Bonefish 101: On and Off the Water

By Lefty Kreh 

I have been fortunate to fish throughout much of the planet, and have caught more than 100 species on a fly rod. And my favorite remains the bonefish.

There is much to like about bone fishing. You use rather lightweight tackle, small flies and once hooked if you are lucky you land one in minutes unlike many of the more glamour species. When wading or being polled across the shallows, you see an ever-changing landscape. A barracuda lay motionless ready to swiftly grasp its prey. Different types of rays swim by and the bottom slowly reveals some mysteries as you move over it.

I think one of the things that fascinates me about bone fishing is the angler can do nearly everything right, only make one small miscue and the game is over.

In freshwater, brown trout are considered one of the most difficult species to fool and are quickly alerted to the presence of an angler. But, the eyes on a bonefish are twice as sharp and can spot something unfamiliar from great distances.

I caught my first bonefish in 1969 and have learned much along the way.

If limited to one rod a nine foot, 8-weight rod will be sufficient.

A large arbor reel that will hold 150-yards of backing will also be more than enough for skinny water fish. The claim that you need more than 200 yards of backing is an overstatement. On rare occasions a bonefish may run 60 to-100-yards, but, having caught hundreds of bonefish in various regions, I have never had one run that far.

Fly selection should correspond to the color of the flat.

For example, in the Bahamas most flats are a light-tan coral and so most patterns should be pale brown, pale pink or an off-white color.

Variations of olive colors usually produce best when ocean bottom has turtle grass, or other similarly colored vegetation.

Hook size is governed by the average size of fish encountered.

Keeping a low profile while fishing from a skiff, or wading can help keep from alerting fish to your presence.
©Brandon Powers, Temple Fork Outfitters.

Where most bones are one to five pounds, a size-four hook is best. Many anglers dress patterns on smaller size-six hooks, but big bones are more likely to take patterns dressed on larger flies. A size 2 is the smallest and often a size 1 or even 1/0 is more effective.

Bonefish flats often have sharp coral, so flats wading boots are recommended. Black colored ones are to be avoided as they can absorb sunlight and cause feet to get too hot.

All boots worn while wading will gather grit, sand and abrasive material. To avoid this wearing gaiters (designed to be used with stocking foot waders), can prevent these coarse materials from getting in boots. Socks and long pants should be worn at all times while on the flats.

DO NOT put the pant legs in the boots. Allow the boots to be inside the legs. Now place the wading gaiters over the pant legs and secure them. Any grit that enters the gaiters will flow down along the legs and out the bottom.

A common mistake made when fishing for all flats species, is to look at the fish when casting the fly. The human mind wants the fly to be cast where the angler is looking, which all too often causes the fly to fall too close to the fish. It’s important to concentrate on the target area. The fish is visible in the peripheral vision, but the fly lands well in front of the fish.

There is no ready-made formula, but there are loose guidelines.

When the water is rippled by the wind, a fly cast just a few feet in front of a fish will usually be taken. But, on a calm day the fly may have to be presented anywhere from eight to 15-feet ahead of a cruising fish. Where bonefish are pressured by angler, and the surface is calm it is sometimes better to cast 20 or more feet ahead allowing the fly to sink completely to the bottom.

Leader length is important too.

On windy days a 9 or ten-foot leader should be used. On a flat calm surface, a leader of 12 to-16 feet is advised. Most bone fishermen start with a leader of 11 to-12-feet and adjust according to circumstances.

The butt section of the leader should be heavy and flexible and half the length of the leader, so the fly can turn over. For a 7 through 9-weight line, a 50-pound butt section is recommended.

The final key to a successful bonefish trip is to study the tides.

Some traditionally productive sites produce poorly on the wrong tides. Local guides and the lodge usually are honest about this. Or, poll a list of people who have fished the area and query them about the tidal phases.


About templeforkoutfitters
Armed with a lifetime passion for fishing, we set out to establish a new standard of value for fly and conventional rods. We have relied on our own experience and advice of many professionals in creating what we believe is the perfect marriage - price and performance. Sound too good to be true? Cast one and you be the judge.

2 Responses to Bonefish 101: On and Off the Water

  1. goaheaded says:

    Thank you for some great information. We hope to see you in NC again this year.

  2. Randy Parchment says:

    This is a very well written piece by the greatest man of the flats, very informative. looking forward to reading more in the future.

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