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Bonefish, Tarpon, and other Obsessions Turquoise water, silver demons on the fly

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Old 04-15-2007, 06:27 AM
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Bonefish on dry fly

I promised to write about this many weeks ago. I am sorry this has taken so long.
I have cheated however and here is a copy of an article that my friend Jan Kristensen wrote about a trip that we made to Los Roques in October 2006.
He also took the photos.



Dryfly bonefishing

The shallow beach was in the lee side of the island so only small ripples licked up against the golden sand. Clear water gradually turned into a deep turquoise colour further from shore where mackerels would sometimes leap several meters across the water in pursuit of bait. The masses of baitfish that usually inhabit this beach were not to be seen but scattered schools were still pressed right up against the beach. This is where the bonefish like to cruise.
Pete was walking a few meters in front of me, flyline already off the reel and a floating gummy minnow in his hand. The five light greyish silhouettes slowly making their way against us were not hard to see; the fish furthest on the right was almost beaching itself with its dorsal fin and tail sticking out of the water. Pete carefully landed the fly well ahead of the fish as we both crouched down into the well-known “I see the fish” flyfisherman’s pose. As the fish came close, Pete carefully twitched the fly resting in the surface. The lead fish changed direction, had a close look but could not be fooled. The second fish was more eager and sucked down the fly with determination and an audible plop. As Pete set the hook and as the fish took off at high speed, our hearts started beating again. A few minutes later the fly was removed from a silver-scaled, almost yellow-backed bonefish with translucent fins. As it slowly swam off after a quick photo we couldn’t help laughing about the absurdity and excitement of catching bonefish on a “dryfly”…


Los Roques bonefish
With their soft, teeth-less mouth, bonefish are specialized in feeding on shrimp, crabs, worms and other critters found on the bottom. In most places where bonefish are found these food items make up most of their diet. There is one place in particular, however, where the menu of bonefish is quite different.
Since the archipelago of Los Roques (LR) in Venezuela was discovered as a flyfishing destination in the late 1980’s, it has been evident that a large portion of the bonefish found there, feed very specifically on baitfish. This is obviously due to the dense schools baitfish present most of the year. The baitfish are Big-eye Anchovy (Anchoa lamprotaenia) and they are found throughout the islands and especially along the beaches. This allows for a kind of bonefishing that is different from that of the pancake flats LR has become famous for, but also different from most other places where bonefish are caught.
Anything from single fish to large schools counting hundreds of individuals cruise the beaches in search of baitfish. Other species such as bar jacks, horse-eye jacks, blue runners and mack tuna also feed on the anchovies by rounding them up and attacking them in tuna-style blitzes. The bonefish rarely take part in this kind of feeding but seem to rather look out for injured fish. This is where the birds, and in particular the pelicans come into the picture.

Pelican attack
The distinct splash of a pelican diving into the anchovies is a sign to the bonefish that there may be a free lunch. Bonefish will race up to the pelican, now sitting in the water with its pouch full of water and bait. Sometimes when visibility is good it is possible to see several bonefish race towards a re-emerging pelican from various directions. Not only will the bonefish pick up any stunned fish but as the pelican is sieving all the water out of its pouch (without letting out the anchovies) it will actually try to harass the pelican into opening its beak. Seeing a pelican that has just made a dive, frantically back-paddling with a water-filled pouch is a sure sign that it is being bullied by one or more bonefish. Often excited dorsal fins and tails are also seen right next to the pelican.
This is when you want to be fast. An excited pelican-bonefish is much less cautious than under other circumstances and a baitfish imitation placed next to the pelican as it’s emptying its pouch will often draw a strike. No need to explain that this is exciting and quite possibly the only place in the world where bonefish can be “sight-fished” this way. Obviously, the cast needs to be precise or you will end up with a pelican rather than a bonefish at the end of your line – a situation neither you nor the pelican want to be in! Unfortunately, this does happen and over the years pelicans have learnt to recognize people waving long, thin sticks as things that can cause trouble and therefore tend to keep their distance.

