Bonefish Tips and Tricks for Fly fishing in the Bahamas 

Bonefish Tips and Tricks

The What to Bring and FAQ pages are required reading to prepare for your trip.

This page contains additional fly fishing tips for bonefish in the Bahamas.

Essential Gear

Please be sure to visit the “What to Bring” page for detailed information about the required gear. The two most often forgotten items, and the most important, aside from your flies, rods, reels, and terminal tackle, is a raincoat and wade boots.

Raincoat is required gear! Bring a raincoat; some don’t. It’s as crucial as a fly rod. Some are betting they’ll have perfect weather, no wind, and blue skies. It’s possible, but expect 15 mph high winds. The coat isn’t for the weather, it’s for the boat ride. Even on a clear day the boat ride can be lumpy and wet; you will take a few waves in the face if the wind is up.

Wade boots are also required and often forgotten. Some flats have razor-sharp marl, others are filled with hills and holes. Don’t forget to bring your socks or neoprene booties. A little sand in your boots without the socks will rub your feet raw. 

More about gear, flies, and tackle here,.. “What to Bring”.

Leaders and Tippet

Generally, a 12 ft leader, including tippet, is the standard bonefish leader and what I would recommend. I might stretch it to 14ft on a windless day or shorten it to 10-11ft in high winds.

Use 16lb to 20lb fluorocarbon tippet. Do not be concerned about the tippet size spooking fish; they don’t mind. I have a particular guest coming every year since I opened. He usually out-fishes everyone in the lodge and has been on the front page of my website three times. Twice with the biggest fish of the year and another time with the most fish ever caught in a day, 50 fish. He uses a strictly 25lb fluoro tippet. 

Ten to twelve-pound tippet is too light. You will kill fish. Playing a fish too long causes lactic acid to build up in their muscles. Sure, you released the fish and watched it swim away dazed and confused, barely able to swim upright, thinking it’ll be fine. Several minutes later, in the distance, you hear a ruckus in the mangroves or a splash out on the flats. That sound is the bonefish you just released getting chewed by sharks or sawed in half by a cuda, too weak to escape. 

Store-bought leaders work just fine but I haven’t bought one in many years. You can build your own leaders with hard mono or fluorocarbon and save yourself a lot of money, I tie my own. There are formulas regarding the proper length for each section. It’s all overkill. Equal parts or lengths work 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 25, then 3ft of 20lb.

Pound for pound a bonefish is the strongest fish you will ever hook. I’ve grown tired of digging them out of the mangroves to say I caught it. Forget that! If a bone is heading for the mangroves I’ll lock my drag down or grab the spool. That fish will either stop or break the tippet; I’m not going in after it. I might stop it with 20lb, it’ll snap with 10lb.

Bones will rub your tippet into the rocks and sand and wrap it around mangrove roots covered in razor-sharp barnacles. Flouro tippet should only be used at all times as it has very high abrasion resistance. Mono has very little abrasion resistance.

You can buy a 300 yard spool of fluorocarbon for less than you’ll pay for a single 10 yard spool of fluorocarbon that says “tippet” on the spool. Seaguar has the rep for making the best fluoro.


See the What to Bring page for specifics on flies. Below is an important tip. 

New Flies!!!! You dropped thousands of dollars for this trip. Spend another hundred bucks on New Flies. Don’t bring a box full of tiny #6 flies from last year’s saltwater trip to Belize or Mexico. They are too small and most are the wrong patterns. More importantly, they’ve been sitting in your fly box covered in salt all year. They become weak and prone to snapping at the bend. “Because salt is a powerful electrolyte, it contains many dissociated ions, which greatly accelerates corrosion in salt water. Salt, or more particularly, salt solution, can hasten the corrosion process by acting as an electrolyte, allowing the metal to lose electrons more quickly. It’s a chemical process called oxidation, in which metal atoms lose electrons and produce ions.” Simply put, they rot, they are weak, and some will snap. Buy some fresh flies. 

Soak them in fresh water to get the salt off them when you get home if you insist on keeping them.


Easily, hands down, the most common casting flaw I see with beginner and novice fly fishermen is a fat loop. I believe any casting instructor will tell you the same thing. It is caused by an arc in your fly cast. The rod tip must travel in a straight line. Rather than writing a thousand words on the subject please go to Youtube.

Buck Fever – Even the best casters get discombobulated when faced with a bonefish 60ft in front of them or making those first few casts on your first morning fishing. Take a breath, slow down, and keep your timing.

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. 

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. Practice your cast before your trip. On arrival, I’d be glad to help. There is almost always a skilled caster in the group who is willing to help.

Would you like to catch a big fish, or more fish for that matter? You’ll increase your odds if you can catch ’em with their pants down. That means a long 60-80ft cast, and then get low.

fly fishing for bonefish, bahamas fly fishing lodges

In a perfect world, the wind is always 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 will move into the western sky, putting you directly into it. You cannot see a thing; you are as blind as a bat. You must turn around and fish into or sideways to the wind.

