Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Ready!

Some of us were sitting around the other day having a cold one when we started talking about an important, yet rarely discussed, time in our fishing days. We were discussing that time period between meeting your guide and when you make your first cast to a fish. As result of this conversation, we decided to offer some hints on how to approach and best be ready for this time period in your fishing day.
We all agreed there has been plenty written about fly rods, fly reels, terminal tackle, flies, casting styles, retrieval styles, places to go and when to go there, but the topic of being ready to fish for the day is not talked about very often... but being ready: ready to meet your guide, ready to load up, ready to launch, and ready to fish can make a big difference in your day.

Here are some suggestions that can make you more efficient in your preparation which will translate to a smoother pick-up, launch and first cast. A little forward thinking about how you pack, where you put things on the boat, and being ready to fish can give you an extra 30 minutes of fishing time, make your guide a happy person, and just maybe ensure you don’t miss the first and only fish of the day.

Preparing for Pick-Up
Foremost, be on time.  No one likes to be kept waiting and that applies to you as well as to your guide.  Establish your pick-up time and make sure you meet it.  That usually means doing some packing the night before.  If you have not been to your location or fished with your guide before, you might ask your guide the night before how the morning will go. This will help you pack.  Will you rig up your rods before or after you launch?  What kind of fly line and leader is recommended?  Should you plan to have multiple rods ready? Don't ask a million questions... just those crucial few that will help you prepare and be ready.
Try to minimize the amount of gear you have to schlep around.   It’s easier on you and you will make a better first impression with your guide if you don’t show up bringing the equivalent of an entire fly shop.  A rod tube/case and a boat bag is pretty optimum.  Sometimes if you have lots of camera gear or are going to a location with a large variety of fish that requires more than average gear you might need two bags.  If you are bringing two rods or less, you might leave the tube/case at home and simply bring the rods in their socks.  Four piece rods are always best and will usually fit in at least one of the cargo compartments on the boat. If you only have two piece rods it might be best to bring the protective tube.  Again, ask your guide what is best
Your boat bag should be water proof (or water repellent as a minimum) and should be able to fit in the cargo compartments of most boats or under the seat.  Cluttering up deck space with gear often results in stumbling around, loud noises, tangled fly lines, and worse, broken gear.  A boat bag with a wide opening mouth is better than a bag with a narrow opening that requires you to remove some gear in order to find stuff that is beneath it.
Since you are only bringing one boat bag, it pays to think about the order in which you might need the stuff you put in the bag.  For instance, if you will be putting together your rod and reel before you launch, don’t put your reels in the bottom of the bag.  If it will be cool or rainy on the run out, keep your rain jacket near the top of the bag.  If you wear gloves, protective stripping sleeves, a face buff, pliers, have extendable fighting butts for your rods, or anything else that you need or want to have on before you start fishing, make sure it is easy to find near the top of your boat bag.  Zip lock bags are great for keeping small pieces of equipment together and easy to find.  Put on sunscreen before you leave your room.
When your guide shows up, be ready.  When you stow your gear in the boat make sure you and your guide know which gear you’ll need to access during the day.  Ask if you should put your rods together and put them in the protective sleeves in the boat.  Do not string the line through the guides unless you will be tying on a fly. 

Be Ready to Launch
Most guides have launched their boats so many times they have a well-established routine.  Often trying to help launch only disrupts that routine with the end result being less efficient.  Always ask if you can help before stepping in.  Your time might be better used to put on a buff, gloves, stripping guide, pliers, etc.
Many guides prefer you not wear the shoes you wore on the gravel path onto their boat without rinsing the bottom off.  And many guides do not want you wearing shoes with dark soles that can mark their deck.  So be prepared with shoes that have non-marking soles and that you can rinse off.  Or if you fish barefoot be ready to remove your shoes as you board.
Most flats skiffs have protective rod holders beneath the gunwales of the deck.  If you are in a panga or other type of boat without protective rod holders, ask your guide where the best place is to secure your rod (if you haven’t already stowed your rods).
When your guide starts motoring out, be ready with your jacket, buff, or other gear you need for the run.  If you wear gloves, protective stripping guides, or other equipment, get ready as you motor away from the marina.  Waiting until you get to the first flat wastes time.  This may mean you need to keep your boat bag by your seat for a bit.
Obviously, take care not to have your gear blow overboard. Also, make sure your hat is secured so it doesn't blow off and you have to waste valuable time going back to retrieve it. Pull you buff over your hat or use clips to attach your shirt or jacket to your hat.
If you didn’t do it before you launched, you might try to string your rods while you motor out, but ask your guide first.  There is often a “no wake” zone that requires slow going and that’s a perfect time to get ready.  Ask about terminal tackle and flies and get ready (this is a good question to ask the night before or when you are stringing your rod at the dock or beach).  If you don’t your guide will often have to stop some distance from your first flat to allow you time to rig up.
Being ready helps the launch go smoothly and quickly. And it is definitely bush league to plug up the launch ramp or slow your party's progress because you left something in the truck or in your room!