The Floating Gummy Minnow
When Blane Chocklett invented the Gummy Minnow it didn’t take long for people to realise that this was the perfect fly for the fish-eating LR bonefish. Except for fishing the pancake flats, the gummy minnow is still one of the very best flies to bring to LR as it so closely resembles the real thing.
One might get the impression the bonefish in LR are easy to catch and not much of challenge. However, if you can see the fish, chances are that they have already seen you and are perhaps not spooked but at least extra cautious. Often you will find that they quite simply ignore your most well-tied gummy minnow or speed off the instant your fly hits the water. What caught my attention on my first trip to LR was how bonefish would sometimes suck down dead or injured baitfish floating in the surface – not just when they were pelicans around but also once in awhile when they would come across one while cruising the beaches. I couldn’t help think if perhaps this was the answer to those bonefish that seemed to be not only locked onto the appearance of the baitfish but also the movement of the it – or lack thereof!
A year later I was back, this time with a flybox that had a couple of floating baitfish patterns in it. A pencil popper, a mylar-tybe fly and a gummy minnow that I had stuck some foam inside. The latter two didn’t float well and the popper seemed a bit big and bulky. Fishing was good and it wasn’t until the second-last day that I gave it a real chance. I had found a small pool at the end of a beach, surrounded by mangrove on three sides and with only a small channel leading out into open water. It was only about one foot deep but crystal clear and with hundreds of baitfish stacked up in it. I was admiring this natural aquarium when suddenly a big bonefish made its way into the pool and slowly made its way around the edge. When he was furthest away I made a careful roll-cast. As he came towards me I slowly stripped the fly but to no avail – he seemed to notice neither me nor the fly and made his way out of the pool. Two minutes later he was back, made his round and disappeared again. This happened several times and I carefully presented different flies – not interested at all… In the meantime the mosquitoes had found me and I decided that it was all or nothing and tied on the floating gummy minnow and laid it out well in advance. When he came around he casually changed direction, stood up almost vertically in the water and sucked down the fly with what seemed like a very loud slurp! I couldn’t believe it; a big bonefish had just taken my floating fly, sitting still in the water, right in front of me. I set the fly with an impulsive trout strike, which saw him make circle around in the pool and then speed off. When he came to the channel the fly pulled (no doubt due to the trout strike) but for some reason it didn’t matter much; I still walked away with a grin and a handful of mosquito bites on my face, feeling that what had just happened was out of the ordinary.



Fishing the “dryfly”
Since that day the floating gummy minnow has been refined and re-tested over several trips to LR. On a recent trip, Peter Vikanis and I fished this fly almost exclusively. It takes a bit of getting used to but can be deadly, even in situations where no other fly seems to work. The amount of twitching of the fly is a key factor in inducing a take. Setting the fly can also be difficult (who said trout strike?). We also found that using mono leader and tippet was an advantage over fluorocarbon. Even just a fluorocarbon tippet would eventually drown the fly and for some reason result in fewer takes.


Although very different from traditional flats fishing for tailing bonefish, fishing with a floating fly is equally exciting sight fishing, and to our knowledge unheard of. Interestingly, most other species we came across also found a liking to both “dead-drifted” or skated floating gummy minnows – be it jacks or mack tuna ripping through baitfish schools or babytarpon cruising the mangrove margins.
Now, when can I go back…?
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Old 04-15-2007, 07:55 AM
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Excellent read Pete. I really enjoyed that, and the photos are great!
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Old 04-15-2007, 08:41 AM
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juro juro is offline
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that is simply mind-boggling!

incredible, always something totally new out there!
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Old 04-15-2007, 09:41 AM
FishHawk FishHawk is offline
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Great read and nice photos. FishHawk
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Old 04-15-2007, 11:39 AM
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Who wudda thunk? It pays to have good analytical skills. Wonderful!
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Old 04-15-2007, 12:13 PM
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Floating Gummy

Pete, thanks for that. I think you may have shown me an even better Bowfin fly. I've been tying various kluges of mylar bodie over foam with short bunny or marabou tails. The challange is getting a minnow imitation that will suspend just 1 or 2 inches below the surface, but above a weed carpet when fished dead slow.

I'd be interested your thoughts about foam size to hook ratio.
Thanks Again
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Old 04-16-2007, 11:58 AM
SteelBoneguy SteelBoneguy is offline
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That is an amazing story report.
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Old 04-16-2007, 03:20 PM
Geordie Shanks Geordie Shanks is offline
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Nice....

That was a killer few minutes reading that and trying to envision the circumstance. Excellent report.
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Old 04-16-2007, 07:51 PM
fishordie fishordie is offline
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So, they do eat fish...

Thank you very much for posting this article. It's extremely interesting!

One day last year, I was stripping a Clouser (#6) in really FAST in 2 to 4 feet of
water with old coral bed structures, trying to get a Travally to hit it. The fly was
traveling just a few inches below the surface. About 15 yards from me, a fish
made a BIG splash, showing its back, took the Clouser, and started running,
away from me, to the right, to the left, all over. It took more than 50 yards of
backing once or twice. Of course, all I had in mind was how to get this Travally
in. Well, what I saw, after about 10 minutes of aggressive playing, was a
bonefish, somewhere between 4 and 5 pounds. I was stunned!

I had thought that this was just a freak event. But, reading this article, I now
believe that bonefish on the Oahu flats do chase baitfish also.
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Old 04-17-2007, 09:32 AM
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First bonefish I ever caught was on a beetle spin, being reeled in fast over top of a weed bed, in the BVI's. It was so much fun that I took up fly fishing to catch more of those things. Many fly fishing reels, rods and flies later its still my favorite fish to catch and even more fun on fly.
Lee Haskin makes a fly called the Shirmp Neutralizer. It suspends a few inches below the surface and will take bonefish. Google " lee's fly specialties".
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Old 04-20-2007, 04:35 PM
Geordie Shanks Geordie Shanks is offline
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Nice tie

Any chance you would mind posting the specific recipe for that fly? I doubt I will find myself in LR anytime soon, but that fly looks like it would be a ton of fun to tie up. Thanks.
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Old 04-21-2007, 05:18 AM
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petevicar petevicar is offline
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Hi Geordie
Look in the fly tying section.
I posted it about a week ago.

Pete
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