It is a question a lot of people have when they head out to pursue bonefish for the first (or second or fifth) time. The outside-looking-in impression would have you believe bonefish require coffee-cup accuracy at 80 feet.
They don’t… usually. The ones that do aren’t going to get caught by mortals, so don’t worry about those.
Deneki had a great post with rigorously invented numbers to convey how far you really need to be able to cast. Their take, which I whole-heatedly agree with, is 30-50 feet.
Casting distance breakdown from my own limited experience
- Shots at 10′ I’ve never made. The fish is just too close and they see you and they aren’t fans. While wading I’ve run (almost literally) into fish at 10′ and those, for me, have been 100% unsuccessful.
- Shots at 20′, I’ve certainly caught a few at 20′. They might see you, they might not, but it needs to happen soon or they are going to be at the boat or at your feet and you won’t have any room to strip. I’ve heard lots of stories about fish caught with the leader stripped in, but that isn’t the norm. That’s why those stories stand out.
- Shots at 30′, yeah… that’s pretty common and that’s a good shot.
- Shots at 40′, probably the most common distance I’ve heard called out.
- Shots at 50′, I’ve had them, I’ve made them, but they are less common.
- Shots at 60′, I’ve had those and I’ve made them, but it starts to get to the point, for me, where my casting can, on occasion, let me down.
- Shots at 70′, maybe I’ve had 70′ shots called out, but not many and I can’t really remember being asked to cast at or over 70′ more than a couple of times. When you start casting at 70′ you have a lot of line out and that means you are starting to be removed for what’s happening on the other end. It’s harder to feel the take and it’s easier to be in the wrong spot, for the fish to change directions or the current to take the fly away from the fish. Distance multiplies all the things that can go wrong.
- Shots at 80′, very rare and even less often successful.
The wind is not your friend
While you don’t usually have to cast 70′ for a bonefish, what you do have to deal with is the wind. The wind will mess you up and destroy your confidence, leaving you a sobbing, quivering puddle on the deck. Wind is an A-hole. If you can cast 40′ to that rising trout it does not mean you can get the bonefish fly to the fish in a 20 mph wind. You need to get your double haul down and once you do, you are well armed… otherwise, you are always going to be under-gunned.
There is wind in the tropics. Sometimes there is a LOT of it. Your pants and shirt will flap like a flag in the wind. Your line will get swept off the deck. Your floppy hat will flop in your face. Wind is the game changer and the thing that causes people to lose their minds.
Learn to double haul. Also, learn to double haul.
The other thing you need to be able to do is get it to 40′ or 50′ in one or two false casts. No “casterbating,” which is what some guides call the need to carry the line in the air for way, way, way too long. I’ve done it. It’s a bad idea. One. Two. Shoot. Get it there, get it there fast and get to fishing. No “shadow casting” on the flats (or on rivers, that’s a movie device, not a fishing technique).
Go forth and cast like a boss (at ranges of 30-50′, in the wind).