Now what?

I remember my first trips very well. They weren’t that long ago, really, so it isn’t like my first steelhead trips, but still, they stand out very clearly. One of the feelings I recall is the feeling of dread when I finally had a fish in sight. I felt very unsure about what action I should give to the fly. To complicate things I had a friend tell me about some fish he had seen in Los Roques where he needed to not move the fly at all. With that in the back of my head I would wonder if I should leave the fly alone or if I should strip it in and if so, how fast and how long the strips should be?  That sort of argument going on in your head as you try to fool a bonefish is very nearly a game ender for the whole enterprise.

Down in Belize in 2010 I got to fish with my friend Shane. Shane has seen a lot of water and cast at a lot of fish. He has over 365 days of bonefishing, which I find pretty damn impressive since he is pretty much fully employed as a trout fly fishing guide, guide service manager or lodge host (AK, not the salt). Nor is he a Floridian or independently wealthy (or dependently wealthy… which you never really hear about, those poor guys). Watching him fish and talking to him a bit about what he was a great shortcut to better fishing. Here is some of his advice, combined with some thoughts from Captain Perry (anyone know where he’s guiding out of in Grand Bahama these days?).

1. When you cast you should give one long slow strip to start things off. That makes sure you clear your slack and gives some movement to your fly. Movement catches the eye of a bonefish and that first strip could get you your fish. If the fish doesn’t see your fly, it will almost never eat it.

2. You need to strip at a speed which will keep your fly off the bottom. If you are fishing above turtle grass, you need to keep it off the grass. Otherwise, you just need to be above the sand. That isn’t too fast and it isn’t too slow.

Beyond that, there are times you leave it, times you give a jerky retrieve, times you do other stuff I haven’t had to do yet. I am not yet proficient enough to know when to give a bonefish a fly that I’m not stripping. I’m going to need to do more of this to figure that out, but it is good to have a game plan going when I have a fish to cast at.

If you have a Plan A, you can divert. If you have no Plan A, you are basically screwed. Not making a decision is, in fact, making a decision. It is making a decision to have crappy fishing.

Shane, doing what he does (and doing it better than me).

Shane, doing what he does (and doing it better than me).

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  1. I fished with Capt. Perry this November out of Deep Water Cay. Great Guide. Great couple of days. Silly amount of bonefish.

    Thanks for the blog, I read it every morning with my coffee

  2. I’m 54 years old. I have been fly fishing since I was 11. I don’t fish every day but have fished quite a lot over the last 43 years. I have only just started bonefishing but with the experience of having watched many different species of fish react to a fly, I found that bonefishing was (in general) not all that different. Yes it happens in a wonderful warm and exotic location, but predatory fish all have some similar behavioral characteristics. Cast, let the fly drop, yes strip in the slack, then watch how the fish are reacting. Did they see the fly? Yes, wait and let them get closer, is the fish tipping up its tail, strip, if you feel something strip harder. If the fish didn’t seem to react to the initial drop, strip slowly, still no reaction strip some more. If they turn away then wait for the next opportunity, if they take it, strip set. In some ways every situation is unique, with the length of cast, the bottom type (sand or grass), angle of presentation, etc. At least they do not seem to be leader shy like a lot of trout can be. Bonefishing is difficult, they are spooky, hard to see (especially at for us newbies) and there are many, many ways to blow a shot, but you could say the same for trout. I think with a little practice and a lot of general fly fishing experience, decisions are made by watching how the fish react to your fly and acting accordingly. Which is true for a lot of kinds of fly fishing. However, I am still having trouble with carp.

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