What fly for what bottom structure? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: What fly for what bottom structure?

10-17-2011, 08:55 PM
Are there some general rules of thumb that dictate what flies to use depenidng on the bottom you're fishing?

Crabs & Shrimp on flats? No minnows?

Clouser minnows, etc... for deeper drop offs or ocean side surf?



10-18-2011, 03:48 AM
Use bright flies (gotchas) on sandy bottoms like in the Bahamas.
Over turtle grass like in the Keys use flies that match to bottom colour like any of Tim Borski's flies.

Obviously use heavier flies for deeper water.

A hungry bonefish will eat almost anything if doesn't spook it and is in the right depth. The exception is, as always, Los Roques.

10-18-2011, 08:06 AM
Pete, what do you mean by "the exception is Los Roques"? Are you referring to just throwing floating gummy minnows? Cuz I think that's all I'm going to do this upcoming trip. I'm bring a hundred of them this time....

10-18-2011, 08:37 AM
In Los Roques you need to "match the hatch" with baitfish patterns, which don't work on the pancake flats where small darker flies like bitters or snapping shrimp work best.

10-18-2011, 09:42 AM

I guess I'm more curious about the ocean/surf side. I've tied chartruese clouser minnows and been very successful. Different weights for the depth.

Do crabs and shrimp work there as well? Are those patterns found in the surf in nature?



10-18-2011, 12:59 PM
Hi Marty
I have fished Ocean side flats, mainly in the Keys and the most successful flies were clousers and also "Tasty toads". These are flies invented by Harry Spears and have proved very successful. They are similar to the Kwan.

11-06-2011, 11:53 PM
This year a buddy and I were fishing this little backwater area on Andros and the fish refused every fly we threw at them until I finally said screw it and put a chartreuse clouser on. The bones ate it like candy!

It's funny how different people have such opposite ideas for bones. Some very experienced guides swear that you fish dark flies on dark bottoms (i.e. turtle grass flats) because crabs, shrimp, etc that live there are dark so they blend in and don't get eaten. Others swear that you need really light colored flies on dark bottoms so the fish can see the flies.

In general, I've basically figured out one very simple rule: The fish need to see the fly. Fishing a very light colored fly on a light bottom often results in the fish not seeing it. Actually in general a very light colored fly to me is one to avoid unless you do one or more of these things:
1. Add lots of flash.
2. Add some attractant color to the fly. I use red sili legs on a lot of my light colored flies, usually just a couple of them so the fly doesn't spook the fish or stand out too much. I'll also use dark colored legs on an otherwise very light fly.
3. Use a colored body wrap, or add some orange dubbing. I have this orange synthetic sparkly plastic chenille sort of stuff that I wrap the shank with on flies that are very light tan.

I generally put sili legs on most of my flies and have probably 15-20 different colors I use from clear/flake to lots of different shades of tan, and a bunch of striped centipede versions. I'll put 4-8 legs on just about every fly I tie because if you end up not wanting them, you can always just pull them off without damaging the fly at all. Some flies get all the same color, some get a mix of 2 colors or even 3 sometimes.

My go-to fly for all conditions is a fly I came up with that I call a Double Gotcha. I've never seen them tied this way, but I use a variegated double bunny strip that's a mix of dark tan/olive. Every guide that I've ever shown it to invariably always says "That's too dark" and tells me not to use the fly. Every one of them has changed their mind when they see how much the fish love the fly. This year on Andros I was fishing solo one day and gave the guide my other rod so we could both fish, and the rod I gave the guide already had one of those flies on. I let him pick 2 or 3 other flies from my box since we were wading separately and he didn't have anything else. After trying the "standard" patterns and losing all the flies, the guide came back to me to get a few more flies. He took only these dark flies and nothing else to fish the rest of the day on pure white sand bottom flats, and both of us were catching fish almost as fast as we could cast the fly for the next 4 hours.

