Rethinking flies

I’ve been rethinking some of my bonefish flies. Normally, I love a bit of rubber legs, some embellishment, some movement. However, I’ve come to worry a bit about fouling. I’m thinking it does little good to tie up a fancy fly that fouls and swims wrong and freaks out the fish you made said fancy fly for in the first place.

Flies are designed to catch fisherman, not really to catch fish, it has been said. I tend to agree with this. Presentation has a lot more to do with catching than fly design, at least in most places and in most situations.

I’d love to hear from you guys. Fouling an issue? Do you think about that as you build your speculative patterns? Do you put movement in the fly in a way so it won’t foul?

That's a lot of fur and thread.

That’s a lot of fur and thread.

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  1. Rodrigo Vargas

    I don’t usually tie weedguards on bonefish flies, since most of my patterns ride hook up and the bucktail/calf/kip help to make them less fouling, even if you tie long rubber legs. Also, my bonefish flies are tied in #6 and #8 hooks. Small hooks, imo, help make flies weedless.

    Now, tarpon flies are another story. I like rabbit strip flies por tarpon, and ALWAYS tie a half inch weedguard (20 lb mono) ABOVE the hook shank. This will actually give the fly a livelier action and the zonker strip will never foul around the hook. For casting towards the mangrove fot baby tarpon and snook, a regular bass style weedguard surrounding the hook bend is in order. My 2 pesos.

  2. Bjorn — You’re right. Most flies are designed to catch anglers not bonefish. I figure I’ve caught 90% of my bonefish — in Andros and the Keys — on a Gotcha. ALL of the other patterns, and there are lots in my boxes, are for the 10% of the time the fish most likely don’t want to eat any fly. But it sure remains fun to cook up patterns and variations hoping to solve that 10% of the time.


  3. Hi There … I just came back from bone fishing in Cozumel and I had flies with rubber legs. When the guide went through my box he ripped every leg off any flies that were tied that way. I guess he had the same idea they would be more likely to scare the fish rather than entice them. And since I caught bones on these altered patterns I guess he was right. Since return I have not used legs on any of the replacement flies I have tied to replenish my box.
    I am heading to Baja to secure a Bucket List fish the Rooster. If any of you guys fished these beauties and have tips on successful patterns would very much appreciate any tips or patterns to include to take with me. Thanks all appreciate your input…

    Santa Rosa CA

  4. bonefishbjorn

    I enjoy tying very much… but I also don’t want to put all that time into flies that will get mucked up at the first cast. I’m looking for a new balance.

  5. I tie one shrimp pattern that sort of relies on the rubber legs for its shape and action. That fly does sometimes get fowled up. On my other flies, if I reel in and see that the rubber legs are fowling too much, I clip the off. I do think that the legs can be part of the enticement, especially when the fly is fairly motionless and the legs are wiggling in the current. But I also tie a lot of flies with no legs, and many with no eyes, snapping shrimp style, and they work great and don’t get caught in the turtle grass as much.

  6. After a trip to Andros a couple of months ago, I came back home and bought a huge aquarium for testing flies. Why? I determined to my dismay on my trip that my bead-chain eyed flies do not work as advertised. While you are concerned about fouling rubber legs, I came back concerned about whether the hook point rides up.

    Every fly-tying book ever written says if you put bead chain eyes on the opposite side of the hook shank from the bend, the hook point will ride up. This is just plain wrong. Use a #4 TMC 811S and tie on small or medium bead chain eyes. The fly will lie on its side, not hook up. Every time. Will it still catch fish? You bet! Put lead eyes on and it will now ride hook point up but will make too much noise on the skinny Jolters flats.

    So you are worrying about rubber legs, I am worrying about the minimum amount of weight required to make each hook size ride hook point up. Research is in progress.

    Finally, I concur with Bill Horn. All this fussing about flies and 90% are still taken on a Gotcha.

  7. Actually about the worst fly for fouling for me (bonefish fly) has been the Gotcha with a long wing, especially with that crappy new “Extra-Select” Craft Fur. It’s so soft that it just wraps around everything.

    See, here we have almost all turtle grass flats, and just using wing materials as a weed guard plain don’t work. So, ALL my bonefish flies have weedguards.* Why? It’s easier to remove one than to add it. I’ve never had a situation where I was like, “Dang weedguard!” and then cut it off. But, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve said, “Dang weeds… [mumble mumble], wish I had a weedguard on here.”

    So, I almost never fish Gotchas here, although they work really well. If I do, it’s with a really short wing.

    As for keeping other materials from fouling, I have modified certain things. For example, keeping rubber legs from fouling was one of the reasons I came up with The Usual fly ( (a blatant rip-off of Vaverka’s Mantis Shrimp). I flipped it to ride hook-point down and tied the rubber legs of the top of the hook, not the sides. Almost never fouls now.

    Crabs are similar. I tie almost all the legs in Kung-Fu Crab style ( It’s a win-win; the legs are easier and faster to tie on and it doesn’t foul as much.

    Now, I know @Tim Patrick is thinking, “But hang on, those flies will ride sideways with really light bead-chain eyes.” Weeelll… morel like they’ll ride inverted, so I only fish them with small or mini lead eyes. A simple modification of the cast gets them to land quiet enough to prevent spooking fish.

    Finally, I’ve minimized most of the materials I add. So, instead of 6 legs I’ll add 4 or even 2. My most productive crab fly has 2 splayed rubber legs tied in at the bend of the hook. That’s all. It’s basically a puff of yarn, 2 rubber legs, small bead-chain, and a weedguard. Done.
    * Ok, not ALL, if I’m fishing the sandy flats of Andros, there’s no point, but I’m hardly ever doing that… at least, not as much as I’d like.

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