide will tap you the shoulder when it's time to move up front or pat your boat seat when it's time to take your seat. You'll be doing the guide a big favor.


When hooking a fish always strip set. Keep the rod tip down and set with your stripping hand. This doesn't mean setting so hard and fast that you rip the lips off the fish. Simply pull tight and then raise your rod. Do not lift the rod and trout set. Two reasons....1) Bonefish are bottom feeders. If you lift the rod and the fish doesn't have it in its mouth you just pulled the fly off the bottom and out of the strike zone. 2) You might stick the fish and miss. Sometimes that fish will come back and hit it again and again. Or one of his school chums will pick it up. Bones are used to getting poked and pricked. They eat all kinds of thorny critters. If you lift your rod it's game over.


Buck fever. Even the best casters gets discombobulated when faced with a bonefish 60ft in front of them. Take a breath, slow down, and keep your timing.

What's the quickest way to snap that new rod? Point your rod butt at the fish you're trying to land, it'll snap like a twig. Some fishermen refer to this move as "high-sticking". Avoid bending your rod so it looks like a question mark (?).

Stuck ferrels?...Using your rod to play tug of war with your fishing partner at the end of your trip? When assembling your rod at the start of your trip rub the male end of your ferrel on you nose, it's greasy. Better yet, rub some candle wax on your ferrules before putting your rod together. Do it once it will last for the life of the rod.  It will come apart easily.

Before you make that first cast in the morning give all the rod ferrules a twist and be sure they're tight. A lose ferrule is the most common cause of a rod break.

Did that bone fish you're a trying to land  wrap your leader around a mangrove root? Take a good look around for sharks and cuda before putting your hands in the water to clear the line.  A cuda can rip through, saw the fish in half, and take a finger off quicker than you can blink an eye.

If the fish you have just cast to spooks, or a castable fish spooks, DO NOT make some hasty uncontrolled cast to try to intercept the fleeing target. Most likely your bad cast will only hasten the retreating fish and/or spook other fish in proximity. If you've made a cast, leave it for a few seconds pointing your rod tip low toward the fly, calm down and look more intently for other fish nearby, then gently and quietly recast as needed. I'm sure I've interested very few fish that have taken off like a scalded ass ape, but have often been able to spot another target in range.

When landing a fish and the fish is close to the boat, apply rod pressure to the fish from the side instead of overhead.

Follow the Guides advise. He is on the water every day and has seen it all . It's interesting how many land-locked fishermen know more about tides and bone fish than the guides. Those guides are out there day after day, year after year. I do not and will not tell them where to fish. You paid a lot of money, let them do the job you paid them to do. On that note....

Some fishermen are hard-headed, won't take direction and get testy with the guide. I had a fisherman once tell me he "didn't believe in the strip set". It's not a matter of faith. It's simply how it's done. After several days of missing fish he came in and said, "Oh, I get it now". After the guide tells a fisherman the same thing a few times to no avail he'll stop and let them make their mistakes.