Bonefish Fly Lines: Beyond The Cast

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By Louis Cahill

Does having the right fly line mean catching more fish? Absolutely.

Having the right fly line for the species you’re targeting and the conditions you’re fishing is key for a successful day of fishing.  You can buy a line from almost any manufacturer bearing the name ‘Bonefish’ but that doesn’t mean it will be the best line for the day you are on the water. It may do a great job of loading your fast action saltwater fly rod, but not catch you a lot of fish.

When shopping for a fly line, we focus almost completely on how the line casts. Of course it’s important to have a good cast but often it’s too late when we stop to think about how the line we chose fishes, and there are some big differences. This, of course, applies to all types of fishing but is especially pertinent to bonefishing, so I’m using that as an example.

It’s very common these days to see anglers over-line their fly rods.

Putting a 9-weight line on an 8-weight rod absolutely makes it easier to load, but that ease of casting may come at a price. I fished recently with an angler who had paired his Sage One 8-weight with a 9-weight RIO Outbound Short. He liked it because it felt like his Winston trout rod. The only problem was, he couldn’t catch a fish.

There are three things wrong with this setup. First, the head diameter on that line is huge! It casts a huge shadow and makes a thunderous racket every time it lands on the water. It spooked every fish on the flat. Secondly, the short head meant that he had to strip the line in completely every time he recast. There’s no time for that in bonefishing. You need a line you can pick up and recast quickly. Lastly, by slowing the action of his rod down to that of a trout rod, my friend had lost all of the benefits of having a fast action rod.

I’ve seen this problem go the other way, too. I tarpon fished with a buddy a while back who had chosen a RIO Technical Tarpon line. A great line, with a long, fine taper belly, for calm days when fish are spooky. Not so great for fishing the ocean side in five foot swells and howling wind. He was frustrated and ended up fishing my rod.

Like everything in fly fishing, chasing the right line and rod setup boils down to experience. It’s smart to try out several setups before you buy and it’s crucial that you understand the fish you are pursuing and the conditions you’ll be fishing in. Base your choice on knowledge, not marketing.

Start by choosing a rod you can cast. If you find yourself going way out of the norm on line choose to make your rod cartable, it’s not the rod for you. I carry two rods. One technical setup for calm days and one that’s a wind tamer. If you are only carrying one rod, a general purpose, saltwater line is probably a better choice than a specialty line, unless you are dead certain what the conditions will be. In my opinion, you are best off avoiding shooting head style lines. These lines promise distance, but deliver less casting control. Casting distance comes from practice, not purchase.

I hope this helps you be a more effective angler. If you have a rod and line setup you love, or hate, please share it with us in the comments section.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “Bonefish Fly Lines: Beyond The Cast

  1. My bonefish rod is a TFO Impact 8 weight with a SA * wt Bonefish line. Great for short quick casts, but can also cut thru wind and for distance. Most of my fishing is wade fishing alone, so the short quick casts are critical. Great rod, great value.

  2. Sometimes I’ll go to one or another full sink lines for fishing in the wind, even though we’re targeting fish in less than couple feet of water. Doesn’t really matter if the line floats or sinks, and the skinnier line helps me punch through the wind.

  3. The discontinued Rio Tropical Clouser was (and RIO General Purpose Tropical Fly Line is) the best fly line for flats grand slam, imho. The newest Orvis salwater line has a good taper too.

  4. Recently went down for my first trip to the Florida Keys. The first day was calm and I caught my first bonefish ever. Orvis ignitor 10 wt on 10 wt recon punched into 25-30 mph headwinds well. I could castbthat setup 35 more ft than my h2 and bonefish taper 8 wt setup. I’m sure with no wind that would be a nice setup… but doesn’t seem very often calm winds in that area. Glad I had both.

  5. For my bonefish and tarpon rods, I really like Airflo’s Ridge Tropical Clear Tip floating fly line. The clear 12′ tip really helps with spooky Keys tarpon and bonefish.

  6. I tried the Wulff quick shooter while wading for bonefish a few years ago. I don’t know about the shadow but the splash down was way too aggressive. I think it would be less of a factor in water 3-4′ deep and off of a boat. Luckily, the line is fine for striped bass closer to home. I pretty much only use the Wullff Bermuda lines and find that the somewhat aggressive design can be quickly loaded and delivered gently enough in any reasonable situation while wading for bones.

  7. Astm standards for a 8 wt is 210 grains. Orvis and 3M bonefish line
    spot on. The Rio bonefish lines that I have weighed are 225 to 230 gr.
    You need to cast several brands to match a line to a rod and angler ability.
    . Bonefish lines come in two different head lengths,one long and one short. The short head lines work great in a boat and in windy
    conditions. Being a short head it is made to only carry 40-45 ft
    of line in the air.and shoot the rest. It is very hard to shoot line with
    it in the water. A std bonefish line is made to carry a lot of line in the air and shoot a small amount. You will be more accurate and
    won’t have the problem shooting line off the water. The longer finer
    taper lines lands with less impact.

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