Be Ready to Fish
As you near your first flat or fishing spot, your guide will usually slow down and often stop the motor to avoid spooking fish.  We  cannot count the number of times we have pulled up next to a flat only to bump up a tarpon or bonefish.  Not being ready would have meant missing a chance at those fish.
Remember you have entered the quiet zone.  No dropping hatch covers, slamming cooler lids, tossing gear bags, and no stomping noisily around on the deck.  Be efficient, but be quiet.
Have your buff, your protective stripping guides, your pliers, hat, sunglasses on and ready as you pull up.  Follow the guide’s advice, but usually one must be ready to step up onto the casting deck and start scanning the water immediately.  Strip off at least 50 to 60 feet of line (more if you can accurately cast more) and stretch it between your hands to remove any memory coils.  This is especially true if it is cool in the morning.  Tropical lines stiffen when the temperature drops and retain memory coils from the reel.  If you try to cast the line without stretching out those coils, you risk a massive knot and another blown opportunity.
Once you’ve scanned the water and made sure there isn’t a fish in the area, pick a target and cast your fly.   This serves several purposes.  First you reverse the way the line is coiled on the deck – so the part that will fly out when you cast will be the top most part of the line.  Second, you give your guide an indication of your casting ability.  If you make a cast that approaches your maximum accurate range, you can tell your guide.  This helps your guide know where to position the boat and coach you when to cast.  You and your guide can also agree on the distance of that cast.  Sometimes guides and clients depth perception differs and it helps to get agreement on what is 60 feet before you actually cast at a fish.  By actually picking a target rather than just randomly casting, you give yourself some target practice.  You also avoid casting into an oyster bed or coral head that can snag your fly and cause more delays and commotion to retrieve your fly.

Strip your fly back making sure to carefully coil your line without snags.  Leave your leader and about 10 to 15 feet of fly line outside the tip top.  Hold the fly in your non-rod hand, pinching the bend of the hook between your fingers.  Holding the leader or the head of the fly make it possible to hook your finger when you start to make a cast, something that is both painful and causes delays.  
One last recommendation – pick your stance, plant your feet and don’t move them.  Anglers afflicted with “happy feet” eventually step on their line at a crucial moment, get tangled up or make lots of noise.  Having "happy feet" can also rock the boat and this sends out little waves that put fish on the alert. Yes, the creak of a hatch cover can spook fish, but the thump of a foot on the deck resonates through the water like an explosion.  Fish may not spook, but they will know something else is in the area and that makes them very nervous and on guard.  And never, ever scrape your foot along the deck in an attempt to reposition your fly line.  This is absolutely the worst thing you can do to your fly line. It can put a permanent twist in your line that you will fight for as long as you keep that line.

We hope you like these suggestions. If you have more suggestions or any comments, we would like to hear them.  We'll try to keep these thoughts on Being Ready a work in progress, so please chime in with your suggestions!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bonefish, Humility and a Dark Closet

Sometimes the events of a day leave an angler with a strong sense of personal expertise and accomplishment. While on other days, repeated episodes of failure batter an angler's ego until it is a bloody and bruised mess. In my experience, humility is generally forced upon us rather than it being a chosen path...

On a recent trip to South Andros Island, humble pie was on the menu one day. It all began when we saw a few big mangrove bushes off the main channel. Knowing these big bushes needed a good tide flow, we hoped to find the creek system that was feeding them. Searching carefully, we hugged the shore until we saw a sliver of green water bending southwest. Upon reaching this channel, a huge ‘cuda, his head as wide as a battering ram, silently slid in behind us. He followed us up what was now becoming a narrow, but deep creek. The channel soon gave way to shallow water and that was when the ‘cuda's curiosity waned and he returned to his ambush spot in the channel. With each step, the creek opened up more, eventually revealing a huge flat that was shaped like a four-leaf clover. Each lobe had a big mangrove bush that stood alone and served as the focal point for that particular bay.

These were the man-o-war bushes we had seen from outside the creek. I waded one shoreline, while my partner waded the other. We chugged ahead through soft marl that was just beginning to get tiring when the muck suddenly changed to packed sand. The bug dope and sunscreen flavored sweat that had just begun to leak into the corners of my mouth stopped as the wading got progressively easier and, as an added bonus, a soft breeze picked up.

