Bonefishing how big of a learning curve? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Bonefishing how big of a learning curve?

10-01-2006, 08:26 AM
How much of a learning curve is there to Bonefishing? Were assuming here that the angler is rather experienced , can cast ect?
Thinking of Actklins and wondered how much was there to learn?

10-01-2006, 08:39 AM
Hi Fishhawk -

Your time on the Monomoy Flats is money in the bank for bonefishing, although there are major differences to cope with.

As with striper sight fishing distance is less important than accuracy and timing. What you make the fly do will make or break the presentation. Most importantly you need to tune into the fish's thinking spontaneously (unlike a stationary rising trout) or the moment quickly passes.

I am getting revv'ed up just thinking about it :D

If you go to Acklins with the veterans, the learning curve will be cut short. If you hook up with Bob Berquist and let him bring you to the island's guides, it will be cut shorter still. Or you could go top shelf at one of the fine lodges on the island.

I have to run as I already lost a fishing day from slacking on car maintenance but I will say this - you can't get on the fast track up that curve until you go, and there are few angling venues with that combination of raw tropical beauty, pure flyfishing essence, and technical challenge.

GO! You will never regret it, and you will go again.

10-01-2006, 09:02 AM

I have only been bonefishing once but I caught a bone on my 1st cast. Well, I hooked a bone on my first cast. An then I horsed him on the 1st explosive run and broke him off. The learning curve began at that point.

I was with a guide. He put me into huge schools of bones in Belize. We pursued some on foot and some in the boat. After one day of a guide's advice on how and when to strip, how close to cast to cruising bones etc. I felt that I could have done well on my own if I had access to the same spots (which were offshore islands).

Just do it.

My thoughts,


10-01-2006, 01:05 PM
Getting the fish to bite is only one third of the battle. Learning to strike, clear line, and getting the fish on the reel are keys to landing them...Hard to practice, unless you find someone with a radio controlled car that goes 25 mph across a football field:biggrin:

Bob Bergquist
10-01-2006, 05:03 PM
The biggest adjustment in my estimation, and by the comments of guests, is how fast things happen on the flats. A pod of bones spotted easing towards you 100 yards out is on you before you know it. Then there is spoting the fish (where the guide is worth his beans), and keeping the line from tangling in your boots, not bonking the fish on the head with the cast....or like Muggsy, developing eyes in the back of his head. He has a knack for bones spooking him from 10 ft at his back!

Overall the curve seems to be three days, then the rest of the week is lamenting "I wish I knew then what I know now". One of my guys caught two or three a day for three days then smoked 47 on day four.

10-01-2006, 05:38 PM
i have to agree with juro regarding time in monomoy. while each species is different, spotting them, whether on monomoy or bahamas is the first challange, then the wind i would say. both places tend to have sandy bottoms but the feeding forage and thus the flies and lines(almost strictly floating) are quite different in the bahamas. and there are numerous predators(sharks and barracuda) to contend with and plan for in the bahamas. and there are mangroves for them to run into in some areas. like any fish they have their peculerarities. i would strongly suggest that you get a guide. as juro correctly says, the learning curve will be reduced greatly. all of that said, i have seen you fish the flats in monomoy and have no doubt that the learning curve would be less than a day for you, if that.

10-01-2006, 10:44 PM

If I were in your shoes, and I was a couple of years ago, knowing what I know now - I would worry a lot less about the learning curve and a lot more about the consequences of picking up a serious addiction!!! Run now!!!!! and never look back! Save yourself the thousands of dollars, the nights when you can't fall asleep because you can't get the tailing bones out of your mind, the hours spent tying 'squimps', the lost productive time at work dreaming about a 10 lb bone tipping on your fly...................

If you insist on succumbing to this delightful addiction, the learning curve is part of the fun, screw-ups just make you want to do more of it, just like the successes do. The great thing about Acklins is you get a lot of shots. Also from experience, I can tell you that time spent with Bob Bergquist is time well spent.

