BONEFISH AKA THE GHOST OF THE FLATS
Catching the illusive bonefish on fly doesn’t need to be a stealth operation.
Daniel Factor gives some advice and tips on how to hunt the sneaky fish.
BONEFISH IS ONE OF the most incredible species to target on fly. They will take you to the most exotic and beautiful fishing waters in the country – and the world. Targeting bonefish is a unique combination of hunting and fishing at the same time. Almost all of fly fishing is sight fishing – so while you are on the water you are hunting, scanning the water for clues that will give away your target’s location. They are very optimistic feeders and will more than likely commit to a well-presented fly. They are extremely strong for their size and have a reputation for their long and powerful runs. You are not blind casting into likely looking water like most other fishing scenarios.
This is sight fishing at its best. Casting at moving fish and watching them react and pound on your fly makes the whole experience out of this world.
HOW TO SPOT YOUR TARGET:
Tails – Bonefish dig in the bottom, tilting their tails upward. When the water is shallow enough, their tails break the surface. Tailing bonefish are easy to see and fun to cast to.
Shadows – Bonefish have an unbelievable camouflage that make them extremely difficult to spot sometimes. When the sun is high, it’s often easier to see the shadow than the fish. Keep your eyes open for dark shapes moving across the flats. However, keep in mind that the fish is not in exactly the same spot as the shadow. Polarised glasses and the glare – Polarised lenses work with the angle of the light. The angle of the light is always changing. If you are struggling to see through the glare on the water, tilt your head from side to side. At the right angle, that glare may disappear and you will spot the ghost.
Nervous water – Bonefish feed in shallow water and generally close enough to the surface so that their movement disturbs the water. The little wakes or ripples give them away. When a school moves in a hurry they make a wake – just remember,the wake forms a few feet behind the fish.
Bonefish move into flats to feed with the incoming tide and retreat into deeper water as the tide starts to drop. Juvenile bonefish shoal in large schools, while the bigger boys are often spotted in pairs or as individual cruising fish.
Flats are continuous areas of water that range from dry during low tide, to knee and even waist deep during high tide. These areas are often protected from wave action by coral reef. These flats consist of either mud, sand, grass, coral bottom or a mixture of the elements. Flats are rich in food and activity, making them the perfect feeding grounds for these ghosts.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
Bonefish are predominately bottom feeders and have a specialised underslung mouth to aid them in finding food on sandy, muddy bottoms. Their staple diet consists of different types of crustaceans, crabs and shrimps. They also feed on small fish by blasting water through their mouths, forcing bait fish to flee out of their holes.
STALKING YOUR TARGET
Bonefish are highly sensitive to sound, light and vibrations, especially when targeting them in shallow water. Here are a few tips:
Low profile – When you spot your bonefish, crouch down and stay as low as possible to minimise your profile. Try to maintain this position until the stalking is over.
Camouflage – Use soft natural colours that blend in with the surroundings.
Wading – Wade quiet, or not at all. Bonefish can very easily be spooked by the sound of your legs pushing water. Keep an eye out for coral, holes and obstructions that may throw you off balance and cause sudden movements.
Obstruction – Find any kind of structure, like coral, to stand in between you and the fish. This will prevent disturbed water from reaching it and you will also not stand out like a sore thumb. This structure can also be used to conceal your presentation.
Fly rods – A nine foot, eight or nine weight rod, with a mid- or tip-flex action will handle the majority of bonefishing situations. These rods are also used as species rods and can handle most species you will come across.
Reels – Bonefish take a lot of line and they take it fast. More parts mean more ways to break, especially where long runs and saltwater are concerned. There are a lot of drag systems out there that are strong enough to slow down a bonefish, but not all are smooth. You don’t want your reel frame to bend, the handle to come off or its parts to corrode. Type 3 anodising is the strongest and most resilient material available. A type 3 anodised reel is bulletproof in saltwater. There are five main factors to consider when selecting a reel for this application: simplicity, large arbour, capacity, smooth drag and durability.
Lines – Most bonefishing is done with a floating line. You spend most of your time casting in shallow fish and spotted cruising fish. The important factor is a tropical fly line. My personal recommendation will be the Airflo Bonefish Ridge Fly Line. Don’t take your general fly line along unless you want to spend most of your trip in a frustrated mood. Standard lines are too limp, too sticky and too soft, and will neither cast nor shoot through the guides as well. A good tropical line is needed to hold up in the bonefish’s
infested tropical waters.
Sunglasses – Bonefishing is a sight casting game and polarised sunglasses are an absolute essential. As far as lens colour goes, choose a brown or copper lens for normal conditions on the flats and an amber or yellow lens for cloudy, overcast conditions.
Most crustaceans, crabs and shrimp imitative patterns will work. There are a few basic factors to consider when selecting a particular pattern in your box:
Colour – Most of the time, you want the colour of your fly to basically match the colour of the flat. Most of the food items bonefish eat need camouflage and thus tend to be the same colour as the flats.
Weight – You need the correct weight to make the fly land right-side up and to get the fly to stay right-side up when stripped. Shallower, skinny water calls for smaller flies. Heavy flies make a splash when
they land and spook fish when the water is too shallow.
It’s important to have a good pair of flat wading boots. These are lightweight, have a tough sole and are corrosion-free to make walking long distances both comfortable and safe.
So, go book those tickets, rig up your #9 and find out what all the fuss is about.