Casting into the wind – I’ll do this myself occasionally. 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 down……it 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 one-third 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 on the manufacturer. The back half of the fly line is a uniform, thin running line. Check the box your fly line came in; there is usually a profile pic. Mark the end of the belly with a marker. At that point, your line begins to taper from fat to thin running line. Refrain from false casting past that mark. That’s all you have to work with, and is much easier to control. Any more than that, and things start going wrong. RIO makes a Bonefish Quickshooter line with a total belly length of around 35 feet. It loads the rod quickly, especially on short casts, and is color coded. The belly is blue, and the running line is tan. It’s a good line for newer fishermen but does land on the water a bit hard. That’ll spook fish on a calm day.

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


When hooking a fish always strip set. Keep the rod tip down and set it with your stripping hand. This doesn’t mean setting so hard and fast that you rip the lips off the fish. Pull tight and then raise your rod. Please don’t lift the rod and trout set. This isn’t a Bass tournament.  Bonefish are bottom feeders. If you trout set and the fish doesn’t have it in its mouth you just pulled the fly off the bottom and out of the strike zone, game over. If you strip set the fly is still in the strike zone. You might stick the fish and miss. Often that fish will come back and hit it again and again. I’ve stuck the same fish three times in a row, Bones are used to getting poked and pricked. They eat all kinds of thorny critters. Or one of his school chums will pick it up. Once you lift your rod, it’s game over.

Bone fishing is popular because, most days, bonefish are agreeable to hitting almost any fly. Even so, they can get picky. If you get a couple-three refusals change the fly. What didn’t work on one flat might work on the next flat, what didn’t work today will work tomorrow.

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 reports refusals and another reports that the bite was aggressive, I suspect it has everything to do with casting distance. You will catch more fish if you can lay the fly out 60-80 feet. 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.

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


Fast Rods!! Most novice or inexperienced fly fishermen would be better served by a medium or med/fast action rod. Over the past several years, manufacturers have been competing to see who can make the fastest-stiffest rod possible. They’re labeled “fast or tip flex.” The rod might be a 9wt but needs a 10wt line to load correctly. In their defense, I have noticed that manufacturers have recently offered slower rods.

Here are a couple of examples of fast rods. A friend brings down prototypes of next year’s models for testing from a popular major manufacturer. We were bone fishing; I was on deck;….. 50-60 feet into a stiff wind was a 10-12lb single tailing bone. I made three casts and fell short every time and muttered a few profanities. I was throwing the latest, greatest model rod I had just purchased from him and was having difficulty getting it to load. Even the guide mentioned that the line seemed too light for the rod and wasn’t loading. The gentleman that brought the rod said, as a matter of fact, “Oh yeah, you gotta over-line these rods by a weight or two.” I did, and it worked fine. On another occasion, I was on the flat in front of the lodge, helping a new fly fisherman with his cast. He needed a distance. His rod was strung with the line weight recommended for the rod. I made a couple of casts, and the rod would barely load and go nowhere. It was no wonder why he couldn’t cast it. We upped the line 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 over-lining your rod by a weight.

There are Industry-standard fly line grain weights for each rod weight. 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. RIO was one of the first manufacturers to do this. The label might say 8wt, but the total head weight of the line might be 9wt weight. RIO makes a redfish 8wt line that is great for bone fishing with a 30-foot head grain weight of 240 grains, 9wt equivalent. RIO has an 8wt bonefish shooter line with a total head weight of 290 grains, 80 grains over standard, equivalent to a 10wt line. New fishermen love it, but experienced fishermen not so much. It’s excellent for a fast load on a short cast but comes down hard at a distance. RIO 8 wt Flats Pro has a full head weight of 290 grains with the 30-foot head at 240 grains, a 9 wt.

When I first wrote this, most fly line makers were straight up aside from RIO; an 8-wt line was 210 grains. Since then, most have been playing catch up with RIO building heavier lines. Overweighting a rod slows it down, turning it into a med-fast or medium-action rod. You can feel the weight of the line. Too light a line and you can’t feel it. Do you want to throw a baseball or a wiffle ball into the wind? Please don’t overdo it; a too heavy line will cause a loss of distance or even break a rod. The rub is that fly rod makers got the hint and are finally slowing their rods down. Your new rod might not need overloaded.

Confused?…..Yep. Next time you buy a line, check the grain weight and forget about what rod weight it says it is for. If you want to overload your rod choose a weight of 30-50 grains over the industry standard for your rod. Or even better, given the option, try a few different lines. You’ll be able to choose one that works for you.

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. This happens most often when landing a fish. Some fishermen refer to this move as “high-sticking”. Avoid bending your rod so it looks like a question mark (?).

I’ve snapped a few rods. Almost all for the same reason: a loose Ferrule. Before you make that first cast in the morning, twist all the rod ferrules and be sure they’re tight. I’d guess 90% of all broken rods break at the first ferrule between the tip and second section, always due to a loose ferrule. A loose ferrule is the most common cause of all rod breaks.