I caught a few schoolies that were milling about near a rocky bar, then crossed the mouth of a small bay that seemed to have a slightly deeper channel on the far side. When I got to the channel, I saw that some of the charcoal grey innards of the flat had just been sucked up and spewed out onto the dazzling white sand of the bay. 

“That was done by a bonefish...” I said to myself, “... and not too long ago.” 

This I deduced because the morning tide was now falling and all the sucked-out debris was deposited on the down-tide side of the holes that I was now slowly wading past. Feeling a bit like a coon dog on a hot scent, I mentally connected the dots of each root hole as I muttered to myself, “There are fish here somewhere. Maybe they are still up in the bay and haven't yet been spooked by the dropping water.” 

I then glanced toward shore and saw a root hole that was smoking like a small volcano. 

“That couldn't have been there for more than a minute.” I thought as I searched the pocket, but saw no fish.

The light was perfect. If a fish was mining the marl in front of me, I should have been able to see it. But I saw nothing. Maybe, I had spooked the fish. If so, I suck! I should have been able to see any fish on this white sand long before I might spook them.

Just then a tail popped up. It waved happily in the air. I watched as a new smoking hole appeared complete with charcoal grey debris scattered on the down-tide side. When the fish was done rooting, he tilted back to horizontal and completely disappeared in the stirred-up and slightly muddy marl. Again, I could see no fish. He just vanished in water so shallow it barely covered my ankles. 

I flipped my fly forward like a discarded cigarette, then threw it behind me into a backcast. Just as I planned to drop my fly in the mud, the leading edge of a huge cloud, one of the few we had seen this week, covered the sun. I decided to wait. After only a few minutes, a tail appeared on the side opposite side me. 

“Two fish or just one fish that has moved?" I wondered.

Now, perhaps I was caught between two tailing fish - in impossibly shallow water - with a cloud covering the sun - on a white sand flat that even with no sun, I should be able to see everything... but, I could see no fish. 

I was once described in a book about flat’s fishing as, and I quote, “Heywood is seemingly able to see bonefish in a dark closet.” My friends like to kid me about this, but at this moment, apparently I needed a dark closet. I was glad no one was watching my inept stalk. As my frustration mounted, the sun slowly reappeared. My mood immediately improved until the whole scene replayed itself in maddening detail. There was a tail followed by a puff of mud, the fish tipped down and again vanished, I started to cast, a cloud covered the sun, I stopped casting etc, etc. 

Good God almighty! I was getting downright apoplectic so I decided to make a cast anyway. My thought was I would be proactive and try to retrieve something from this slowly deteriorating situation. This is probably never a very good strategy when bonefishing. Of course, my cast netted nothing... no hookup, no excited fluttering tail, hell, I didn’t even spook anything! Eventually I just stood there waiting for the sun, or a break... or perhaps some help from the fish gods! 

When the sun finally came out, I watched the root carefully. I could see no fish, but that obviously meant nothing. Eventually, impatience got the better of me and I waded slowly over to the root hole. My intention was to congratulate this bonefish on his total victory and perhaps turn around so he could kick me in the ass just for good measure. But he wasn’t there! Where in God’s name did he go? Just then two tails popped up on the other side of me and not very far away. Now they were just screwing with me!

Soon the whole scene repeated itself yet again. You know it well by now: tail appears, tail disappears... I get nothing. No hook-up, no follow, not even a slam-the-door-in-your-face exit... at least that would have brought a conclusion to this sordid affair. Eventually, the sun goes behind yet another cloud and I’m left at the doorstep again. Muttering to myself, I am now extremely worked-up and frustrated... none of the Zen, in-the-groove, patience of Job, process-oriented approach I often preach to others. Hell no, now I'm in full blown, type-A, yell at your kids, punch the dog, I-want-the-product-now behavior. Hell, I’m getting worked-up all over again just writing about this day. In fact, I can’t wait to conclude this paragraph and get on with my life. I'll be right back...

...OK, I’m better. Amazing what a slug of Jameson and a handful of Oreos does for the nervous system. 

Anyway, the net result of all this folderol was zip... absolutely nothing! For a moment, I thought I might find myself running through the bonefish roots screaming, “OK, screw you all. You win! I’m leaving! I don’t need you and your stinking tails.” 

Obviously, I was reaching the far side of emotional control and had donated my mental health to a couple of 22” bonefish. Maybe all the freeze-dried meals, tepid drinking water and incandescent sunshine we had experienced in the last ten days had poached my brain and turned me in to a simpering idiot. Must be, because at this moment I was contemplating yelling at an animal that probably didn’t even know I was there. I like to think so... to do otherwise means that these two bonefish were just playing with me. 