In my experience, the color of the fly and the color of the bottom don't really matter that much. Bones are either super picky or they just want to eat, and it doesn't matter what color the fly is in relation to the bottom when they want to eat. When they're picky, I've never really noticed that they're only eating something the color of the bottom or a color that matches what's in the area. The chartreuse clouser is a perfect example where sometimes they just like a certain color for some reason.

11-09-2011, 08:21 PM
Great reply. Just what I was lookimg for. I just got back from Eleuthera and will post a report tomorrow.


11-10-2011, 05:47 PM
Would you mind posting a pic of your double gotcha?

11-11-2011, 11:49 AM
Interesting stuff Scott. I've never had problems with flies on dark bottoms-usually they hit it if the fish see it. I have had issues on lighter colored bottoms where they would not take a dark fly but I'm talking about a very bright white, shallow bottom. The kind where you can see the fish no matter how bad your eyes are.

11-12-2011, 01:08 AM
Here's some pictures of my favorite flies that I've tied and used successfully. Sorry for the crappy resolution, but I can't get my good camera to connect to my computer, so I had to use my blackberry camera, which takes lousy photos. I put several of the Double Gotchas below, as well as a few flies that have the red sili legs to make the flies really stand out. The Double Gotcha looks so great in the water it makes me want to eat it! That double wide rabbit fur just pulsates and has by far more movement to it than any other bonefish fly I've ever seen.

These are all tied on Dai-Riki size 2 and 4 saltwater hooks, straight eye. The size 4 is model #930 and they're $10.95 for a box of 50 at my local fly shop. I pretty much only use these brand/type of hooks. I've only ever had one hook straightened.
My preferred thread is 3/0 waxed flat unicord in one of a few colors: shrimp / pink, tan, white, and red.
My preferred body material is Dyed Pearl Diamond Braid in Clear, Bonefish tan, Pink or Orange
My preferred wing materials are bunny, Ice Fur, and sometimes marabou

Double Gotcha - The right one in the photo is turned bottom side up just so you can see the fly from both the top and the bottom.
Hook shank wrap: Usually medium flat sparkle braid, tied with a 1" piece hanging off the tail, sometimes peacock herl, diamond braid, or sparkle midge diamond braid
Wing: Magnum zonker in natural brown about 1/2" long - I cut this off the larger strip by folding the zonker in half lengthwise with the hair on the inside of the fold, and I cut it in a V shape and tie the single-pointed V in at the eyes. This makes it so that the open V goes around/over the hook point and doesn't foul it.
Legs: 4-8 silicone legs in differing colors, flexibility, and diameters - Length is usually one standard length from a package folded in half at the shank, so 2-4 strands per fly in 1-3 colors
Flash: 1 strand Clear krystal flash, folded in half twice to create 4 pieces, or sometimes I leave it long and only get 2-3 pieces, folded in half at the shank and tied around it
Eyes: Large bead chain on #2, medium on #4-6
http://hphotos-sea1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/321919_10150533993017715_772217714_11640191_147098 4620_o.jpg

The Right Ways, Gold Leafer, Pumpkin Bunny Gotcha
All with dyed pearl diamond braid in various colors
Wing is Ice Fur
http://hphotos-sea1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/325022_10150533992917715_772217714_11640190_203504 5996_o.jpg

The Chain Gang
This fly was an experiment that I honestly looked at when I got to Andros this year and thought "I don't think I like that fly." I was getting a lot of refusals one day on everything else I threw, and I asked the guide to pick a fly. He chose this one of my box and I dubiously tied it on. For the rest of the day, the bones ate it like candy, and I had great success on two other days with it too.
Hook shank is wrapped in flat diamond braid
Hackle is a single black and white striped hackle feather
Wing is pure white marabou (the tan you see is the shadow of the marabou)
This version has some flat pink plastic midge wing case used as legs
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/337005_10150533993067715_772217714_11640192_158287 2779_o.jpg

A selection of my favorite bonefish flies, all basically one-off patterns (or 2 or 3 one-off ingredients and/or techniques that you don't usually see)
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/335835_10150533993222715_772217714_11640194_261603 194_o.jpg

