Better Casting for Bonefish

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By John Byron, The Bonefish Beginner 

Tons of great advice out there on how to cast a fly rod. Tons more on how to catch bonefish. 

These two streams of good information come together in the universal charge you read over and over again: hey dummy, practice your casting! 

These days, travel dead, lodges closed, bonefishing a hope for the future, practicing is good therapy and a great opportunity to be a lot more ready when things do open up again. 

Yes it’s true, sometimes you need all the range you can get, heroic throws to the edge of your best abilities. Sometimes too it’s not a cast at all, just a quick flick to put the fly 15 feet from the boat where a fish snuck up on you. 

But what should be the goal of your casting practice to tune you best for the majority of shots? 

I say it’s fifty feet. An honest fifty feet from the reel to the fly where it lands on the water. 

Mark your flyline with a Sharpie at fifty feet, leader included, and leave the rest of the line on the reel when you’re practicing. Hone your casting and aim your practicing to reliably cast fifty feet — all conditions, all directions, all winds. Get good at fifty feet and you’ll catch more bonefish. 

Yes, there are guides who’ll say you’ve gotta be good at everything. The answer is … give me as much time on the water as you get and I will be. 

The rest of us? Let’s work on what gives us the best shot without all those years’ experience. That’s skill at fifty feet.

If you keep the practice range to fifty feet and ease off the long throws, you’ll gain the abilities you need most of your time on the water. Tighten the loops, land the fly softer, end the wind knots, get really comfortable with your gear. 

Probably better at the occasional long shot too. And less prone to attacks of bonefish fever … hey, you’ve done this many many times in practice. Relax. Just do it again. 

Fifty feet.

Earlier this year Frank Catino, a great guide of long standing (Orvis once marketed Catino Bonefish and Tarpon Reels), Frank said something to me that made a ton of good sense as we fished out of South Caicos: 

 

“You only need to cast about fifty feet most of the time. If the fish are farther out, wait till they come to you.” 

I tried it, it worked, maybe a couple longer shots and I took them, but the bulk of everything we did was fifty feet or less. 

Fifty feet, all directions, all winds. 

Master the fifty-foot cast. Practice it until you own that range. You’ll catch more bonefish and be a lot more comfortable doing it. 

John Byron

John Byron lives in Cocoa Beach FL. He’s been fly fishing since he was ten. 

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4 thoughts on “Better Casting for Bonefish

  1. The farther away you can show the bonefish your fly the better because the bonefish is less likely to be nervous about you being there. Bonefish get nervous when they sense something else in the vicinity and the closer it gets the more nervous the bonefish gets, until it decides to go elsewhere. The more nervous the bonefish is, the less likely it is to eat.

    That said, accuracy is way more important than distance. A person might be able to throw a 90 foot cast but he or she has a better chance of landing the fly on target at 50, 60 feet or even 70 feet. That’s one of the fun aspects of bonefishing – deciding to wait until the fish gets closer and risk it spooking or changing direction – or going for the hail mary.

    But when it comes to practicing, practice with the goal of putting the fly on target with your first cast. It’s fine to put a hula hoop out there and make 5 casts at it and put the third and fifth cast inside the hoop. But bonefish don’t like a lot of commotion near them and often won’t give you three tries to get the fly in front of them. More effective casting practice is to put out several targets at varying distances and try to put your first cast on target, going for a different target each cast.

  2. One minor addition. The money cast for bonefish requires a soft landing of the fly and fly line. The article asks for a tight loop. Yes, a tight loop is great but when creating a soft landing for your fly I open my loop which slows the line speed lands much more softly on the water. When wading, especially in really shallow water, I cast about 20 degrees away from the fish and where I want the fly to land until I get my distance. The final cast is a redirect to where I want the fly to land and opening of the loop which allows for a cotton ball like landing when done correctly. Typically, when fishing off of a boat the water is deeper, 2′-4′, and that lends itself to a more forgiving scenario than say 6-9″ deep water .

    • True but here’s a little tip. If your cast is a little noisy or off target, don’t immediately snatch it up to recast. Watch the fish. Bonefish, like many fish, often flinch at a noisy cast or a cast that lands behind them or too close. But once they look around and decide there is no imminent threat, they’ll come back to investigate what made that noise. Give your fly a tiny twitch or a slow strip so the fish sees the movement and then watch the fish. More often than not it will come over to try to eat. If it turns away, then pick your fly up and recast. Seen it happen everywhere.

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