The Beginner’s Advice on Casting for Bonefish

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John’s Method Works! Photos by Louis Cahill

John Byron, The Bonefish Beginner

Just finished three week in the Bahamas chasing big bonefish with Louis Cahill, proprietor of this blog. 

Great trip, hampered only by my inability to cast well to good shots. I got slightly better, learned a few things, but frustrated myself far too often to enjoy the shots I missed. I also paid close attention to my boat mates, most of them also beginners or at least casual bonefishers. 

The problem we all seemed to share? Buck fever. Stage fright. Cranial-anal inversion on the bow of the flats boat. We knew what to do. We steadfastly refused do it. 

I’ve no cure. But there’s an approach that helps me and so I pass it along to anyone else who’s blown a close shot downwind at a tailing bonefish waving a sign that says ‘feed me’ and you can’t get the fly into the same zip code. 

In the Notes app on my iPhone I have a list of do-this-dummy guidelines I read every morning before I go out. And then try to remember and use on the water. As follows… 

“Fish coming, twelve o’clock, sixty feet going left”

  • Take your time
  • Don’t rush it
  • Curb your enthusiasm
  • Relax a bit and take charge of the situation

Control the cast

  • Slow! Smooth! Deliberate!
  • Let the fish get closer before you cast
  • Load the rod
  • Snap your wrist
  • Use the wind
  • Double haul
  • Line speed Line speed Line speed
  • One less false cast
  • Important! Keep your rhythm — do not over-drive the final cast to the fish

Control the fly

  • Rod tip in the water pointing down the line
  • No slack! No slack in the line!
  • Make damned sure you’re moving the fly when you strip
  • Watch the fish
  • Strip set Strip set Strip set

Fish On!

  • Light drag
  • Job One: clear  the line
  • Let the fish run
  • Don’t screw with the drag, don’t palm the reel
  • Into the mangroves? Slack line and wander through the trees to the fish
  • Shark? ‘Cuda? Slack line, let the fish escape by running free
  • Don’t high-stick the rod close to the boat or you’ll bust it
  • No gloves/wet hands/fish stays in the water/smile/relax/enjoy 

Next time you’re on the bow or wading the flat, don’t just remember the list. Do it.

John Byron

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

Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Advice on Casting for Bonefish

  1. Been through the same self-contained insanity the first time I saltwater flyfished but it was for snook.
    All my freshwater instincts kicked in.
    From my guide, Michael:
    Cast 40 feet 9 o’clock .
    Two false casts.
    Lay the line down gently.
    Strip out the slack, you shot the line too early.
    Strip, Strip, Strip, tick, tick, tick,
    Strip set!!!! Help the tip in the water, don’t trout strike!!.
    Let’s try again.
    The second time, I fed all that info into my brain housing and caught my first snook.
    Big difference from trout and salmon fishing.
    Now, with some experience, I catch fish.

  2. Great article. Reading Chico Fernandez Fly Fishing for Bonefish book now and he hits on many of the points above! Appreciate the quick reference format you pulled together here! Thanks John!

  3. I’m an old bloke who has been fishing in the salt for 70 years, been fly fishing for 56 years, game fished for 18 years in the 70s, 80s & 90s and who is still learning. One thing I tell any fly fishing beginner in the salt is “do not loose contact with the line with your hauling/striping hand, as you must have control of it as soon as the fly hits the water”. I’ve seen too many fish lost in that first second. The other thing I do is get in two hours practice a week and do it in the wind as much as possible.

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