Another view of my favorite flies
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/340378_10150533993397715_772217714_11640195_196213 5179_o.jpg

Sili Legs Gotchas
Body is dyed pearl diamond braid
Wing is ice fur
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/321698_10150533993457715_772217714_11640196_784157 747_o.jpg

Sili Legs Bunny Gotchas
Here you can see where I've used the red sili legs to make a light colored fly stand out, and on this particular fly the orange pearl diamond braid too.
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/332635_10150533993732715_772217714_11640199_154839 0976_o.jpg

2 Sili Legs Gotchas and a Right Ways
http://hphotos-iad1.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/331176_10150533993782715_772217714_11640200_171798 1328_o.jpg

11-12-2011, 01:11 AM
Interesting stuff Scott. I've never had problems with flies on dark bottoms-usually they hit it if the fish see it. I have had issues on lighter colored bottoms where they would not take a dark fly but I'm talking about a very bright white, shallow bottom. The kind where you can see the fish no matter how bad your eyes are.
I've fished that Double Gotcha on super white bottoms and the fish chase it like a greyhound after a rabbit :)

And then other times they won't touch it of course..... ;)

11-14-2011, 05:30 PM
This is an interesting discussion with some neat observations by many of you. The old rule about matching the color of the flat bottom is getting pushed a bit as we learn more about bones and what the eat and when. While a lot of the prey on a flat is colored to match it for survival, a lot of the prey that lives in the substrate like worms and burrowing shrimp like ghost shrimp or others that live on other living creatures like the little shrimp that scavenge on bright colored sponges and match their hosts to survive, etc. do not match the flat's bottom color and are definitely targets when dislodged. Also many of the camouflaged creatures go thru a spawning stage in which they display a bright attractor color (often orange) on an egg sack or other body part that does not at all match the surroundings.

One of the breakthrough findings when I was working on the new second edition of the Bonefish Fly Patterns book was seeing the number of flats fly innovators who are combining these triggering hot bits of color with an otherwise flats-matching color on the body of their flies giving you the best of both worlds--a fly that looks like a naturally camouflaged inhabitant but also has an attractor color that gets it noticed. Eric Peterson's spawning Shrimp with its little orange yarn egg sack under the eyes and mouth parts is a good example.

Dick Brown

11-14-2011, 08:22 PM
I generally tie flies in 3 different types, whether it's for trout, bonefish, or other species:
1. An attractor pattern with very little or no natural colors.
2. A fly like the majority of my bonefish flies that use a bright color in some aspect of them but in a limited way and the majority of my fly is natural (though the natural color may not match any prey where the fish lives).
3. A totally natural fly, though again the color may not match any prey in the fish' habitat. These often for bonefish include a lot of flash to help them stand out instead of a bright color.

I very strongly go along with the idea of putting some highlight color on my bonefish flies though, or double or even triple up on the amount of flash I use if they're all natural colors. The materials and methods I usually use to add a bright highlight color are:
Pink or red thread head
A splotch of orange dubbing on the body like the spawning shrimp
Orange or yellow hackle on the body (orange used in the Pumpkin Bunny Gotcha above, which I also have yellow-hackled versions of)
Orange-tipped tan sili legs
Red sili legs
Orange diamond pearl body braid
and more methods I'm forgetting...

I also strongly believe in using very dark colors as attractor colors for bonefish flies on light flats, as in my Double Gotcha above, or The Chain Gang, that uses black as a highlight color in the black and white striped hackle, which really mostly looks black not only in the photos above but also in the water.

One of the best bonefish flies over the years has been the Pink Puff, which is the simplest version of an attractor fly. I tie a number of different versions of these in red, pink, pink sparkle chenille, and with the pink diamond body braid.

11-15-2011, 12:25 PM
Dick-I'm looking forward to your class at Bearsden next month. I'm ready to learn how you're supposed to tie flies and maybe even a new pattern. I'm completely self-taught and could use the help!

