Hooking bones [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Hooking bones

Trevor B
06-28-2007, 05:48 PM
Why is it that lifting the rod (what everyone calls a Trout set) after a Bone Fish takes almost always seems to end in losing a fish?
My Bone fishing experience is very limited but enough to have experienced this first hand on more than a few fish.
So the Question is why?
Is it to do with the design of the flies that are commonly used? Or is it the Bonefishes mouth design?
Iím curious to hear what you all think is the reason the strip strike is the way to go!

Bob Bergquist
06-28-2007, 07:59 PM
Good question...my answer is because strip setting works!

Seriously, I think a slow steady strip set until you make solid contact works much better than a sudden swift jerk that is simular to a "trout set". That and if you miss the set the fly is right there and the bone or one close by often eats it again.

06-28-2007, 11:54 PM
I think the answer, as Mayor Morin would say is "leverage"

Pulling the line straight on to a fish exerts so much more direct tension than raising a flexible rod to an angle in the beginning.

Consider a snag - would you pull the rod to the side or pull straight on to pop a leader?

But once the hook is set the big bend in the rod helps keep a cushion in the fish's runs that helps wear it out and nullifies the changes of direction and fast stops and starts of a quick fish, like a bone.

So I prefer to set straight on then use the flex to put a broad range tension that is not susceptible to quick changes or runs coming at you. The reel is critical in keeping a bend in the rod which assures that there is some 'cushion' after the hookset. Keep a bend in the rod once the hook is set and the fish won't spit it.

06-29-2007, 06:07 AM
Hi Trevor

I had not thought about it too much other than know that it works and the trout set doesn't.
I looked up strip set in a few books and found that the general consensous was that normally a bone fish take is not very agressive and is rather slower than a trout take. The slow stip strike keeps the fly moving in the same direction as the normal strip and gives the fish a chance to properly take the fly, wheras the faster "trout strike" will take the fly away from the fish before he has properly taken it.

I have caught a lot of bones where the strip strike has not set the hook but the fish has taken the fly on continued stripping. If you lift the rod then the fly is gone.

In general for a lot of saltwater fish who eat crunchy things like shrips or crabs it is better to wait for the fish to properly take the fly than stike imediately. It is also generally thought (various books) that a bonefish will not spit out a fly as quick as a trout will.


06-29-2007, 07:19 AM
I think a strip strike gives you a more solid hook set than just lifting the rod and sets it quicker. I usually just use a slow strip when I think one has taken to fly, to see if I feel in pressure, then a quick short strike to set the hook but you have to be careful then. If Mr Bone decides to turn and take off at the same time you are striking then you have lost a fly. I have had too many fish pull loose when I didn't use the harder strike not to keep using it though.

06-29-2007, 09:27 AM
Strip strike is the best. Sometimes the bone will take the fly, and you'll pull it out of their mouth with the strip strike. If you lift the rod to strike, you've just moved the fly several feet and the fish can't find it again. I've had many bones hit the fly two or three times before they were hooked with the strip strike. The hook doesn't seem to bother them too much, especially with aggressive fish on relatively unpressured flats. Remember, they are used to eating hard, sharp things so the point of a hook usually does not bother them.

06-29-2007, 02:55 PM
Amen to that. I've had hooked bones sit in one place with the fly in their mouth completely unaffected because I let off any pressure that I had on them.

07-06-2007, 11:38 AM

This is a question I often get from my clients, and the answer is a bit lengthy. Understanding why a trout set doesn't typically work with bones requires a an overview of how bonefish feed.

Most of the other species we fish for with a fly rod - trout and bass, for example - eat a fly (or real food) and turn. Trout turn back to their lie after taking a fly from the surface or snatching a nymph. Bass and other preditory species often take their food in a turning maneuver. In either case the fish is a) headed away when we strike and b) has his mouth closed around his prey. This is almost exactly opposite from bonefish.

Bonefish feed primarily on food that doesn't continuously flee but prefers to hide from predators instead. Now, I have certainly seen bonefish feeding like jacks on minnows and will at those time strike a fly hard, but day in, day out, bonefish pick their food up off the bottom.

This is important, for most of the time when a bonefish grabs a mouthfull of crab or shrimp, it gets a mouthful of bottom with it. I used to think that most puffs (patches of milky water made by feeding bonefish) were cause by bonefish blowing holes in the bottom. That's what I'd read. Carefull observation, however, showed otherwise. At least some of the time bonefish puffs are actually debris expelled from the gills. In other words, a bone grabs a mouthfull of crab-and-mud, crushes the crab with its crushers (teeth in the back of the throat), and shoots the remainder out his gills. To do this comfortably a bone needs to have water running over his gills the whole time, to keep them clean. In fact, his mouth remains open the during the entire feeding process. Raising the rod at this point simply moves the fly too fast for the hook to catch. In effect, you are pulling the fly back out of it's open mouth. Remember his teeth are in his throat. There is no reason for a bone to close his mouth around his food.

