Selecting bonefish flies - Fly Fishing Forum
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Old 06-01-2005, 08:15 AM
josko josko is offline
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Selecting bonefish flies

I've read a lot of stuff about bonefish prey, and even wandered around on a flat with a pail and shovel. Didn't really accomplish much other than see some shrimpy-crabby things and get bit by one.
When I'm rigging up for bonefishing, I sort of look at all the fancy tied stuff and pick a gotcha. Really have no idea what the fish are feeding on right then and there.
And the gotcha works more often than not. But on this last trip, I'd hit up a particular school pretty hard with gotchas one day. Next day they would have nothing to do with it, but took light grizzly tailing flies. After a couple of days of that, they wised up to those too. A bit frustrated, I tied on a huge dark Borski shrimp (I have no clue what I was thinking), and they went after that like kids after candy.
There's a lot to bone fly selection, and I'm not even sure where to start. Any insight would be welcome.
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Old 06-01-2005, 09:46 AM
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teflon_jones teflon_jones is offline
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I always figure you start with what worked the day before. If that doesn't work, move on to a new fly. So basically I think your approach is the best one!
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Old 06-09-2005, 05:36 PM
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Water depth is a consideration for the weight of the fly--obviously the deeper the water the heavier the fly so it gets to the bottom quickly, which is where most bones are focusing their attention. In very shallow water or with very spooky fish, sometimes you must use unweighted flies--so light that you really can't even see them land on the water if there is even the slightest wind ripple.

As for color/type of fly, I like natural looking flies, as opposed to the bright orange or very flashy, standout colors. Still, I know that guys do catch fish on those flies. If it is a light colored bottom, go with a light colored fly--remember that prey blends in with it's surroundings, it doesn't stand out.

I think the most important thing is presentation though. Get a good presentation to the fish so it is not spooked by the fly or flyline hitting the water, and so the fly is not being stripped toward the fish, and you have a pretty good chance of a hook-up, or at least a follow--so long as the fish sees it.

Still, I would try and match the prey for the area you are fishing. The standard charlies and gotchas imitate a few different food sources so they are productive. Kaufman's BONEFISHING book is a pretty good one, as is Chico's, for describing prey in bonefishing locales.
Hope this helps.
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Old 06-09-2005, 06:04 PM
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juro juro is offline
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I think you were hitting the same pod over again. The lack of selectiveness of roaming bones (like those in surf) defies how picky fish get that hang around in one area.

This is also true at Monomoy. Migrating fish early on will hit anything you got. Later on, most anglers are humbled by resident pods.

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Old 06-10-2005, 05:01 AM
josko josko is offline
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Well, yes, but...

I'm becoming convinced fly selection is quite important in bonefishing. Yes, 'normally' bonefish will pounce on a Gotcha, and yes, good casting skills are important, but fly selection is another aspect of this venture I'm eager to get better at. There's good sport in casting to educated fish.
I've had the (mis?)fortune to fish the same area (central Andros) for a dozen years now. Back in '99-00, the place was 'in vogue', mobbed, and bones got wise and shy indeed. particularlyanywhere near north Bight, one had to do a lot of things right to hook one of these fish. 911 gave the fish there a 2 year break and provided me an interesting data point. Numbers didn't seem to go up that much, but they sure got stupid again. Took about a year, but the difference was astounding.
Now the lodges are full again, and DIY pressure is higher than ever. Fish have smartened up again.

Juro, yes, I was hitting the same 'pod' or group, I'd guess of perhaps 150 fish all moving into and out of mangroves on a flatroughly 1 square mile in size. I really got the feeling they were able to communicate 'the bad fly' to the whole group. It was a lot of fun to find 'the ticket' on subsequent days.

Still, the issue of how to pick the fly to optimize my chances on a particular pod is something I'm eager to pursue. I KNOW it'll get mer more and smarter fish in the long run and is an aspect of the sport I'll have fun pursuing. As usdually happens when you blunder onto a new thing, I have no clue how to get there from here. But that's part of the fun, although any help would be appreciated.

I'll be down there again next month, hopefully with some new flies to try.
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Old 06-10-2005, 07:28 AM
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Adrian Adrian is offline
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I often tell myself to take a sampling net on the next trip and take time out from fishing to dig around the flat and see if there is anything particular that keeps fish coming back to a particular place. Then hit the flytying vice. Also watching the fish behavior when they come onto the flat. Are they actually feeding or just passing through? I find that I see and learn a lot more when I'm not carrying a fly rod - but that's just me. Of course, I never get round to it - it's hard to 'sacrifice' a couple of hours of fishing, but my instincts tell me it would be a good investment.

I often wonder about fish that get hit hard over a lengthy period but still keep coming back through the same spot. What is so special about that particular place? Find the answer and maybe you find the clue to getting them to take - or not
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Old 06-11-2005, 10:19 PM
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bonehead bonehead is offline
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Flies or flying...

I think what fish key on more than anything is the way a fly moves. Stupid (uneducated) fish - bones or tarpon - are aggressive and will hit a fast moving fly. They have no suspicion and will chase a fly down. As these same fish see more pressure and flies, they become wary and shy. Now, as you say, the presentation and the fly have to be right to hook up. Too much movement and they spook. I think they may be recognizing that unnatural movement.

