By Louis Cahill
If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget the first bonefish I caught on my own.
I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to wade a flat and feel like I knew where the fish would be and when. To have all the skills I needed to hook and land the fish once I found them. It came together so perfectly, it didn’t seem real. Of course I was very fortunate.
Very fortunate to have good friends who are rock star flats guides. Fortunate to have friends who owned bonefish lodges. It’s ridiculous the situation I stumbled into. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly stumble into it. I made myself useful, but there was still more good fortune involved than I deserve.
Of course, that’s not an option for everyone. I know there are a lot of folks out there who would like to get into the bonefish game and find it pretty damn daunting. That’s why I write so much bonefish content and teach my bonefish schools, to try and give back some of what I’ve been so generously given.
A reader wrote to me about how challenging his first DIY bonefish trip was. It got me thinking. I’ve written a lot of specifics about bonefishing, but I’ve never addressed the long view. The road to becoming a successful DIY bonefish angler. So I thought I’d try.
Some ideas and suggestions on learning to catch bonefish
There are some things about this game you are just going to have to accept. First on that list is that DIY bonefishing will always be a compromise. Unless you are willing to scrap your life and move somewhere there are bonefish, buy a boat and quit your job, there will always be fishing that is unavailable to you. That shouldn’t be a big deal. There is still plenty of great fishing you can do. You may face more educated fish and you may not catch a lot of 10+ pounders but you can catch bonefish on your own and have a great time doing it.
You are also going to have to accept that it’s damned hard and you’re going to suck for a while. You can’t pick up the violin and start playing Beethoven. Don’t get discouraged. If you are dead set on learning on your own, without hiring a guide or going to a lodge, it is going to be a slow and painful process. Don’t beat yourself up. If you can’t find bonefish, catch some snapper or ladyfish and call it a win. Enjoy walking the flats and learning about what lives there.
You will also have to accept that it’s an expensive proposition. Even if you don’t hire a guide, for most of us bonefishing involves travel. The gear is not cheap. Seriously, I have nothing to sell you, but the fact is that cheap rods, reels, lines and clothing are a mistake. You are taking your gear and yourself into the harshest fishing environment possible. Guides will rust and break, drags will lock up, lines will separate, and best of all, you’ll fry your brain or get skin cancer if you go out with the wrong gear. Shop smart, buy second hand, whatever it takes, but quality gear pays for itself.
Soak up everything you can before you go. You are already at one of the best places on the web to learn bonefishing. I’ll provide some links to suggested reading below, but just Google (Gink Bonefish). There’s a weeks worth of reading and videos right there. I enthusiastically recommend Rod Hamilton’s book, DIY Bonefishing. It’s a great resource for learning to catch bonefish as well as planning a successful trip, including detailed info on productive flats. It’s a must read.
You can’t learn it all by reading. You can get the info but until you get out on the flats it’s all academic. You need to fish. I know there are a lot of you who are dead set against hiring a guide but you’re only hurting yourself. Fishing with a guide is the absolute fastest way to learn. In the end, you’ll spend way more on fishless DIY trips than you’ll spend on a couple of good days with a guide. Save up.
One of the best students I ever had quit smoking and saved his cigarette money to attend my bonefish school. He read everything I ever wrote before he came and he practiced. At the end of the week, he was legit.
Practice your casting
This is not trout fishing. You have to be a really good caster to catch fish in the salt. You need to be accurate. You need to be able to cast in the wind and turn over a twelve foot leader. You need to have a strong double haul and be able to shoot line effectively. The only way to do that is to practice. Make a schedule and stick to it. I’ll include some links to help with your practice below.
Learn about weather and tides
These are the two factors that may decide, above all else, whether or not you catch fish. Weather you can’t control, you just have to know how to react to it. Tides are a different story. Before you plan a trip you need to know the timing and the size of the tides. You also need to know how they effect the fishing where you are going. Some locations only fish on low tides, while others will have good fishing on higher tides. Know before you go.
Practice on other species
If you can’t go bonefishing often, practice the skills on other fish. Throwing streamers is a great way to develop a strong casting stroke. Carp fishing is a great way to work on accuracy. Try to put yourself in fishing situations that will help you develop and practice skills.
This is a marathon not a sprint. If you can only take one or two bonefish trips a year, it is going to take years to get really good. That doesn’t mean you will not catch plenty of bonefish. If you do things right, you’ll catch fish right from the start and you’ll have the time of your life doing it, but bonefishing is the kind of thing you can spend your whole life perfecting. Like any other kind of fishing, I guess. For me much of the reward is in fishing better than I did on my last trip. It’s about catching the fish I’d have missed before. That’s what’s fun.
Bonefishing is amazing. It’s the most fun kind of fly fishing I know and it happens in some pretty amazing places and around some pretty interesting folks. It’s just the right mixture of adventure, challenge and immediate gratification to keep it always fresh and new and just plain fun.
There’s no better way to learn than to attend THE G&G BONEFISH SCHOOL!
Shoot me an email at email@example.com to reserve your spot.