The Compleat Guide To Bonefishing
It’s no secret that the Bonefish is one of the most popular gamefish sought by Fly anglers around the world. I would bet that more Bonefish trips are booked each year than any other saltwater species. And there is a reason for it. It’s a fish perfectly suited for the fly angler. They are often found in large schools, they are found all over the world in tropical waters, they fight like maniacs, and they way you go about catching them is extremely exciting. Bonefish are caught entirely by sight casting. You are spotting fish at distance and making the perfect cast to entice these fish to eat your fly. It’s one of the most exhilarating experiences an angler can have.
When it comes to targeting bonefish, there are certain things you need to take in to consideration. There is of course specific equipment that you need to target these wary fish. However, location is an important thing understand as well. Fish act differently in different locations, especially in relation angling pressure. Fish that are largely unmolested by anglers are much easier to catch. You can increase your tippet strength, throw larger flies, and get much closer to feeding schools. Fish that are heavily pressured are a completely different story. These fish need a much more delicate approach which includes smaller flies, longer casts with a good lead on the school, and lighter tippet.
Bonefish are an incredible game fish for many reasons. They are loved and respected by thousands of anglers; and for good reason. Their fighting ability is phenomenal. These fish are incredibly fast and their runs will take 100 yards of backing in seconds. They are often found in huge schools feeding on the flats, often tailing which is an incredible thing to see. These fish also live in beautiful places. The calm and tranquil flats of the tropics is just a great place to fish and hunt Bonefish. Poling along the mangroves looking for feeding bones, and being able to spot them from 80 yards off; then stalking into position and making the perfect cast is about as good as it gets! Another great thing about Bonefish is that they are found almost everywhere throughout the Tropics. There are too many fisheries to list, but there are some that definitely stand out. These fisheries are easily accessible, have large numbers of fish, and provide an angling experience well worth the money.
The Bahamas is arguably the most popular Bonefish destination in the world. Famous islands such Abaco and Andros attract thousands of anglers each year from around the globe. In terms of travel logistics, the Bahamas is about as easy as it gets. Most flights are reasonably priced and direct flights in to Nassau are available through multiple carriers. From there, it’s just a short puddle jumper flight into the particular island you will be fishing out of. Other carries will get you down to South Florida and another short flight on a smaller carrier will take you the rest of the way. What you find once you arrive are flats loaded with hungry Bonefish. The Bahamas are host to numerous Bonefish lodges. From the high-end lavish lodges, to the more economical; there is opportunity for every budget. These operations will take care of almost everything which is why most people opt to fish out of a lodge. They will arrange all transportation, set you up with accommodations and fishing guides, and provide all meals. It’s a worry-free way to fish. These lodges often have some of the best accommodations in the area ideally located in prime fishing areas. More importantly, Bahamian lodges often have the best guides in the area. Which can make a huge difference between a successful trip and a bust. The Bones in the Bahamas can be a little on the skittish side. These fish have a tendency to be much warier and alert than fish found in other countries. So precise casting is an absolute must. That being said these fish are still very catchable with the enough practice and the right guide.
Turks and Caicos:
The best kept secret in the Caribbean. Turks and Caicos is not well known for Bonefishing, often overshadowed by its big brother the Bahamas. However, Turks has an essentially untouched fishery throughout the majority of the islands and huge numbers of big Bones. There are only about five guides on Provodanciales, but no major lodges, or major fishing operations anywhere in the country. This means that these fish see little or no pressure. More often than not you will be the first person to throw at these fish which mean they almost always eat. This pristine ecosystem is home to fish up to twelve pounds or better as well as Tarpon, Permit, Snook and Barracuda. Double digit days in Turks are not uncommon and that elusive Grand Slam is a legitimate possibility any day of the year. Although this is not the cheapest destination to fish, you can piece together a trip for about the same as any average cost Bonefish trip in the Bahamas. The guides in Turks are great with years of experience and great equipment. Provo itself is a phenomenal island as well. It is known for it’s safety, world class accommodations, stunning beaches, and plenty of other activities for the family or those rest days. Turks and Caicos is truly a special place. The numbers and size of the Bonefish is just mind boggling and this fishery is an example of what many Caribbean fisheries used to be.
This is the one of the hottest destinations for Fly Angers at the moment. This is a relatively “new” fishery for American anglers that offers great fishing a true sense of adventure. Cuba has some incredible fishing without a doubt. This is another destination with strong numbers of the big three: Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon. All year long, there is the possibility of a Grand Slam which is why it has grown in popularity over the past 20 years. However, Cuba is not a new fishery. European and Russian anglers have been fishing these flats for years and the influx of money into this fishery has established well run operations with top-tier guides. The easiest way to fish Cuba is to book with an outfitter. They will do the heavy lifting in terms of getting you the proper visas and travel logistics. This a huge benefit as that travel to Cuba is still very restricted. Many of Outfitters operate motherships which will take you to miles off the Cuban coast into pristine areas teeming with fish. The Bonefish here big and plentiful but any land based outfit will provide the same experience. Cuba is an incredible place to visit, let alone fish. However, because it is relatively new, the price for week in Cuba can go for up to 10,000 dollars per person per week! That’s well above the average cost for a week trip elsewhere. There is a way around that. You can fish out of Cayo Coco. From Toronto you can fly directly into Cayo Coco when you can stay at one of many all-inclusive resorts for an astonishing low price. Fishing can be booked right through your resort and what you get is phenomenal fishing, great guides, and the best resorts Cuba has to offer for the fraction of the price of a mothership trip.