Stuck ferrules?…Using your rod to play tug of war with your fishing partner at the end of your trip? Rub candle wax or beeswax on the male end of all your ferrules. Doing once will usually last for the life of the rod. Or, when assembling your rod at the start of your trip, rub the male end of your ferrule on your nose, it’s greasy. It will come apart easily.

On the Boat

Things happen fast when poling! Again, the boat drifts and closes the gap between you and the fish more quickly than if you were wading. You should be ready to cast as soon as the guide tells you.

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

If the fish you have just cast to spooks, or a castable fish spook, do not make a hasty uncontrolled cast to intercept the fleeing target. Most likely your bad cast will only hasten the retreating fish and spook other fish nearby. 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 swam off at light speed but have often been able to spot another target in range.

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 slow the boat, but in high winds it isn’t easy.

It’s also crucial to remain quiet when poling on the boat. If you are swatting doctor flies on the gunnel, slamming the cooler lid, dropping tackle, being heavy-footed on the bow, etc…’re spooking the fish. You might even hear an exasperated sigh from the guide.

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 of feeling the line under your feet when 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.

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 on 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.


Some fishermen wade too slowly when bone fishing. 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 a clear view of the flats in front of you and there’s no bone to be seen a couple hundred feet out, you must 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 BUT…do it quietly! I have had guests ask me why the guide was walking in front of them. That’s a polite way of saying….you’re dragging your ass. Keep up with the guide.

On the other hand….once you find fish or know some are in the area, SLOW DOWN. You’ll need to stop, look around, check behind you, and take your time. When you do move lift your feet, don’t drag them.

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

It sometimes 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, if you have time, reach back and pull and coil as much line to you as you need, then drop it in the water at your feet before making the cast.
When wading or poling, strip all the line you think you can cast before you begin fishing. Don’t wait until you see a fish.

Water transmits sound better than air. You must 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.

Fly presentation

The most common cause of 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 string….it’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 fish’s attention make a longer one-foot strip followed by a few short strips. I’d like you to please 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 has yet to make 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.

If the fish you have just cast to spooks, or a castable fish spook, do not make a hasty uncontrolled cast to intercept the fleeing target. Most likely your bad cast will only hasten the retreating fish and spook other fish nearby. 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 swam off at light speed but have often been able to spot another target in range.


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 a slightly darker shade of blue.


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

If there is a shark chasing that bone you just hooked completely, loosen your drag and let the fish run. Please don’t try to horse the fish to you. The shark will follow, and you’re robbing the bonefish of its speed. Please be sure to 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 your 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 it in the boat or throw it clear of you. Remember that there is a bloodline leading directly to you. Step aside and out of the bloodline.

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 say that because some guests have told stories of grabbing sleeping sharks by the tail. Hooking a shark and then asking your guide to get your fly back for you is rude. Blame it on me; I’ve instructed them not to retrieve the fly. The last thing I need is to be short a guide due to a stitched-up hand or lost finger. Cut the line, forget the fly. Would you like your fly back?…get it yourself. 

If a shark near you is 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. Please be sure the shark is well clear of you before you stick your hand in the water.

Did that bonefish you’re 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 and saw the fish in half or take a finger off quicker than you can blink an eye. It almost happened to me.

Finding Bonefish

You can use your ears to find bonefish. You can sometimes hear bonefish splash ahead of you. It’s tranquil on the flats, just the sound of the wind. Pay attention if you hear a splash or gurgle around that next point.

Watch for feed marks on the bottom. On Andros the sand is a light tan. Just below the top layer is 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 spots 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.

Handling Bonefish

When landing a fish try to handle them as little as possible. Avoid putting the death grip on the fish. Leave the fish in the water if you’re not interested in getting a picture. 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, its odds 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. You might see or hear a shark splashing on a flat in the distance. He is eating that bone you just released.


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 returns to get the boat. You must follow his directions. I have had fishermen tell me 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.

Follow the Guides advice. He is on the water every day and has seen it all. I find it impressive how many land-locked fishermen know more about tides and bonefish than the guides. Those guides are out there day after day, year after year. It’s their backyard. 

On that note….Rarely, a guest will arrive and tell me when, where, and how he wants to fish. He’s got the entire week planned out. I do not and will not tell the guide where to fish. You paid a lot of money; let them do the job you paid them to do.

Everyone has their favorite guide. Some want to fish with the same guide every day. One gent refused to book unless I promised him he’d fish with particular guide all week. I said I can’t do that, it’d break morale and my guide staff would probably quit on me. All of my guides are excellent, I’d get in the boat with any one of them, knowing I am in good hands. Guides are rotated.

Some fishermen are hard-headed, won’t take directions, and get testy with the guide. After the guide tells a fisherman the same thing a few times to no avail, the guide will stop and let them make their mistakes.

End of the Day

When you return to the lodge, wipe down your line at the end of the evening. It’s good for an additional ten to twenty feet in distance the next day and helps keep your line floating.

Be sure to rinse your rod and reel every evening when returning to the lodge!

Bonefish Tips and Tricks for Fly fishing in the Bahamas