8 Tips For Catching Bonefish in The Worst Conditions

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

“There ain’t no fun without the sun.”

If you’ve done any bonefishing at all, you’ve probably heard that expression.

Short of a full on tropical storm, there’s nothing worse than a dark windy day for bonefishing. It makes finding fish nearly impossible. Cloudy days turn the surface of the water into impenetrable glare, and wind makes it impossible to see pushes and nervous water. It’s a wicked combination.

DSCF9327On a recent trip to Abaco Lodge we had a couple of days just like that. The last day of our trip there was no sun and 30 MPH wind. Sounds bad, huh? Well, here’s the thing. While most anglers stayed back at the lodge, my buddy Scott and I were into double digits by lunch. Thanks to some great guiding by Captain Freddy Dames (formerly of Andros South) and some attention to the basics, we had great fishing in spite of the weather. We even got to hear some of Freddy’s famous singing.

Here are 8 tips to put you on bonefish when conditions are at their worst.

Focus on your short game

DSCF9248Most of the fish you find will be very close to the boat when you see them. Maybe no more than a leader length away. Your success depends on being able to deliver a short, accurate cast in a hurry. Two things that will help are a good ready position and casting stroke.

Be sure you have 7-9 feet of fly line outside your rod tip. This will allow you to load the rod and make a cast with no false casting. Have your fly in hand and ready to deliver. Remember that for a short cast you need a short stroke. Give it plenty of gas, but keep that stroke short, the rod tip should only move a couple of feet. You’re casting with just the tip of the rod. See more HERE.

Adjust your retrieve 

When you make a really short shot, your retrieve has to change. If you strip away, you’ll likely run out of line before the fish eats. Use short, twitchy strips to tease the fish in.

Find shelter from the wind

We all struggle with casting in the wind. Once foamy white ribbons start to form on the water (18 MPH) it’s a real challenge. Don’t fight it if you don’t have to. Try to find flats on the leeward side of high ground or even tall mangroves. Spots like these give you a respite from the wind and improve your visibility greatly. The calm water in the lee will show pushing water and even the occasional tail.

Look for feed marks

When visibility is poor, it’s tough to even know if you’re on the right flat. Check the bottom for feed marks. These dark gray spots on the bottom are made when bonefish bury their heads in the sand chasing crabs. The darker the feed marks, the fresher they are, and their number tells you how many fish have been feeding. If the water is at all milky, fish are very close.

Use dark reflections

Reflections on the water of dark mangroves, trees or high banks create windows where you can see through the glare. Fortunately bonefish like to work edges and these are usually good places to find fish.

Fish mangroves on a falling tide

DSCF9202Bonefish love to feed among the roots of the mangroves on high tide. In some places they may venture over a hundred yards into mangrove fields but when the water falls, they have to come out. They use the tiny channels which drain the water as highways to come and go. Find these channels and ease the bow of the boat in. Scan the mangroves for fish on the move and look for a spot to intercept them with your fly.

Stay on your toes

This kind of fishing requires sharp eyes and fast reflexes. There’s no time for napping. You may see the fish before the guide, don’t wait for permission to cast. If you find your focus fading, let your buddy have the bow. On days like these, opportunities are precious. Stay alert.

Be extra quiet

You should always be quiet when bonefishing, but especially on days when conditions are tough. Success depends on sneaking up on fish. Bonefish have good ears and at close range they can hear your foot shifting on the deck. Whether you’re fishing or waiting your turn, stay quiet.

Don’t get so focused on bad weather that you miss the chance to catch some bonefish. Focus on the basics and set yourself up for success. The flats may be better to you than you expect. 

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “8 Tips For Catching Bonefish in The Worst Conditions

  1. Tip 9: In the deeper flats, look for areas of cloudy water where the bones are muddying it up as they feed. Position yourself upwind, cast downwind (roll cast if you have to), and give your fly time to sink, give it a few strips, and hold on…

  2. ditto on the short cast… like someone told me before, “use your rod like you’re flipping a hotdog off a fork.”

    Would never put a good frank to waste, but I get it.

  3. Great tips. When you fish as much as I do, there are plenty of “not perfect” days and I’m just not interested in sitting back at the lodge or house. So, you learn…..on those dark days, I will head to very shallow water where I know I can see movement. Mangroves cut down the wind a ton so you can still see fins, tails and subtle disturbances. And I turn my attention to the surface not try to see through the water. My buddy and I had one of our very best days ever on Great Inagua in the middle of a tropical rain storm…We just stuck to shallow water, deep in the mangroves executing 20 foot casts.

  4. I have never actually heard of a bonefish before, where did they get their name? It’s crazy how many different sorts of fish there are, and they all have their own unique thing about them. When trying to catch fish, it is smart to make sure that you are alert and always watching. Taking your eyes away for even a second could make you miss a fish.

  5. Good tips and many apply to redfish in poor light conditions, windy days. Making short quick shots can be key. Do you have any suggestions for off the water practice for the short quick shot?

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