LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
An often overlooked aspect of fly presentation to bonefish when fishing from a skiff is that of understanding exactly where the fly needs to be presented in relation to the position of the bonefish. The question .. ‘ So, how far should I lead a bonefish ‘? is probably one of, if not the most commonly asked question we receive from our anglers here at h2o Bonefishing. 3 to 4 feet can be a box standard answer but often that will never cover a good chunk of what you can expect in a single day. So to help answer this in a more helpful and productive way it is best to ask anglers to first understand the factors that go into determining what that distance is. The reason for this is that the distance at times varies greatly. There is no one rule fits all approach to this. There will be some exceptions or more accurately, there will be less variation based on certain circumstances for example if you fish all day in the very same depth water, often when wading for example, then a single distance approach may work for you but this article will be focused on the two most influential factors that determine your decision making as to lead distance.
Video: Classic presentation to a tailing fish in calm water. Missed the set unfortunately.
Water depth and fly sink rate :
When an angler jumps onto the bow of the skiff the very first thing they need to determine and be aware of is what fly they have on and how that fly will affect their ability in determining where to cast. It is not something many anglers consider, in fact it is rare an angler looks at their fly and considers the properties of the fly itself having any influence on where they need to cast. For example is your fly a lightly weighted fly with a small bead chain or is it a heavier fly with lead eyes ? Most anglers are not even aware of this and to them, what is in their hand is just a fly. A fly is a fly !! Nope, not all flies are made the same and certainly not all flies sink the same.
A general way to look at this is that the deeper the fish are the more the fly needs to lead the fish. The premise for the added lead is that it will take more time for the fly to sink in deeper water. So how much is more time? Well, that general lead needs to factor in the fly sink rate so a bead eyed fly would in that circumstance require a longer lead than a lead eye fly. This necessity of a longer lead by default also minimizes the chances of spooking fish because the noise of the fly has less impact on the fish when thrown 12 or 15 feet ahead of them. So while that is a real positive, in this scenario there is a higher reliance on chance as a fly presented so far ahead of the fish requires the fish stay in a straight line and path after presentation. Bonefish do not always swim in straight lines but the conditions at that moment leave you no choice but to lead the fish longer than you would prefer. This therefore is one of those moments where a faster sinking fly really works in your favor as it can get to the fish quicker and therefore reduces the effect and chance of the fish moving in a direction that prevents the fish from seeing the fly.
Another factor is also whether you are casting to a single fish or a large school. The larger school obviously is a bigger mass moving of say 30 pairs of eyes spread over a 15 foot wide area so there is more chance of a fish seeing your fly even if the school veers offline. The opposite then will happen with a single larger fish that has just the one pair of eyes with which to spot your fly. So the decision on where to put the fly really is in this scenario a true calculation of both the sink rate of fly and the depth of water. Its not one or the other that provides the answer but rather the best calculation of the two together that will win the moment. Remember bonefish, for the most part are bottom feeders and are therefore far more comfortable eating a fly closer to the bottom than they are to a fly nearer the surface. So getting the fly to depth is a factor. The challenge of which increases with depth.
VIDEO: The guide mentions 'wait' to let the fly sink prior too stripping, important in deeper water.
The influence of water depth versus sink rate also works in reverse for a fish in very shallow water and now for example, that lead eyed fly that really helped you out in the previous scenario cast to those fish in 4 feet of water is now going to work against you in skinny water. The shallower the water the more ‘ spooky ‘ a bonefish becomes so now there is no calibration needed as to depth because there just isn’t any !!!! Now it becomes more a matter of presenting quietly to not spook the fish yet close enough that the fish can see your fly in the shallow water.
Therefore the primary calculation needed now is more a matter of proximity than anything else. Its not about ‘ how far away from the fish should I cast ‘ but more a decision on ‘ how close can I cast to the fish and get away with it ‘? This may sound and is in fact one and the same thing but it most certainly is not as they are two different mind sets. Whether the angler is aware of it or not but their psyche more often than not totally changes when a fish is in very shallow water. There is a saying we have developed that we often use to explain this difference in psyche. ‘ An anglers desire to catch the fish must always be stronger than their desire to not spook the fish ‘. In other words do not be overwhelmed with your desire to lead the fish so far as to never let that fish see your fly.
VIDEO: Great cast in skinny water within a foot of the fish with a soft presentation.
The final factor is fish density ! the larger a school of fish is the more forgiving they are and the factors mentioned in this article become less and less important proportionally to the size school that you find. Here at h2o bonefishing the average size of our bonefish are much bigger than just about anywhere else. As bonefish grow larger they become more solitary so on our flats for example where you will find a higher proliferation of larger bonefish you will find yourself casting at smaller schools of larger fish in the 4 to 7 lb range and then as you get into trophy bonefish size of 8lbs and into double digit size they are often found in either pairs or singles. So in a fishery such as ours anglers will have smaller targets but bigger rewards and the small adjustments and considerations mentioned in this article will add to the constantly growing arsenal of techniques to help our anglers catch more of our bigger bonefish
VIDEO: Large school of Bonefish in deeper water. Always better to fish heavier fly's and wait to let the fly get down in the water column.