I've heard several first hand accounts of the same experience you've had, and had personal experience with the bones here getting educated during the late 90's and 'dumb' again after hurricane Ivan. What I haven't seen is many folks that talk about fish refusing flies after experimenting with different retrieval styles. Most anglers have a particular way they retrieve for a given fish - some fast, some slow and long, some twitchy - and they stick with what they know works. Thing is, an aggressive stripping technique (i.e. moving the fly too much or too fast) hardly ever seems to work on educated fish.

This makes me think that normal bonefish pray moves very little and that when stripping for wise bones (or tarpon) less is more. Really. For example, in the FLA Keys tarpon are now way smarter than they once were. A lot of the guides are now teaching the 'dangle' stripping technique where once it was 1-2 foot strips. Same with bones. Some flats here you cast and strip, like for jacks but a little slower, and the bones chase the fly down to eat it. Other, more pressured flats require more of a soft-sell. You know, lead the fish a little further, and barely twitch the fly when they get into range. Watch the fish and you'll know if they've seen it. I've had fish study a fly for what seemed like a minute (probably 5-10 seconds) before tailing on it hard. The other fish that day spooked when the fly moved too much. I'm convinced letting it sit looked more natural - more like the behaviour of real pray and not merely like something he'll put in his mouth out of curiousity.

So, what's this to do with fly selection? Well, the more you're able to move a fly, the more impressionistic it can be. Take the Clouser - a top Andros fly. Big fish there like moving flies (feeding heavily on mud minnows and other baitfish) so the Clouser works great with long, slow strips. On the other hand, there are flats - say in the FLA Keys - that hold shrimp and crabs which hide rather than run, so you want to move the fly less. Of course, this gives the fish a lot more time to inspect the fly. Impressionistic flies or those with bright colors rarely pass inspection in a foot of crystal clear water under a bright sun. However, tie on a slightly more realistic pattern - no flash, neutral colors, and mono eyes - and you might convince him. Bottom line, the more you can move a fly, the less important fly selection is. The spookier the fish and the less you can move it, the better the pattern should be.

Finally, mix up the retrieve. On spooky fish I like little twitches - maybe 1-2 inches - but not too fast. Another good one is a long, slow strip and a pause. Both are very natural and have the advantage of keeping the fly in the 'zone' longer, basically requiring less of a decision from the fish than a fly it has to chase down. Many of the fish I cut my teeth on - fish I had to get clients to catch - were very smart and wary. I had to develop techniques and flies that would consistently produce. I use small flies, little or no flash, and neutral colors combined with a minumum of stripping to fool these fish. On my travels these same techniques have worked on spooky bones in Eleuthera, Exuma, and the FLA Keys... all fishing on my own.

Fly pattern is important, but it is rarely so simple as 'matching the hatch'. All the things mentioned in previous posts are certainly important: matching the color of the flats, weight of the fly, etc. However, equally as important is the relationship between fly movement and fly appeal. I mean, some flies work great if the fish don't get a good look - Charlies, Clousers, Gotchas - but don't work so well on smart fish when sitting still. Other flies work better sitting on the bottom - Merkins, Bonefish Critters, Vaverka's Mantis Shrimp, and O'Keefe's Turds. Those 7 patterns in various weights and colors will catch you fish almost anywhere in the world... if you move them right.


PS Great question, by the way, Josko.

Last edited by bonehead; 06-11-2005 at 10:29 PM.
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Old 06-14-2005, 12:48 AM
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petevicar petevicar is offline
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Hi Everyone
I think that there is another aspect here and that is - are the fish feeding?
In my experience if a fish ignores a fly then he is probably just cruising or he is worried (about boats or sharks) or the tide is slack and there is no current movement.
I think that the difference between educated and non educated fish is that if an educated fish (Florida Keys), when it is feeding, sees something that should not be there he spooks. Uneducated fish will take aything.
Fish can be turned off by too much casting.
Just because they are there doesn't mean that you can catch them.


Last edited by petevicar; 06-14-2005 at 12:49 AM.
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Old 06-15-2005, 10:58 PM
arubaman arubaman is offline
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Well, this all sounds nice.
For as far as I experienced anything with Bonefish I would totally agree that the way you move your fly is the most important factor in my opinion. Off course ridiculouys fly-patterns will not be eaten, but any pattern that's looking a bit like some prey is good enough.
On the other hand, some of the things I think are important is to have some flashy material in it, not much, but just a little bit. As a watersportsman and a quite fanatic scuba-diver I can tell you I have never seen crustacions(?) without some flashy parts. For example all shrimp and lobster have some flashy leggs or antenna's probing out. My favourit Gotcha's at this time all have a little bit of sparkle in it. Sometimes only two threads of flash, but at least a bit.
Another thing I noticed is to make your fly that way so it "glides" on the drop back to the bottom after giving it a quick strip. Sinking flies, I agree with that, but they still can be made that way that they will glide horizontally toward the bottom instead of a quick drop (when it's to heavy). If I look at almost all prey that try to escape from me as I snorkel or dive, they all accelerate very fast. One whip of the tail, one movement of the tentacles, shrimp, squid and much more small animals give one fast shot. Then they'll glide untill they land softly on the bottom again and very often wait, very very quiet, to see if they allready shaken of the predator. If you continue swimming their way, again they'll take of with a snap and slowly glide towards the bottom. If they are realy upset maybe they'll give two or three quick snaps after another, but every time after the rush they'll glide slowly with grace, instead of being the heavy beaded gotcha that drops to a sudden death.
Well, that's as far as I can relate some of my experience to this topic.
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