Jim Miller
10-02-2006, 07:01 AM
you have all the skills .... just need to adapt them to a slightly new game!

10-02-2006, 08:13 AM
The learning curve is not really an issue. If you have the time and the money....what are you waiting for!
Book some flights and get Randal Kauffmans bone fish book to tide you over. Nice pictures.

10-02-2006, 01:04 PM
In my opinion you must have the opportunity to make mistakes when learning to bonefish.
Yes you will spook them by casting on their heads or behind them. But you will get better.

What I mean by that is: go somewhere first where there are a reasonable number of fish.
Do not go to the Florida Keys as it takes a long time to learn there.
I have not been to Acklins but it sounds good.

The other thing is if you go to somewhere where there are lots and lots of fish you may find it too easy and not really learn. Most places in the Bahamas have a reasonable number of fish.


10-02-2006, 04:59 PM
Good advice from everyone especially Pete's comment. Pick a location with plenty of fish where you'll get loads of shots and don't beat yourself up.

First challenge is seeing the fish - big schools are fairly easy but tuning in to individual bigger fish in time to make a good presentation takes a bit of time. They aren't quite so easy to spot as Stripers.

Blowing a few casts, getting a few refusals, panicking and busting off the first couple of strikes, all of these and many more bumps and bruises make up the learning process. Acklins sounds like a perfect destination.

10-02-2006, 07:46 PM
Go to this link for some great bonefishing tips--a must read for any beginner. Not meant to be a plug--it's just very helpful for those getting started, and even those who've done it a few times. What do you guys think? Everyone agree with these tips? Any more to add?

<non-sponsor link removed>

10-03-2006, 06:28 AM
Read Dick Browns, "Flyfishing for Bonefish".

10-03-2006, 08:01 AM
Even if Vince won't give himself a plug, I will. I went to Eleuthera solo in February for 5 days. Fished with a guide two mornings and on my own the rest of the time. While I didn't get huge numbers of fish ( hooked probably 25 or so, landed about 15), i had a blast and will do it again in '07. No question, the hardest part is seeing the fish, particularly in the grass. I found I could see their eyes first a lot of the time when they were crusing in the grass. Of course, if you can see their eyes, it may be too late.

Casting for me was not an issue, once I got over the initial "buck fever". The distances and wind conditions compared to a normal day of striper fishing were not a problem at all. I did find that I fished better wading than from a boat, only because I spotted the fish better at my own pace.

The first morning I fished on my own, I hooked a very nice fish right of the bat. I heard the fish tailing before I saw it.

As for the fighting part, if you've fought blues, albies, salmon, it's just a different fight, but line management and turning the fishing is still line and management and turning the fish.

And yeah, it's an addiction.:tsk_tsk:

10-03-2006, 08:28 AM
Vince -

Just to be clear your tips are welcome just not the hyperlink to a commercial site. Cut and paste is cool.

10-03-2006, 03:01 PM
Sorry Juro, I should have know that. Here are the tips:

Bonefishing Tips by Brad Wolfe of Angling Destinations, Inc.

Bonefish are creatures of the flats. They respond to the primordial rhythms of the tides, charging and retreating over beds of bright sand and blankets of turtle grass. They are sleek and slender, shy and suspicious. They blend in perfectly with the turquoise waters and the shimmering bottom; their silver sides reflecting all giving them the ability to seemingly change color.
Bonefishing combines the best of hunting and fishing. You must have the visual concentration and patience to find the fish and a hunter's stalking ability to get within casting range. Your cast must then deliver the fly quietly and precisely. You must entice the fish, with a proper retrieve, to accept and eat your fly. You must develop a feel for the hook-set. In bonefishing rarely is blind luck rewarded. Usually, the fisherman with the most skills catches the most fish.
The reward for all this concentration and applied technique is the hookup. The magical moment when that ghostly shadow is attached to your casting arm. The run is explosive and blazing. You struggle for control; your line rattling through the guides in a demonstration of pure power; 50, 100, then 150 yards of backing evaporate into the mix of sizzling tropical heat and turquoise gin clear water. This is bonefishing. For many anglers, after all the trout, salmon, tarpon, and sailfish, the bonefish is still the ultimate quarry. The bonefish, albula vulpes, the white fox, brings anglers back to the flats time and time again, year after year. Many words have been written about why we do it but its really just "damn good fun".
What follows are a few hints to improve your bonefishing. If you are an expert we invite your suggestions and additions. If you are a novice we will be happy to clarify any of these recommendations.

