8 Tips for Fighting Bonefish Out Of Mangroves

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

When you hook a big bonefish in the mangroves, you only get one shot at landing him.

Half the reason we target bonefish is that they are such powerful fighters. A relatively modest bone can put you in your backing several times during a fight. That’s reason enough to love them, but when you’re faced with big tides and the big fish they bring to the flats, you can get in trouble in a hurry. When you hook that big fish on the edge of the mangroves, you’d better know what to do.

I’ve seen a lot of anglers miss their chance in this scenario, either breaking fish off immediately or losing them in the mangroves. Bonefish are too powerful to simply beat in a game of force. You have to fight them hard to be sure, but you also have to fight smart. There is a window of opportunity and if you exploit it you can land those tough fish that might seem hopeless.

Here are 8 tips for fighting bonefish out of mangroves.

Lead the fish to open water

Often when fishing around mangroves you are presenting the fly into openings in the structure. Places where you can intercept a fish who is working among the roots of the brush. Your best chance at landing a fish in this situation is to lead him out of cover. If the fish moves aggressively on your fly, you can strip it quickly enough to lead him into the open before he eats. This is a huge advantage.

Have a plan and act fast

Once the fish eats your fly, your window of opportunity opens and it isn’t open for long. It takes a second for any fish to figure out that he’s hooked. After all, he’s expecting a meal, not a fight. You can use that split second to set the tone of the argument, and there are two things you need to accomplish quickly.

Raise the head

You need to raise the fish’s head. This is key. If the fish gets in a ‘tail up’ orientation, you’re done. He’s rigged for towing and you will not beat him. Remember, fish have no reverse and if you can raise his head, even a bit, when he starts to kick that tail, he’s working for you. When you have him hooked solidly, raise your rod high and hard.

Lead the fish

Next you need to lead the fish away from cover. Our instinct as anglers is always to pull against a fish but in this case you need to do the exact opposite. The fish has followed your fly out of the mangroves, so he’s already moving the direction you want. You’ve lifted his head, now swing that rod in the direction he’s facing and you should be off to the races. The fish will almost always panic and swim away from the safety of the mangroves. There will be some argument about it, so be prepared to use some serious force right from the start.

Ease up when the fish behaves

Once the fish runs toward open water, let him. Back off on the pressure and let him run until he puts you on the reel, then follow him into open water to land him.

Use the heaviest tippet you can get away with

I will often fish 20 pound fluorocarbon tippet around mangroves and never less than 15 pound. The fluorocarbon is abrasion resistant and makes a big difference if the leader gets around a root.

Be stubborn

If the fish does get your leader around a root, crank the screws down. Don’t let him get you around a second. If you can hold him at the edge, he may still come out. You have to really know how much pressure you can put on the fish in this situation, and most anglers don’t. Try tying your leader to a spring scale and measuring the actual pressure you’re applying. I promise it will change the way you fight fish.

Know when you’re beaten

Once a bonefish starts to thread you through the mangroves, you’re not going to pull him back out. That doesn’t mean the fight is over. Loosen your drag all the way and let the fish run. He will eventually wrap the leader around a root so tightly that he can’t move his head to break it. You can wade into the mangroves and land him. Just clip off your fly and reel your line back up.

Fishing around mangroves is fun. It’s a thinking game and if you are on your toes you can land some really nice fish. Try these tips next time you find yourself deep in the bush. I think you’ll like the results.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “8 Tips for Fighting Bonefish Out Of Mangroves

  1. Good points here! I will say that on the topic of leading the fish out of the mangroves, I’ve been told by two seperate guides to pull the rod to the side opposite from where you want it to run….I actually had a chance to do this a couple of times on my last trip in November and it seems to work well….the theory being that the fish runs away from the point of maximum pressure.

    • A good point but thats not what I’m talking about here. I’m taking advantage of the fish’s moment of confusion to pull him where I want him. He’s not running at all but being lead. Make sense?

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