Bones on a Budget. Part 2
This post is continued from last week's post.
To see the first half of the article, click here:
3. Bring the Right Flies
The good news is that the bonefish in the Bahamas don’t seem to be nearly as picky about flies compared to a bonefish that makes his residence in Islamorada, Florida. That being said, it’s still crucial to have a good selection of flies with you on your trip.
Basic Bonefish flies like Gotchas and Crazy Charlies work very well. Besides your standard shrimp patterns; spawning shrimp patterns, mantis shrimp patterns and small crab patterns also work great.
Do some internet searches for your particular island and see what patterns are recommended.
Take a look at the local Bonefish Lodge websites and see what they recommend. Tie a handful of different patterns, but more importantly, make sure you have each pattern in multiple colors and weights.
For example, I usually bring several Gotcha flies tied in a tan/pearl color and also in darker colors like brown/copper.
Shrimp on the flats match the color of their habitat, so you always try to match the fly color to the bottom. You will usually be fishing light colored flies on the sand flats and darker flies on the mangrove flats and backwater areas.
Of each of those colors, I will tie most on a size #4 hook, with a few on size #2 and size #6 hooks. I will also vary the weight by having some tied in small bead chain, medium bead chain and small or medium lead eyes.
Sink rate is very important.
A bonefish in 3 feet of water will likely pass by before a very lightly weighted fly makes it down into his field of view.
Conversely, a bonefish tailing in 6” of water will not be very pleased if you plop down a heavy fly right in front of him.
This summer, I switched out all of my bead chain and lead eyes for the new Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tails in all 3 sizes and they worked great on the Bahamian Bones.
4. See the Fish, Feed the Fish
As I waded a beach on the south side of Grand Bahama this summer, I was thinking about how easy it was to walk right past fish if you lost focus.
Bonefish are tough to see. Not the ones waving their chrome tails on a mud flat, but the ones pushing along the sand flats or cruising along the edge of the beach.
When you hold a bonefish in your hand, it’s like every single scale is a perfect mirror. With that mirror finish, they become the David Copperfield of the flats as they reflect their surroundings and disappear right into the background.
The first time I walked a bonefish flat, it took me 45 minutes to see my first fish. After that, I saw a fish every 5 minutes or so. I’m pretty sure I passed several bones in that first 45 minutes before I saw the first one.
Once you see what you are looking for, it’s easier to pick them out. Sometimes it’s like looking for a bonefish shaped silhouette that is barely a half shade darker than the bottom they are swimming over. Add that in with a little surface chop or glare and you’ll quickly realize why they have earned the name “The Grey Ghost”.
A quality pair of polarized sunglasses will make it or break it for you when you are trying to locate fish. Those glasses are there to help cut through the surface glare and hopefully add some contrast between the fish and the bottom. That being said, you still have to train your eyes to look for them.
Walking that flat this summer, I realized how easy it is to look at the water, not into the water.
Our eyes seem to want to focus on the ripples and the glare along the surface. Try to force yourself to focus past the surface and into the water column. Once you do this, you should start to have better luck spotting fish.
Expect to not only see fish working in a foot or two of water, but also expect to see them right along the water’s edge inches from dry sand. There have been times when I have had to walk high along the beach and lay most of my cast along the dry sand with just the leader in the water, so as to not spook the fish pushing along the water’s edge.
Expect to see bones traveling in singles, and in groups, anywhere from pairs of fish on up to large schools.
As a redfish guide, it took me a little time and some help from a Bahamian guide before I learned how to adjust my presentation to one that was pleasing to a bonefish.
When you cast to a fish, try to place your fly 5ft or more short of him, off to his side.
A lot of my redfish casts have me casting a few feet in front of the fish and stripping it when he gets within range. A guide explained to me that if you cast in front of the fish, he can see your leader in the clear water as he approaches. If you cast short of him and he turns and comes towards the fly, he will see the fly first and not the leader. I heeded his advice and it made a difference for me.
You also strip your fly a lot less for bonefish than I am used to with redfish. Think of stripping the fly as a way to get the bonefish’s attention, not as a way to induce a strike.
If you make a cast and the fish doesn’t notice it (he’ll usually bolt or approach it as it’s sinking), then give it a small strip or two to get his attention. When he turns and comes to it, stop stripping. A lot of times he will tip up and eat it while it’s sitting still. If he seems to be losing interest, strip it again to convince him that he wants to eat your fly and then wait for him to take it.
Hopefully he’ll eat for you, and if you don’t panic and trout set, you'll be a few seconds away from seeing your backing roll out through the guides.
5. Go with a Guide
Why would I spend all this time talking about DIY bone fishing and then recommend fishing with a guide as the final tip?
Because it’s worth it and it will pay off in dividends.
If you can pony up the cash to spend one day on the water with a guide, not only will you see places and fish you won’t see on foot, but you will also learn a lot about bonefish.
A day with a guide will teach you where to look for bonefish, how to see them, proper fly placement and how to feed and land them properly.
I believe a day on a guide’s skiff or wading with a guide will teach you as much as a week of fishing on your own.
If you can line up that guide on the first day of your trip, then you will be a week ahead of the learning curve when you start looking for bones on your own during the rest of your trip.
I have spent a few days on a boat with the guides at East End Lodge on Grand Bahama Island, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for the knowledge they have imparted on me.
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