Sunday Classic / Do Bonefish Eat Popcorn?

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Another Beautiful Day on South Andros  Photo by Louis Cahill

Another Beautiful Day on South Andros Photo by Louis Cahill

I love popcorn clouds. Puffy, billowing white marshmallows floating across the sky.

Like huge mounds of cotton candy picking up the green, blue and gold of the flats. Nothing says, “it’s going to be a beautiful day” like popcorn clouds. Who doesn’t love them, well, bonefish actually.

Like lots of fish, bonefish are sensitive to shadows passing over the water. Osprey, herons and fishermen all cast shadows across the water and it’s a cue that the fish look for. Furthermore most fish, like people, are not crazy about change. The constant coming and going of the light makes them uneasy and skittish.

I’ve seen schools of bonefish scatter just as I’m about to make a cast when the sun suddenly disappeared behind a cloud. I’ve watched their behavior become nervous and erratic on these beautiful days. I’ve seen them refuse flies they would have eaten on a day when the weather was consistently worse. It’s a frustrating phenomenon.

Add to that the issue of visibility and you have a real challenge on your hands. It’s heart breaking to stalk a big bonefish across a flat only to lose sight of him just as he’s coming into casting range. All too often, when the sun returns he’s either gone, or worse right at your feet.

Popcorn clouds can be tough but you can beat the game and have a great day by fishing smart. Here are a few strategies that pay off.


Get out and wade

Wading allows you to cover the water slowly and carefully, making the best of every opportunity. You can sneak up on fish that you might roll right over in the boat while the light is gone. Since you’re usually fishing with a buddy it also allows each of you more fishing time to take advantage of the shots you get.

Be stealthy

Whether wading or fishing from a boat, stealth is key when the fish are spooky. Wade slow and quiet and spend the extra time studying the water and edges of mangroves for any disturbance or irregularity. If you’re in the boat be extra cautious and avoid making noise. Fish barefoot so that shoes don’t tap on the deck, be careful moving objects in the boat so they don’t bang against the bottom and avoid shifting your weight and causing ripples from the rocking of the boat. These are good rules all the time but crucial when fish are spooky.

Fish shallow water

When you lose light the best way to spot fish is nervous water or tailing. When fish are in shallow water they can’t make a move without revealing themselves. By targeting fish in shallow water, you increase your odds during the half of your day spent with bad light.

Hold up for clouds

All clouds are not created equal. Some take your light for a minute, some for twenty. When you lose your light look up at the sky and see what’s going on. If it’s a small cloud that will only last five minutes or so, hold up where you are. Stop the boat or stop wading and keep a close eye on the nearby water while you wait for the sun and more effective fishing.

Look for ambush points

When visibility is tough, increase your odds by finding the spots where fish move. Points and cuts in mangroves are good choices on a falling tide as are the channels fish use to move onto the flats when the tide is rising. Ambush points work for all kinds of predators and they will work for you too.

Time your cast to the sun

Try to avoid presenting your fly just as the light is changing. Bonefish will almost never eat on the change of the light. Try to hit them when things have been consistently light or dark for a few minutes and will stay that way long enough for them to follow and eat your fly.

Land the fly soft and close

When bonefish are nervous they travel in a more erratic way than usual. If you lead them too far they will likely turn off before they see your fly. A long lead also adds time for the light to change. When fishing under popcorn clouds you have to seal the deal quickly. Of course, with the fish already nervous, you have to land the fly softly. Hey, if it was easy everybody would be doing it.

When you get up on the bow and see those puffy white clouds remember, knowledge is power and understanding what’s going on in the bonefish’s mind can make all the difference. With these simple strategies you can be sure that a beautiful day is also a great day of fishing.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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