Preparing to Cast

The majority of bonefishing is done with a weight forward floating line. These lines lift easily off the water without spooking the fish and rarely get hung up on the bottom. Use a neutral or pale colored fly line; gray or sand is best. Very bright lines, especially fluorescent colors, can be as easy for the fish to see as it is for you. If you use bright fly lines make sure your leader is long enough to compensate for the line's increased visibility.

Throw a wet towel over any obstructions on the casting deck of your boat. Cleats and handles can easily snare your fly line and ruin a cast or worse, break off a fish.

Don't strip out more line than you need to make your cast. Make a practice cast, then leave that measured amount of line trailing in the water (if you are wading), or stacked carefully on deck (if you are casting from a boat). This will minimize the amount of line that can tangle on your feet or form knots. Do not pull line off your reel and stack it on the deck of the boat. If you do, the forward portion of your line is underneath the pile, when you cast with the line stacked in this way you will end up with a tangled bird's nest. Make sure you make a practice cast, then stack your line.

If you are casting from the deck of a boat take off your shoes. This will allow you to feel the fly line stacked on the deck and you can avoid stepping on it.

If you are using a monofilament butt section nail knotted to your fly line, for loop-to-loop connection to leader, use .025 or heavier medium to medium limp mono on an 8 weight. This will transfer the energy from your cast to the leader. A butt section of less than .025 causes the cast to die as the energy is transferred from line to leader.

Using loop-to-loop connections allows you to change leaders quickly. Attach a two foot butt section to your fly line, as mentioned above, then tie a loop in the end. Then depending on conditions, you can use a pre-looped 7 foot leader if its windy or up to a 15 foot leader if it is calm.

A ten pound clear mono tippet works well on bonefish. Check your leader regularly for abrasion and re-tie your fly after each fish. Test your knot every time you tie on a new tippet.

The most important aspect of fly selection is sink rate. When tying or purchasing bonefish flies, vary the sink rate of your assortment through no eyes (lightest), to pearly eyes, to bead chain eyes, to lead barbell eyes (heaviest). This allows you to fish different depths of water and to fish tailing (cast close with light fly) and fast cruising fish (cast well ahead with quick sinking fly), effectively.

Bonefish have a powerful sense of smell. They can smell shrimp and crab they cannot see. They can also smell insect repellent, sun block, gasoline and after-shave. Keeping your hands clean will help keep your fly clean.

As a general rule, use light colored flies on light (sand) bottom and dark colored flies on dark (turtlegrass, coral) bottoms. In nature, overt visibility can make any animal prey. Most prey on bonefish flats are well camouflaged. Try smaller flies (6,8) to fish that are spooky or are tailing on clear shallow flats in calm weather conditions. On deeper flats, or in windy conditions larger flies (2,4) work well on larger fish that are cruising very fast. Larger flies should be cast further away from bonefish.

Subtle earth tone flies, (tan, brown, olive, green, gold, yellow) work best on sunny bright days in shallow water when bonefish are spooky. Bright flies, (pink, orange, chartreuse) work best on cloudy or darker days in deeper water or later in the day especially at sunset.

Seeing and Being Seen

Polarized sunglasses are absolutely essential for spotting bonefish. Brown or gray lenses work best on bright days; yellow or amber work best on cloudy, low light days. Side shields will eliminate peripheral light. Make sure you use an eyeglass retainer strap to avoid losing your expensive glasses.