What I think is interesting is how a fly can work so well one day or even year and get ignored the next. I crushed them one year on Horrors-yellow chenille and brown calf's tail. I loaded up the box for the next trip and have never had anything close to the success I had that first trip.


11-15-2011, 05:41 PM
LeeG, you bring up a question Iíve been pondering for years, not only on bonefish flats but trout streams too. Youíre casting to fish that you should be catching but not a bite on your usual flys. You try everything in your box and finally tie on that odd fly in the corner of the box thatís never been wet before. The fish love it! You pat yourself on the back for figuring things out and go home to tie up a bunch of this pattern. On subsequent trips, this is the first fly you tie on, but the fish completely ignore it (some times even spook in terror at the sight of it). In fact the one-time-wonder never catches another fish for you. This has happened to me on several occasions. Anyone have a good theory about why?

11-16-2011, 05:28 PM

Look forward to meeting you and we'll have fun learning some new bonefish patterns and some new techniques for improving the effectiveness of flats flies.

As for your one-time success experience with the Horror, it happens to all of us sometimes. Might have just been a lucky match to a prey item in the area or maybe the fly was an especially good attractor for the fish and conditions where you were fishing that day. There are so many variables that may change when you revisit a fishery a year later (or even a day later) or move to a new one, that you may never figure out exactly why it worked that one time. BUT you may get closer to cracking the code if you can focus more on what prey the fish seem to be eating than what fly they are eating. That same pattern was deadly for me one day on the pancakes at Los Roques and the next it wouldn't buy a fish. The second day was brighter than the previous one, so I switched to a tan puff the same size as the Horror and the fish turned on again just as they had the day before. I never did see what they were on but I'd say it was likely something in that same size range and maybe the light level or amount of sediment in the water was just enough different to make the color of the puff look the way the horror did the day before and suggest whatever it was they were keying on.


11-16-2011, 08:09 PM
If somebody could ever figure out why fish are so finicky about flies, and certain patterns only seem to have one day per year they work (or per decade or lifetime!), they would make themselves a hero in the fly fishing community!

I'd be very surprised to find a long-time fly fisherman that hasn't had this phenomenon happy to them. I've got many experimental flies I've used over the years that worked great one day, so I did the usual of tying up a bunch of them, only to never have them really work again.

11-18-2011, 08:29 AM
You've brought up some very interesting stuff here, thanks for sharing.

11-18-2011, 10:08 AM
I'm the guy that always has the fly box with the unorthodox flies in it. I was once asked at Grand Lake Stream in Maine by a guide whether that was my saltwater box I had on a lanyard around my neck. It had a clear top so he could see all the crazy colors and huge flies. I said no that's my box for here and I saw him give a little smile and snicker as he turned away. I got my just desserts about 20 minutes later as he walked upstream to the pool I was at and I had a nice 21" landlocked salmon on. Nobody was catching fish that day either. My favorite streamer is one of the simplest flies you'll ever see that I've named Big Yellow. I take two large yellow hackle feathers about 4-5" long and tie them on a size 2 long shank streamer hook with a black thread head. Those long feathers undulate in the water very much like a fish swims. I can't count the number of big salmon, trout, largemouths, smallmouths, stripers, and other fish I've caught on it, and it's just two feathers, some thread, and a hook. I believe I'm at 14 different species caught on it to date.

I truly believe the bounds of what flies can be has barely been touched. I play with colors and materials a lot, as well as the overall construct of patterns, and some are busts, and some that I doubt like The Chain Gang fly I created on the last page turn into real winners. I tried a woolly bugger a few years ago with white marabou for the tail and white hackle with red chenille for the wrap, and while it doesn't work all the time, it's a great fly that can produce fish when nothing else is working.

One goal I didn't get to fulfill this year was to catch trout on bonefish flies. I'll be reporting back next year on that one.

11-18-2011, 10:59 PM
I have caught bonefish on trout flies, first time in the Bahamas, thirty plus years ago, just took flies that looked like they might be big enough, they were actually quite effective, especially one with a little orange chennille on it. Go figure.