So, why does strip striking work? Why doesn't that pull the fly out? Well, it can when performed incorrectly. Stripping very fast when the fish eats often has the same result as a trout set. That's why guides harp on a long, smooth strip to get it done. This has the effect of moving the hook just enough for the tip to catch somewhere in the bone's mouth. Sometimes this is a very tenuous hold. Now, when the fish realizes something is wrong it turns and bolts. This pulls the hook to the corner of the mouth and hooks the fish there. I'd say damn near 100% of the fish my clients take are hooked in the corner of the mouth. That's a bit puzzling considering about the same percentage are coming directly toward you when they eat the fly. I finally figured it's actually that first run that moves the fly from wherever it first lodged to the corner of the mouth for the perfect hook-set.

To understand this better, try this little experiment. Tie a hook onto a leader and drop it into a cardboard box. Now, jerk the fly really hard and it will fly back out of the box. No hook-up. Try it again but instead pull slowly and steadily on the leader. The fly should hook the corner of the box, at least a little. That's the basic idea.

There are some other implications of this peculiar eating behaviour. First, since the fish are swimming at you, maintainting contact with the fly is hugely important. Many fish are missed because they keep swimming in the same direction after they suck a fly in. When they realize it isn't food they simply blow it back out again. If there is any slack in your line - which there will be since the fish is swimming at you - you won't even feel the strike. That's why watching the fish at all times is so important. You need that visual sign the fish has eaten. That's also why we check the fly so often when bonefishing. If they eyes are twisted around that means the fish ate it and spit it before you could strip strike. Often bonefish won't eat flies with the eyes twisted since they ride funny.

Secondly, if you're tracking fish over dark, grassy bottom by their puffs, remember these are almost always behind the fish. A fish tips up (sometimes tailing), takes a mouthful of bottom, eats whatever food he finds in it, and after he tips back to horizontal, ejects the puff from his gills. Thats why casting to the puffs will often line fish. Instead, cast ahead of the puffs.


07-06-2007, 12:10 PM
Very informative and well presented.... thank you

07-07-2007, 05:42 AM
Really nice explanation, makes perfect sense from my experiences. It does bring up a question or comment. From your explanation most bonefish hooksets are in the corner of the mouth and happen when the fish turns. I have never heard of using a circle hook for bonefish but it seems that the hookset you describe would be taylor made for one. Have you ever tried a circle for bones? Do you think it would work or not and why? Anyone elses comments would be appreciated.

07-07-2007, 09:44 AM
great explanation!

07-07-2007, 02:05 PM
I'm not sure about circle hooks for bones. For some reason I can't explain I'd be doubtful about their effectiveness. Having said that, I did recieve a bunch of flies from a client that he used on a trip to Central America somewhere and at least half of them were tied on circles. He said they had great luck.

Back in my baitfishing days I used circles for bones in the muds with great success, but that's just waiting on the rod to double over; the fish pretty much hooks himself. In a classic sight-fishing situation, with the fish headed at you, there is no such advantage. There is no reason for the fish to hold onto the fly after he discovers it isn't food. The only way to keep in contact with the fish is to keep stripping, which would logically pull the fly out of his mouth. Of course, logic might have nothing to do with this and circles could work great.

I've used them on tarpon with great success. The only element of the fishing that needed to change in that situation was me - I had to convince myself that when the fish eats don't do anything, just hold on. Doubtless all that remains is to figure precisely what changes need to be made to technique for them to work on bones.

Bottom line, I don't know what to think but someone should try it on their next trip.


07-08-2007, 06:00 AM
I have used circles on tarpon also with great success even when I had little experience hooking tarpon. Just keep tight and let them turn and hook themselves. The hook just seems to find its way under the bone in the side of the mouth.
I think circle any time hook sets are in the side if the mouth. You would have to be patient,using one with bones,but should work since they usually turn once they have the fly.

07-08-2007, 06:00 AM
I have used circles on tarpon also with great success even when I had little experience hooking tarpon. Just keep tight and let them turn and hook themselves. The hook just seems to find its way under the bone in the side of the mouth.
I think circle any time hook sets are in the side if the mouth. You would have to be patient,using one with bones,but should work since they usually turn once they have the fly.

Geordie Shanks
07-11-2007, 09:56 AM
What a great post. This is always something I have wondered about. Living in the Rocky Mountains and handling a fly rod on trout streams around 50-60 days a year, on my once every one or two year bonefishing trip I inevitably "trout set" my first bone. Can't help myself-keep telling myself "strip it, strip it, strip it..... whanggggg!". But once I have the first one out of the way, I'm good.

My guide in Belize the first time I bonefished in the mid 1990's told me that when I trout set, because the hook is riding up, that by lifting that eye of the hook, I am dropping the point below the eye, resulting in the EYE hitting the fishes mouth and not the hook. Kind of made sense, but something didn't feel right and I've always wondered about that. Bonehead, exceptional explanation and made perfect sense in every aspect. First time I've printed out something from this forum to save. Nicely done. Thanks for the great info.

07-15-2007, 05:02 AM
Hey Bonehead

Thanks for the great info.


Jim Miller
07-20-2007, 07:24 AM
Just back
strip strike....super sharp hooks.... no problems Mon! :D