SUNDAY CLASSIC / Bonefish The Hard Way, Deep In The Mangroves

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

When you are planning a DIY bonefish trip, it’s important to check the tides.

If you are wading or using kayaks to navigate the flats your mobility may be limited and timing the tides becomes crucial. Bonefish will be most accessible on low tides. Late in a falling tide when they are forced out of the mangroves to early rising tide when they work the edges. It’s important that these tides fall during the time of day when the light is good for catching fish.

That said, I did the exact opposite on a recent trip to Cat Island, Bahamas. It was a vacation, not a fishing trip. The distinction is important to my wife. It means I don’t fish all day, every day. You can read my recommendations on how to make that work, (HERE). On this particular week, low tide came very early in the morning and after dark. Most mornings were compromised by rain. It was a tough set up, but I was determined to catch some bonefish, so I tried something crazy. And it worked!

At high tide the bonefish were feeding deep in the mangroves. In some spots, a hundred yards or more from the edge of the flats. So, I went in after them. It wasn’t long before I was catching bonefish and learning a lot about this new way of fishing. It’s not ideal. In fact it’s damned hard to do, but surprisingly fun.

Here’s what I learned.

Stay in the mangroves

When you’re hip deep in mangroves those big open areas that occur in the groves look inviting. Don’t get lured in. The bottom is usually soft and you’ll be waist deep in mud before you know it. Stay on the firm soil where the mangroves grow. Look for the sandy places to wade.

It’s all about line control

Nothing else matters if your line is so woven in the mangroves that you can’t cast. Take forty feet or so off your reel and fold it carefully into loops that you can manage. Hold the loops high to keep them free. Keep a short leash. Five feet of fly line plus your leader out of the tip top. When you get a shot, it will be short. Don’t struggle with more line than you need.

Pick your shots

Strategy becomes really important. Don’t rush. When bonefish are hunting in the mangroves they work at a slower pace. They poke around and meander. Wait until you get a shot you can make. Look for openings in the brush where you can drop the fly. Try to land it when the fish is a couple of feet away. Even if he isn’t looking the sound will get his attention. It’s less about what’s ideal and more about what will work.

Don’t be afraid to cast over brush

You will not be making long retrieves. Bonefish working the mangroves will strike decisively. Inevitably, you will take shots where your fly line lays over the mangroves and your fly drops in a clear piece of water. Just be sure you have 3 or 4 feet of open water to move the fly. Don’t worry about what will happen when the fish eats you fly. You’re already screwed there.

Pick your battles

Landing a powerful bonefish in heavy mangroves seems impossible. It’s actually far more doable than you think. You just have to be open minded about the battle. Your instinct may be to over power the fish. That’s not going to happen. You have to fight smarter, not harder. Loosen your drag way up. When you set the hook the fish is going to head for the nearest cover, which in this case is inches away in every direction.

Let him go. The most important thing is that you have managed your stripping line and it is not tangled in the brush. Keep just enough pressure on the fish to keep him hooked as he weaves your line through mangroves into a hopeless mess. He will eventually tie himself up. Drop your fly rod, (Like I said, keep an open mind) and chase him, following the line until you find and land your fish. Once he has been released, cut off your fly, find your rod and reel the line back through the roots and retie. You will be amazed how well this whole thing works.

Admittedly, this is a crazy way to catch bonefish and I’d have never tried it if I wasn’t desparate for a fish. The thing is, it was really fun. Exhausting, but fun. It’s a whole different kind of hunt and a different set of challenges. That’s what I like about fly fishing. Overcoming the challenges. So, if bonefishing ever feels like its getting too easy, give this a try! You’ll feel challenged, I promise.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “SUNDAY CLASSIC / Bonefish The Hard Way, Deep In The Mangroves

  1. Sometimes you just get lucky. Once a permit went side to side in a mangrove patch enough to rub/fray 30 feet of my fly line, yet didn’t break off. Another time a mid-size tarpon shot straight away about 40 feet up a 10 foot wide cut in solid mangroves, turned around and came roaring back out into open water. Luck is good to have on your side.

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