Sunday Classic / Organizing Your Bonefish Fly Box Makes For A Better Day Of Fishing

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Photo by louis Cahill

Photo by louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Option paralysis eats up valuable fishing time.

I’ve found myself, more than once, staring into my fly box as if I’d wandered to the refrigerator in the middle of the night, with no idea why I was there. That’s fine, unless you’re surrounded by feeding bonefish and your guide is wailing in tongues. Even if your not under pressure to make a quick fly choice, having your flies organized in a logical fashion will help you choose the right fly for the conditions and that means catching more fish. Here are some tips on how I organize my bonefish box and how I use that organization to make better fly choices.

Keep It Simple

Bonefishing is not generally a match-the-hatch situation. Bonefish are highly opportunistic and presentation usually trumps pattern. I know guys that carry a thousand flies on the flats boat. They might fish three of them in a day. I keep it to one box. I probably cram a hundred flies into it but that one box has everything I need.

Making Smart Choices

When paring down your fly selection it’s important to understand what characteristics of those flies are important to the fish. It really all comes down to four choices.


For bonefish this is the most crucial choice. Having the fly near the bottom gives it the look and feel of the bonefish’s natural food. If the fly is too high in the water column it will likely be refused. If you see a bonefish rise up in the water column when he comes for your fly, then turn away, your fly is too light. Light flies are great for shallow water and soft presentations, so it’s not a case of heavier is always better. Whether you are fishing deep water or shallow, your fly should be heavy enough to drop quickly to the bottom when you pause your retrieve, giving the appearance of a shrimp or crab ducking for cover.
Tone, Light vs Dark

Forage species change their tone to match their environment. If you are fishing white sand flats the available food will be light in tone. If you are fishing dark turtle grass these same species will be darker. The tone of your fly is the second most important choice.
Color, Bright vs Natural

Like any fish, bonefish respond to color. How they respond will depend a great deal on their mood. When fish are happy they are aggressive, often competing voraciously for food. In this case bright colored flies can be very effective. When fish are spooky bright colors can be a turnoff. Choose more natural colored flies when the water is still and skinny.

Much like color, bonefish response to size is often based on mood. Although I like the idea of matching the size of available food, my experience is that it’s not crucial and bigger is often better. I carry small flies, #6-8, for days when fish are very spooky and I find them effective under those circumstances. My go-to size is #4.

Organizing The Box

My fly box is organized based on these four choices and their relative importance. The first level of organization is by weight. Light flies with bead chain eyes go on the left. Heavy flies with lead eyes go on the right. I make my first choice based on water depth. If I’m fishing shallow water I look to the left side of the box. Deep water, I look to the right.

The next choice is tone. Lighter flies go on the top rows and the darker flies go below. The rows start with more natural colors and end with the brighter ones. Smaller flies are the last of their subsets. In addition I usually throw in a few baitfish and crab patters in case I feel like targeting another species like permit, cudda or snapper. Maybe I just want to through a big fly into a blue hole and see what comes out. A couple of patterns are plenty.

Having a little organization and a logical workflow built into the fly selection process makes me more efficient. It helps me make good choices and make them faster. At the end of the day, it’s easy for me to see what flies need to be tied for the next day. I’m convinced that it makes me a more effective angler, but if it doesn’t help me catch more fish, at least it makes me feel like I have my shit together. That alone is worth a lot. When I choose a fly, I fish it with confidence.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Organizing Your Bonefish Fly Box Makes For A Better Day Of Fishing

  1. The only difference in my box is weedless. I fished many areas thruout the Caribbean where you need a weedless hook because the grass or small mangrove shoots will sometimes gobble up even the smallest of hooks. It happened in east Roatan where a guide I was with asked me if I had any weedless and I think I had one or two. Fortunately he always came prepared and had the right stuff. So after that I always carried a good selection in the box.I always also carry some very small crab patterns because they often work when nothing else does. Other then that I really liked your go simple approach.

  2. Hi, Louis– Would you please address this area in light of trout fishing? I spend a lot of time, as you, staring at my C & F fly boxes, wondering what I should tie on and if I do select that certain fly, if it will be a “eat” or a bust. Thanks.

  3. Alas, I’ve the instinct to limit the fly count but not the willpower.

    Different destinations use different flies, different guides have their preferences, etc. So I take 3 of everything, in two boxes. One box has mantis-shrimp-like patterns on one side, the classic bonefish flies on the other, all beadchain eyes. The other box has one side of more heavily weighted flies, lead eyes etc, all patterns. The second side are light flies, small flies, and weird flies (worms, etc.).

    Both boxes fit nicely in my sling pack and I know which box to grab for what fly I want.

    And I’ve got a small third box in my gear at the lodge, tarpon flies one side, permit crab patterns on the other. Just in case…

    This approach lets me tie a lot of flies, nearly as much fun as using them. And I’ve had guides pull a fly out that I’d never have picked on my own … which then went on to catch lots of bonefish.

    On tarpon, yes. I carry just two patterns, two sizes, one box. So Lou, I’m half-way there.

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