I am unsure why we say “DIY” in regard to fishing. It’s not something that is typically used outside of the tropics. I never read about DIY Brook Trout fishing or DIY Smallmouth Bass fishing. But every Bonefish, Permit, Rooster, Tarpon and Snook seems to carry this title if it isn’t caught with a guide.
First things first, this is a blog about what worked for me. By no means am I an expert on bonefish, but everyday I learned, changed, improved, and caught fish.
On the first day, the water was murky and I wasn’t sight fishing. I knew how I liked to work a beach from my time spent in Puget Sound. I worked the mangroves inside to outside much like how I fish Puget Sound. I never stand in one area and cast straight out. I walked about 20 feet out from the shore into about 3 feet of water and faced parallel to the beach. My first cast, I casted about five feet out from the mangroves. The second cast was 10-20ft out, and the 3rd about 25-45ft out from the mangroves. Once I completed the fan I would move forward slowly about 40 feet and start the pattern again. I started with a small light shrimp fly on a size 8 hook but switched after about 45 minutes to something lighter in color and much larger.
My first bonefish encounter was a disaster. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t even see it. It felt like my line bumped the bottom then got hooked up to the back of a jetski and tore off. I was extremely disappointed when the fish came unhooked and I reeled the fly line in from my backing. To make things worse, I proceeded to lose two more shortly after. Thinking back, I don’t know exactly what I did wrong but i do know what I did right. I had changed to a larger, jig-style fly that seemed to get their attention in the murky water. I also seemed to be covering the right places.
Finally, 200 yards down the beach, I landed my first bonefish. I horsed it in as I was a bit nervous about losing the fish and was more prepared for that initial burst of power. Feeling satisfied, I called it a day.
The next morning, the water clarity was better but still not picturesque. This lead me to my first very important lesson: walk a straight line and stay on the same path. The mangroves are a mix of sand and mud. In certain places, I sank two to three inches into the sandy mud. My footprints which were all over from the day before created shadows that looked exactly like bonefish. It was very difficult at first to distinguish between the two. I found myself squinting at footprints over and over waiting for one to move.
I finally saw an actual bonefish, got excited, and casted too close, spooking the fish. I remembered a friend telling me to increase the length of my leader and to provide more distance between your fly and fish. I added another two feet to my leader for a total of around 11ft of Maxima Fluorocarbon. I saw another bonefish and casted out in front of it, giving myself more room to dance. I paused for a second then gave my fly a small twitch. The bonefish instantly came over and after several more strips, I was hooked up! I had tightened down my drag a bit from the day before and after fighting this fish in, the reel brought it to hand.
The day only got better from here.
After 2 more hours of sight fishing and several more landed bonefish, we decided to leave the lagoon and head to a local beach which held a large flat. Here it was much easier to spot the bonefish, but there weren’t nearly as many around. I did see a school of feeding bonefish. Nervous about spooking them, I watched their movement from a distance. In my opinion, these fish move much like a Coho Salmon in Puget Sound. They were feeding along a path and didn’t seem to move very erratically. Judging their movement, I gave myself plenty of room when casting out in front. Waited for about 20 seconds and gave my fly a long slow strip. They saw it and began to chase. Although I hooked and landed a bonefish in this encounter, I swear it was the smallest fish in the school. The fish also went absolutely crazy spooking all the others away. This was something I found to be common; I never pulled multiple bonefish from the same school. I believe it would be very possible from a boat to target fish on the outside of the groups, but from the water I just wanted to cast into the mix where I had the highest chance of hooking up.
At this point, I began to feel good about targeting bonefish. I was using an 11ft Maxima Fluorocarbon leader with a 7ft 25lb butt section and four feet of 12lb Maxima Fluorcarbon Tippet. I used a Douglas Sky 8wt Rod and a Galvan Torque Reel. For fly lines, I had a floating line and a mini tip from Jim Teeny. I was fishing primarily 5 to 35 feet from the shore in the lagoon and just about anywhere on the flat in 5 feet to 12 inches of water! I used a Jig-Style Shrimp pattern. Once I had lost the 2 I brought, I switched to a smaller shrimp fly tied on a size 8 saltwater hook. Both flies road hook point up and were made of Spawn Products. Both flies were made up of primary Spawn UV Ghost Shrimp Simi Seal in particular!
The next several days I would take a morning “walk” through the lagoon, sight fishing for bonefish in clearer water. Each outing I landed a bonefish.
The last day of bonefishing, I attached a pool floaty to the back of my backpack with strong fishing line and pulled my girlfriend through the lagoon as I found and caught bonefish. That day I went 6 for 8 with several fish that were a bit larger! This day I felt I had a much better understanding of how a bonefish takes the fly. It wasn’t like a bass or salmon where you instantly know because they simply smash your fly; it’s almost as if these fish were nibbling on it. They were like a time bomb in this sense: tik, tik, BOOM. My hook set had transformed to a combination of strip setting and trout setting raising the road tip and stripping the line as I felt the take.
If you’re going to target Bonefish for the first time, I’d recommend an 8wt rod, quality fly reel, good pair of Polarized glasses, flats shoes, floating line, Maxima Fluocarbon, and shrimp flies using specialized Spawn Shrimp colored products with varied weights. Some thing to lookout for: stingrays were abundant, everyday on the water I saw them. They did not spook, and sometimes they seemed almost interested in me, coming very very close. Barracuda become a problem. Once you catch a few of them size 10-20 inches, the honeymoon phase disappears and they become a nuisance. I found that if they follow your fly, stop moving it completely and they will lose interest. If you keep stripping the fly, they will eat it and more often than not you will lose that fly. Don’t move fast and be patient. I found it’s far better to keep your distance and lead the bonefish than to risk casting too close.
Overall, bonefish are awesome and bringing 12 to hand my first go at it was great. I don’t think they deserve to be in the same class as carp which I’m not a huge fan of. The challenge, the environment, the hunt and the fact that they chase a fly makes this fish a must-do experience for any angler!