This is another top destination Bonefish. Belize provides some great flats fishing at an affordable price. Yes, the premier lodges such as Turneffe Flats or El Pescador will be more expensive. However, Belize is a country where is quite easy to set up a whole trip for any budget. The most advantageous place to stay is beautiful Ambergris Key. It’s a short flight from Belize City and has that charming small island feel. It is a safe location with plenty of hotels, beautiful beaches, and fantastic restaurants. There are a few fly shops on the island where guides can often be booked last minute, however if you want a guaranteed trip or need multiple days, you should book ahead. Although the Bonefish in Belize are the smaller Maria sub-group topping off at about 5 pounds, they are everywhere! This makes Belize a good option for do-it-yourself fishing. Surrounding Ambergris Key are miles of flats that have plenty of easily accessible fishing locations. The most common mode of transportation is off-road golf carts that can get you anywhere you need to go. You can throw your gear in the cart, drive the shore line, and spot fish on the drive. Belize requires smaller flies. Size 6 or 8 is recommended and the fly must have a weed guard if you are fishing from shore. This is a great spot for your first Bonefish trip or for a do-it-yourself trip.
The Holy Grail. The Seychelles are considered the last frontier in flats fishing. These atolls are so isolated that many of these islands are completely devoid of any human development whatsoever. The surrounding habitat is pristine and as a result, there are large populations of numerous species available to the fly angler. The Bonefish in the Seychelles are huge. The average size on some atolls is eight pounds. Fish ten to fourteen pounds are common which is almost unheard of anywhere in the world. Sure fish that size are found in many locations but not in the numbers that are seen in the Seychelles. Getting to this remote part of the world is not easy. It takes multiple flights and a mothership just to get to these islands and with that comes a heafty price tag. These trips are some of the most expensive out there. But what you get for all that money is a once in a lifetime experience in maybe the best flats fishery on earth. Bonefish are almost secondary to the Giant Trevally, Milkfish, Indo-Pacific Permit, Bumphead Parrotfish, Napoleon Wrasse, Sweetlip Emperor, or Triggerfish. But make no mistake, there are plenty of Bones here and they are huge. These Bonefish require big flies, heavy tippet and at least a 9 weight. Many anglers throw 10 weights. They are also caught on very unique flats. Sandy flats mottled with soft and hard coral, protected by the open ocean from an outer barrier reef, the scenery alone is breath taking. If you plan on fishing anywhere in the Seychelles you must book with an outfitter. You need a Mothership to get there and navigating these complex island is best left to the professionals.
Things to consider:
Bonefishing is an all sight-casting activity. Your guide will be silently pushing you along the flats while the both of you scan for schools of fish. Once the fish are spotted, your guide will position the boat at an advantageous position and distance from the fish enabling you to make the cast. But once the boat is where it needs to be, it’s all on you. Being successful on any trip begins with being able to make that cast and presenting that fly close enough so the fish see it and yet far enough away that you don’t spook the fish as it enters the water. With that in mind practice is key. Spend time casting your rod! Get comfortable putting that fly in a hula hoop size area at 80 feet. The closer the fish get to the boat, the smaller that target area becomes so practice at all distances. The back-hand cast will not be used as often but sometimes it is the only cast that can get that fly to the fish so while not as critical, it is good to be reasonably proficient lobbing one on the back-hand.
This may be the single greatest concern when in pursuit of Bonefish. Wind can ruin everything. If it is windy enough, guides will simply cancel trips. And when it is blowing hard enough, entire trips can be “blow out” if that front moves in and stalls over the area. The weather is the most unpredictable part of the whole equation. However, there are certain thing you can do to prepare for less than ideal conditions. Just assume that there will be wind and prepare for it. Get comfortable casting into the wind. Cast your rod frequently before trips. Get used to throwing into the wind as well as lobbing a backhand cast down wind. This preparation is critical, especially if it is your first trip. It is important to make sure that you can comfortably cast sixty feet or more and deliver that cast accurately and quickly. The less false casts, the better.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses is just as important as the rod in your hand. The value of the right glasses can not be understated. Being able to spot the fish is at a distance allows you to present that fly effectively. Without them, you are essentially fishing blind and the odds of a hook up decrease dramatically. Costa Del Mar and Smith make the best fishing glasses on the market. They carry a wide variety of frames and lenses for all types of conditions. As a general rule, a copper or brown base is the best option for flats fishing. For Costa that is the 580g lense in copper. This lense with the Green Mirror tint is ideal. Smith also makes a great lense with their Chromapop technology. Again you want a brown or copper base with a mirrored finish for bright conditions.
-Lightweight quick-dry pants
-Lightweight quick-dry shirt
-Sun hat or cap
-Pliers or Forceps
-9’ 8wt Fly Rod with weight forward Tropical floating line
-9’ 9wt Fly Rod with weight forward Tropical floating line
-Mid or Large Arbor reel with a sealed drag and 200+ yards of 20-30lb backing
-9’ tapered Fluorocarbon leaders in 8lb to 16lb
-8 to 16lb Fluorocarbon tippet spools
-Crazy Charlies: tan and pink, size 2,4,6
-Gotcha’s: tan and pink, size 2,4,6
-EP Spawing Shrimp: tan, size 2,4,6
-Peterson’s Spawning Shrimp: Tan, size 2 and 4
-Skampi: tan, size 4 and 6
-Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp: tan, size 2, 4, 6
-Shrimp Scampi: tan & pink, size 4 and 6
-Foxy Gotcha: tan and grey, size 4 and 6
-Enrico’s Micro Crab: Tan, olive, size 8
-Bonefish Bitters: tan, olive, size, 6 and 8