Wade quietly and slowly. Bonefish can "feel" water being pushed by your legs. Use your eyes; scan constantly, you are hunting as much as fishing. You are pitted against an animal with an incredible array of sensory organs.

Bonefish have an acute sense of vision enabling them to see colors well and in a wide variety of light conditions. They can see motion in muddy or clear water and when they are stationary or traveling at top speed. That mango Hawaiian shirt looks well in pictures - but tan and pale blue will allow you to spook fewer fish. Remember to remove shiny jewelry. Also, don't hesitate to cast from your knees or to crouch if fish come in very close.

Use the wind and sun to your advantage. If possible, wade a flat with the wind behind you. If there is little or no wind, have the sun behind you. Also often, after spotting fish, you have time to navigate upwind of the fish, but wade slowly until you are in place.

A hat with a long bill will protect your face from the sun but will also improve your vision especially if the bill's underside is dark. The dark underside absorbs reflected light.

Scan the water constantly, you can look for surface disturbances (nervous water) but to consistently spot bonefish you must imagine the water does not exist, looking through it to the bottom.

When the Excitement Starts

False cast away from the fish, especially with slow moving or tailing fish. This will keep the fly line from spooking the fish. Cast away at a 45 to 90 degree angle to the direction that the fish are heading.

If it is windy, make your false cast holding your rod as parallel as possible to the plane of the water. The wind's friction with the water lessens its velocity in the area 3 to 4 feet above the water's level. This casting technique makes it harder for the fish to see the fly line and allows for a very quiet presentation since the fly does not drop from much height.

Never cast too early or begin to cast when the bonefish is out of your range. Be patient, know your comfortable casting range. If you try to make too long a cast and your fly falls short, it will take too long to cast again and the bonefish will have moved on.

It is better to cast too short and hope the fish sees the fly, than to cast too long and spook the fish. In nature, prey never moves toward a predator. Never place a fly so that when retrieved it moves toward a bonefish. Predators chase their prey, they expect their prey to be moving away from them. When confronted with an approaching fly, a bonefish will change roles, from predator to prey, and flee. Few fish can leave a flat as quickly as a bonefish.

Generally, a tailing fish has his head tipped down and is already occupied; consequently, the fly must be dropped very close to him. In contrast, cruising fish can see a fly from a much greater distance and the fly can be presented further away.

Learn to strip strike. Trout fishermen, (there are lots of us), usually raise the rod tip to strike a fish. This technique when used on a bonefish will quickly remove the fly from its field of vision if he has not eaten the fly. The strip strike keeps the fly in the bonefish strike zone and will give you a second chance. A 1 to 3 foot strip strike done firmly by the hand not holding the rod accomplishes the strip strike.

When retrieving your fly, point your rod tip directly at the fly. This allows the fly to be imparted with the proper action.

Lift your fly line quietly and slowly off the water to initiate another cast. DO NOT use the initiation of the back cast to load the rod tip. Many beginning anglers do this to allow themselves to make longer casts or to cast into the wind - this noisy lift off will almost always spook bonefish.

Do your homework before going fishing. Learn to cast accurately and quickly. Do not false cast excessively. Learn to make 2-3 false casts playing out line with each cast then shooting your line accurately to the fish on your last cast. As well as wasting valuable time, repeatedly false casting over a fish in an effort to "measure" distance and accuracy often spooks fish as they repeatedly see the fly line whipping in the air.

The Hookset and After

When a bonefish follows a fly he will almost always take it. Other clues that a fish has taken your fly are: his dorsal fin or tail flutters or quivers, he flashes his side in the sun, the fish races a second fish to a spot or the fish scurries to another spot leaving his companion or school behind and most importantly, if he tips down and his tail comes out of the water. If any of these occur, chances are he has your fly. Count off one or two seconds and strip strike. Sometimes if you can't see the fish, you can feel your line vibrate or jump. In that case strip strike again.

