Strategies For DIY Bonefishing

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Photos By Rod Hamilton

Photos By Rod Hamilton

By Rod Hamilton

I receive emails every day from anglers looking for advice on how to catch bonefish on those days when they are not with a guide.

The email usually goes something like this: “I do fine when I’m guided, but can’t seem to either find fish or get them to eat when I am on my own.”

“What am I doing wrong?”

DIY-6I’ve been bonefishing for twenty years and like most of us, spent the first five years fishing exclusively with guides. I thought I was getting pretty good and put my bonefish I.Q. at around 120. So, I tried it on my own, only to find out that it was actually my guide who was smart and my bonefish I.Q. was more like 35.

So game on, challenge accepted, and I have spent the last fifteen years learning everything I could about how to DIY for bonefish.

DIY-1There is a lot to learn to be successful on your own. After all, now you have to know where the fish are, how they react to tides, what they eat, see them before they see you and make a presentation that won’t send them into deep water. There is no boat to run you out three miles, instead a car, bicycle or kayak is your chariot to the flats.

Nothing replaces time on the water and most of the early lessons are going to result in fishless days, but let me see if I can ease the pain and help shorten the learning curve with some basic strategies for the DIY fisherman.

1. Learn to use Google Earth

Instead of spending those hours at home dreaming about your upcoming trip, spend that time scouring satellite images to find places others might not easily discover. The hardest bonefish in the world to catch are those that have been trained by the few hundred anglers before you.

2. The DIY Fly Box is different then the Guide Fly Box.

You are almost always fishing very shallow water, the fish are generally close in and more than likely this is not their first rodeo. Go smaller (#6 as average), lighter, less flash with plenty of moving parts.

3. Fish as long a leader as you can cast.

I make my own leaders so they are stiffer and turn over better on short casts into the wind. The last four feet should be fluorocarbon and use the smallest diameter tippet you can get away with.

4. Line management is important.

After getting my line tangled in my feet for the 380th time, I no longer trail long loops behind me. My set up is 15 – 20 feet out the tip, trail ten feet behind me and take the extra four seconds to strip off whatever else I need. DIY presentations are normally fifty feet or less.

5. For “spooky” fish, use a long leader, small fly, cast well in front and let the fly sit.

DIY-5When they get close to the fly, start your strip. If they spook even then, (think Airport Flats, Cherokee Sound, Governor’s Harbour, Savannah Sound) then you have to get creative. Normal bonefish flies won’t work on pressured fish. They have seen every “Charlie” ever made, so tie on something unique. If they are still fleeing when you move the fly, try the bonefish “no-strip.” It takes some getting use to, but works. Use a fly made from materials that wiggle like rabbit, marabou or rubber legs and just let it sit on the bottom. Don’t strip; let the current provide the action. The trick is to watch the bonefish as they pass over your fly and look for that little “dip” of their head signifying they have picked up the fly. Not stripping is harder than putting back a Snickers bar on Halloween.

6. Use my “dry fly bonefish technique.”

There is nothing I like more than casting to tailing fish at twilight, but man can they be frustrating. They’ve got their nose down and are intent on finding prey in very shallow water. So when I find some tough ones I use my “dry fly bonefish technique.” Long, light leader, size #8 un-weighted fly (something like a Flea) and delicately drop it right on their head. You don’t spook them with a “plop”, no guessing which way they are moving and often they are just surprised to see a food item right on their nose.

7. Footwear.

Doesn’t seem like this should come into play but walking quietly is key. I’ve found that conventional flats boots are too heavy and noisy. When I’m on sand flats that I know presents little danger I wear much lighter neoprene hard bottomed kayak boots. Long soccer socks or their equivalent folded over the top of the boot and I am good to go.

So to answer the question, “What am I doing wrong?”

You are not doing anything wrong. It just takes time, patience and an appreciation for how lucky we are to be wading where bonefish live with a fly rod in hand.

RH-bio2Rod Hamilton has been an avid fly fisher for over forty years chasing salmon, trout and steelhead from his home base in British Columbia, Canada during the summer and flats species in the tropics during the winter. Through his recently published book Do It Yourself Bonefishing and blog www.diybonefishing.com he shares his passion for catching bonefish on the fly with like-minded fishermen from around the world. In addition to the book and his online outlets he writes for a variety of magazines and is currently working on his next book, Bonefishing: Off The Beaten Flat.

 

Rod’s new book “Do It Yourself Bonefishing” is spectacular! You can read a review HERE.

Book-cover

 

Or order your copy HERE

 
Rod Hamilton
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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5 thoughts on “Strategies For DIY Bonefishing

  1. This is a great starting point for folks like me thinking of doing a DIY bonefishing trip. The learning curve can be sharp with so many things to consider in order to be successful. I’ve been thinking of doing a DIY trip for the past couple of years now but finding the right time of year, right tides, and the right flats that are not only going to produce fish and also be accessible by foot or kayak is all kind of overwhelming. Getting to a destination to only figure out that you’ve done it wrong doesn’t exactly provide the opportunity to just brush it off and come back next week, hoping for better luck. I’ve yet to read your book, but I’ve perused your website many times, and it is certainly a great resource for getting started. Like you mentioned, I feel my fishing IQ is respectable, but put me out on a bonefish flat without a guide, and (even though I’d give it my best shot) I have no idea how that would pan out! These are all great tips for helping that aspiring DIY-er flatten the learning curve just a bit. Great post and great info!

  2. Great tips. Looks like the book would be a good read…

    Some of us have long stretches (read years) between opportunities to go bonefishing. In between we may be limited to trout fishing or warmwater fishing like me with the saltwater gear in storage. Maybe you can do a piece on tips for getting the skills back in shape for bonefishing with a guide or DIY before getting there.

  3. Pingback: Tippets: DIY Bonefishing, Summer Run Steelhead | MidCurrent

  4. Great Article. Two years ago I booked month long trip to Green Turtle Cay, a small island off of Abaco’s ocean side. I planned on learning to DIY bonefish the entire month, having never caught a bonefish before. All of these tips are right on. Nothing beats time on the flats, making mistakes and learning from them. It took over two weeks before I landed a bonefish. I brought an entire fly box down, and ended up only using a small rabbit fur style shrimp scampi fly in the ned as my go to fly. I eventually became friends with the local guide, Ronnie Sawyer, and he provided me with more invaluable local advice. After those skunk weeks, it was a flood gate of bonefish. And these were big ocean bonefish (7-12lbs). It all culminated with a 11-12 bonefish on my last day. 🙂 But looking back it was more the process of learning how to bonefish on my own, then the destination.

  5. Very good advice.

    My two cents on DIY bonefishing is don’t be afraid to try areas that are not classic bonefish flats. I’ve caught bonefish blind casting off beaches in waist deep waters. A simple tan and white Clouser will work just fine. True, this is nowhere near as satisfying as sight casting to fish, but if access to flats is impossible, or you just don’t have the tides in your favor, hooking bones in this way will give you some practice on landing and handling bones.

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