Peninsula Fly Fishers
  

Bonefishing Tips

by Igor Doncov

Best Books

The two best books on bonefishing are Fly Fishing for Bonefish by Dick Brown and Bonefishing by Randall Kaufmann. I read and re-read both books often prior to going to Christmas Island. However, I discovered a number of things that improved my fishing which were missing from all the books. Some may be unique to Christmas Island, but the majority apply universally. Hopefully these tips will help the club members who are preparing for the Bahamas fishout.

Saddles

The best fishing spots on the island are the "saddles" that connect adjacent deep water holes in the lagoon. At low tide, fish cruise the length of the depression and use its deepest section to migrate from one hole to the other. At incoming and outgoing tides the bonefish enter and leave the adjacent flats from the two ends of the saddle. At such times all you have to do is just stand at these points and wait for the fish to come by.

Sandy Bottoms

Contrary to popular belief, a fish on a sandy bottom is more difficult to see than one on a coral bottom. The reason is that most encounters with bones are viewes from the side. When you look at a bonefish broadside on a sandy bottom, the sand is reflected by the fish's mirror-like scales so the fish become virtually invisible. Bones over coral appear gray.

Reflections

Bonefish are usually more easily spotted on clear, sunny days. It is not the lack of light that makes fish difficult to see. It is the reflection of clouds on the surface of the water that makes it difficult to see past the surface layer to the bottom. The water loses it's transparency and you end up looking at the surface itself.

Lighting

Bones are often easier to see if a cloud is positioned to throw a shadow over you and the fish, but is behind your direction of vision and therefore not being reflected to you. The subdued light makes it easier to see the bonefish. In such cases, bones appear green when over brown coral and yellow/brown when over gray sand.

Casting into Wind

Learn to cast into the wind!!! Bonefish feed facing into the wind. They are far more approachable from behind. Casts into the wind result in quieter deliveries because the wind is working against the force of the delivery and dissipates the force of the cast. Lining a fish once during a twenty mph wind at Xmas will usually not spook it.

Upwind Edges

The greatest concentration of bonefish occurs on the upwind edge of a flat. Christmas Island has numerous circular flats called "pancake" flats. Most guides walk you downwind along an edge to make casting easier. Most fish will roam or hold within twenty yards of the windward edge of the flat, often facing into the surge.

Best Tides

There are four tides to consider when scheduling a trip: high spring tide, low spring tide, high neap tide, and low neap tide. The best fishing is on the incoming higher high tide of a spring tide. At this time fish are foraging heavily. The fishing during neap tides is good to spotty. At such times the water level is consistent throughout the day and the fish are present, but they are often cruising, not feeding. Generally, low spring tides are disastrous because the entire flat dries up or has so little water that fish are very spooky. However, there are a few flats which fish just as well during low tides.

Trophy Bones

The best fishing for trophy bones is during low tides when the flat is almost dry. The big bones will cruise the green water off the edges of the flat. They're hard to see because you're looking at them sideways (you're standing on the flat). Large fish rarely pass over a flat and will only do so after the water is waist deep. They are very hard to see at such a depth (you are not in a boat) and are not worth pursuing.

Cast and Wait

Cast-and-wait is one of the best and easiest techniques, especially for beginners. Cast ten to fifteen feet ahead of a cruising fish. Allow the fly to sink to the bottom. When the fish is three feet from the fly, pull the fly gently for about a yard, then let it sink. The fish should move to the fly. The greatest advantage of this technique is that it overcomes faulty deliveries (the main cause of failure). However, there are numerous situations when this method doesn't work, such as when schools change direction or when fish are tailing.

Fluorocarbon

Fluorocarbon is a mixed blessing for bonefishing. Although less visible, it sinks much faster than mono. Flies get caught on coral because they are pulled along the bottom with each retrieve, instead of being lifted off the bottom. Also, the sound of leader scraping the sandy bottom spooks fish. You can't use the cast and wait method of fishing because of the fast sink-rate. The delivery has to be on target and stripped soon thereafter. That requires close casts which spook fish, especially the big ones.

Best Time of Day

Morning is considered the best time to fish at Christmas Island because the trade winds blow east to west and the sun rises from the east. By stalking towards the west you omit the glare from the sun, and the wind helps your casting. However, you can have great afternoon fishing by learning to cast into the wind and fishing in the opposite direction (east to west) to unwary bonefish.

Close Encounters

You will not initially see at least a third of the fish present. Those you do spot will be less than twenty feet away. This close, any movement will spook the fish. Casting a fly with just the leader requires a lot of motion. Freeze! Let the fish swim right past you. After it is a safe distance away, turn yourself around slowly and make the cast. If you are consistently seeing fish only at close range, the spotting is bad; move to another flat with different characteristics.

Spotting Bonefish

The single-most important skill in bonefishing is spotting. After two weeks at Xmas I could see about fifteen percent of the fish within forty feet in the direction I was searching. Guides see about fifty percent. Your guide's main function is spotting fish. However, casting blindly to fish which only the guide is seeing is no fun at all. After learning the basics of bonefishing, use guides sparingly or go solo. It's far more rewarding.

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