If a fish follows closely but does not take your fly, change your retrieve: speed up, slow down or stop entirely. This change will often elicit a strike.

A bonefish can travel 26 m.p.h. for several hundred feet in six inches of water. Set your drag before you cast to a fish, and once hooked, get all the spare line safely out through the guides. Always fight a bonefish on the reel; to do otherwise invites disaster. Until the fish is on the reel, watch your line, not the fish. After getting the line on the reel, hold your rod high. This will create a steeper angle and help the line get over coral and mangrove shoots, resulting in fewer break offs.

The harder you fight a bonefish, the harder he will pull back. If a fish gets tangled around a mangrove or in the weeds or coral, take all the pressure off the fish. Bonefish will usually stop. You can untangle your line and resume the fight.

Handle a landed fish as little as possible. Pinch the barbs on your hooks. Hemostats will often allow you not to have to touch the fish at all.

When The Day is Done

To avoid corrosion, rinse your reel and rod with freshwater at the end of each day. After you start to head home, trail your fly line behind the boat (without fly) to remove kinks and twists. As you reel in your line, pass it thru a cloth soaked with fly line cleaner and you=ll be ready for the next day. It=s time for a cold Kalik and watching the sunset!
--Bonefishing tips compiled by Brad Wolfe

10-03-2006, 03:02 PM
Sorry Juro, the same thing got posted twice--please delete this one.

10-03-2006, 04:36 PM
Great list! Glad you shared it with the group and I've always enjoyed reading Brad's reports. He is living right!

(so are you in fact)

Trevor B
10-03-2006, 07:45 PM
Vince , great advice, makes the mouth water !

10-04-2006, 11:52 AM
Thank you ever so much Vince. I can tell that your a great fisherman who knows his stuff. FishHawk:D

10-04-2006, 12:02 PM
Guys, I am not the author of these tips--my friend Brad Wolfe @ Angling Destinations is. I do agree with them 100% and they are always recommended reading for those new to the flats game.

10-04-2006, 10:53 PM
On topic -

There is no sugar coating it, bonefishing is a large learning curve when starting out. Especially DIY and even more where the flats are fished regularly as the bonefish seem to climb the curve pretty well themselves.

Don't make the common mistake of fly obsession, or how good the rod is or how expensive the reel. The most important weapon we possess is our ability to outwit them not beat them to submission with graphite sticks.

They are stealthy as the bottom they glide over or the ripples they slice, and can sometimes lock their jaws and detect us in ways that can make a Monomoy striper look guillible. But they have a weakness. Like a horde of foolish sailors smitten by fair maidens in a portside tavern, they are drawn to the flats with the surging tides. If you understand their cycles and paths, you can greet them with consistency and believe me your heart will pound as theirs do when they come. The tide owns their little hearts, and they are weak to resist it's call.

But once you are face to face with the surging pods, there is still much work to be done to climb said curve. Where does the fly need to be? What is the strip? What did that fish just do right there? What do I need to do next time as a result?

Even after hooking up, the wily bone will find any mangrove roots within it's running range, any coral head, any way to hose you in the blink of an eye and with it's high-speed motor there isn't much you can do but watch it happen.

Then as each situation - structure, community (yes I believe bonefish develop communities), tide phase, prey target, time of day, etc arises you need to pull from the bag of tricks to decipher the codes.

I think that to catch some bones will not take a huge learning curve. However to be a good fisher of bones in any given scenario requires a huge learning curve.

My curve has taken me to the tropics over a dozen times in 20 years and I am just starting to 'read' scenarios in a manner remotely comparable to stripers on the northern flats. I would say that DIY "mastery" is something that really takes a lifetime and that might be why people fall into such deep affliction with these fish when you could easily go jump 60 pound lagoon tarpon for the same amount of effort and less money.