Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Preparation for a bonefishing trip:
There are a few very beneficial things anglers can do in preparation for their next bonefishing trip. The trick is in deciding on what disciplines can be put into practice at home. Once decided they can then be practiced in your garden, in your local park or a parking lot somewhere. Repetition is something that, assuming what you are doing is correct, creates muscle memory. That in turn strengthens those aspects of the chosen techniques and leaves more time to concentrate on those things that are only available at your destination. Therefore, three important and productive aspects anglers can practice and try and insert into muscle memory involve casting, stripping and setting the hook. Three critical components of presenting your fly to a bonefish.
Presenting and stripping the fly:
A misconception with casting for bonefish is that an angler needs to cast most of their fly line to be more successful. The conception that the further you can cast the more productive you will be. This is just not true. While having the ability to cast 90 feet will likely not handicap an angler on the flats, it is just not necessary and success is not measured in how far you cast but rather how well you consistently present the fly. Bonefishing is all about presentation. To be more precise, it is about presentation and discipline as a combination that will improve the number of bonefish that your fly will find. Presentation is the turning over of the fly and landing it in the correct position to the fish as quietly as possible. So where does patience fit in ? Well, patience is when you discipline yourself to wait until that fish is at the most optimum distance for you to execute your best presentation. Everyone has an optimum distance. A ‘ bone zone ‘ if you like. Many anglers just do not know what it is because they have never considered it.
VIDEO: Preparation pays off when you find yourself one on one like this video, white sandy bottom, crystal clear water moving boat. patience, accuracy and soft landings might get the job done + lady luck
The more times you present your fly within that magic zone the more fish you will catch. It’s really that simple. Many do not operate within it’s comfort and are at best constantly flirting with the outer boundaries of that security. Some are just flat out in denial of those boundaries and therefore have totally lost their discipline. A bonefish does not care that your fly has landed 40 feet from the boat of 80 feet from the boat, if the presentation is good then the angler can expect positive results.
So to practice casting, first set up an object that you are to assume is a moving bonefish. Then set yourself up to find your ‘bone zones ‘ aka, your comfort zone as to distance to the object. That is then your base with which to operate. That is your go to. Then you need to breakdown your comfort zone into 3 separate areas based on the wind direction. If you are right handed then you need to plan to cast with the wind from the left ( perfect conditions ), also the wind from the right ( difficult ) and also a set up where you are casting into the wind ( difficult ) so you basically have 3 ‘ comfort zones ‘ only one of which is particularly comfortable !! While your guide will always try to set you up as best as is possible when it relates to the wind it cannot always be done and therefore there will be enough times where you have no choice but to cast at a fish when the wind direction is not favorable.
VIDEO: You may see one fish but take the time to look around, as this video shows there are always more than you think + when the fish are feeding heavily especially at the end of this video get the fly in the middle of the action and a bite will likely follow.
The next step and a very important part of the set up is that whatever you use as your object, DO NOT practice casting directly at your object. For example, putting a dinner plate out there or a hula hoop and trying to put the fly inside that hoop or on that plate is a big fat NO NO.. What you want to do it to place an object out there and then imagine in which direction your object ( bonefish ) is moving and then place a fly 3 to 4 feet in front of it, then make some shots placing your practice fluff ( Fly ) 6 feet in front, 8 feet. Then come back and try and get it just 1 foot in front. You need to teach yourself the difference between object and target. Your target is mostly imaginary even on the flats. Most of the time a lead of the fish in some way is what is required so start teaching yourself that separation. If you do not you will find muscle memory will have you constantly throwing on top on the fish. While there are instances that a presentation very close to the fish is required it generally makes up a much smaller percentage of the presentations you will be asked to make on your trip.
Another little trick that allows you to incorporate some speed of delivery with your casting is to use a bottle or another similar object that has two distinct ends so that you have a head and tail end to your object. This then creates an imaginary direction. Then throw the object ( fill a bottle half full of water ) and quickly present the fly in front of your imaginary fish. While Bonefish can be spotted at great distance at times and therefore enables plenty of time to set up the best angle to the wind, they also have an annoying propensity to just show up and will require a quick precise cast. Or when you have cloudy days when light only allows you and guide to see short distances. This quick fire approach practice then comes in handy.
In addition to this try and have as much line out of your rod tip as is possible before casting. Get comfortable with having 6,8,10 or so feet of fly line out. You NEVER want to have more than you can manage as that is counter productive.
Setting the hook, Strip Strike:
Setting the hook on a bonefish is a two part process and you need to execute both in a matter of a second or two. Imagine the mouth of a bonefish is the meaty muscular part of your Palm between wrist and pinkie finger. It is moderately soft but if you wanted to sink a hook in there it will take a jerk of force to snap it in there. So the hook set needs to be thought of as a forceful jerk and that can only be executed with the rod tip ALWAYS down in the water ( or grass in this case ) pointing at the fish and the angler making a long strip with the fly line in order to seat the hook. BUT the split second that is achieved the angler then needs to allow the fish to immediately run. That is achieved by then lifting the rod to cushion the burst of speed and then letting the fly line slip through their stripping hand in a controlled manner. So the setting of a hook on a bonefish is two distinct disciplines. Unlike a trout set that incorporates the two together buy lifting the rod to set the hook.
VIDEO: Good example of working with guide, prep (checking your line is clear), Limiting false casting in wind, a strip to get slack out of the line and animate fly and finally a good strip hook set. A vary typical scenario on a flats boat.
So how can you practice this? Its actually quite easy and again, it generates muscle memory. Tie your leader to something sturdy at around 40 feet away and then create just a little slack in the line, maybe take a step forward for example or throw a mend in the line so that when you strip, whether first or second strip you will feel the tension. Then at that very moment strip the line firmly keeping the rod tip on the grass ( in the water when actually fishing). When you feel that sudden weight and therefore ‘ strip strike ‘, you then immediately execute the second stage of lifting the rod. Just repeat this until you are comfortable with teaching yourself this is a two part process and not a single process of a trout lift. Tie on at least a 12 lb. tippet and even go so far as to break the tippet a few times so that you get the feeling of stress parameters and what is an under set or overset.
If you have any intensions of trying double haul or casting back handed then now is the time to try. Generally you will not find it particularly beneficial to try and learn either of these things when actually casting at bonefish on an exposed flat in 15 mph winds. So for now get the basics down and then you may be surprised how you can then advance forward to additional techniques.
See you on the flats.
VIDEO: When you do get all the components together the rewards can be great like this double digit fish tailing on a flat on our northern fishery