Maybe they had told each other, “Watch this... if you do it just right, you can make creatures crazy. Eventually, they’ll stomp their feet, pout and leave. Then we can get back to our meal.” 

Eventually, I did leave. I took my one-millibar-short-of-a-stroke blood pressure to visit the next bay where I wailed on 17” schoolies until I was once again convinced I was a superior animal... then I went looking for a dark closet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Another Permit Caught with The International Angler Group at Water Cay Lodge

As I said in my last post, Water Cay Lodge is quickly becoming one of the best spots in the Bahamas to catch a permit. We are consistently seeing permit and we've had quite a few caught this year. Enough that anglers should be "rigged and ready" for permit when they visit. The Water Cay Lodge guides are becoming more and more experienced with permit and definitely have been a big asset to those angers who have been lucky enough to get "hooked-up".

Greg Rolle and angler Mike Taylor celebrate!

In early November, a group from the International Angler in Pittsburgh, PA led by Franklyn Gorrell also had an angler lucky enough to catch a permit at Water Cay Lodge. Franklyn told me the anglers name is Mike Taylor and he is also from Pittsburgh. This was his first permit.  The fish was about 25 - 30 lbs.! 

Craven's Bonefish Junk

Mike's permit took a Craven’s " Bonefish Junk “ on the first cast with NO hesitation! Franklyn and Mike were guided by Water Cay Lodge guide Greg Rolle. Franklyn said Greg was very good with boat position and helped a great deal by talking Mike through the presentation. Greg also did a good job of keeping the boat close to the fish as it ran thus keeping most of the line out of the water. 

Franklyn Gorrell congratulates Mike Taylor!

The International Angler is a great source for gear and if you're looking for my Top 5 bonefsh flies, these guys stock Umpqua Flies and my Top 5. The staff has a great deal of experience in the Bahamas so they are a good source for info on flies, lines, leaders etc. Besides, they usuallly give Angling Desination clients a bit of a break! Try them, you'll like them:

The International Angler is at 412-788-8088 or


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dental Education Adventures Water Cay Permit and Trip Report

Water Cay Lodge is quickly becoming one of the best spots in the Bahamas to catch a big permit. Visiting anglers are consistently seeing permit and we've had enough of these elusive beasts caught this year that visiting anglers should be "rigged and ready" for permit. The Water Cay Lodge guides have often been the difference between a catch and coming back with a big zero.

All three guides (Sidney Thomas, Ezra Thomas and Greg Rolle) have great eyes and find permit that few other guides would see. Water Cay Lodge guides are amazingly skillful and quiet polers and help anglers with a bad case of "permit fever"  to deliver the fly at the proper time. The guides keep everyone calm when approaching one of these fish of a lifetime and do everything they can to avoid the "wrecks" that so often happen when going after permit. Once hooked, their excellent boat handling skills give anglers the best chance of actually putting a hooked permit in the boat. To put it bluntly, these guides are damn good and I'm proud as hell of them!

But back to this trip... Here is the trip report from late October with the Dental Education Adventures group, led by my old friends Drs. Brian Crock and Larry Towning. In Brian's words:

Dr. Towning obviously had a good day!
"The guides worked tirelessly to put us on fish, as an impending cold front likely pushed fish off the flats into deeper water.  With that being said, we still saw plenty of fish.  The fact that impressed all us was the size of the fish we caught.  On any other trip, bonefish of this size would have been noteworthy. At Water Cay, these bruisers were the average, and we boated many of them.  More remarkable was when you boated a small fish, as they were very few in number.
We have had many legitimate shots at permit in our fishing travels.  Almost every day on this trip, a boat would return to the dock and tell stories of seeing and casting to permit. Inevitably, the heat of the moment leads to a fly in your shirt or the line tangled around your legs.  The possibilities of screwing up a permit presentation are endless.  Sidney's (head guide Sidney Thomas) calm manner made catching this permit possible.  Dan (Dr. Dan Merker) was calm throughout, as he didn't see the sickle tail go down on the fly and wasn't sure what we were fighting 'til Sidney lifted the fish from the water.  Nonetheless, the two of them worked as one for over an hour until the 25 lb permit finally tired."

Dr. Merker and head guide Sidney Thomas with their catch.

Dr. Merker and Dr. Brian Crock celebrate the moment!

Congratulations to Dr. Dan Merker and the members of this year's Dental Education Adventures!

Be looking for the next week's trip report as yet another permit was caught in early November by Franklyn Gorrell's group from the International Angler in Pittsburgh, PA.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Top 5 Bonefish Flies: #1 Bob Veverka's Mantis Shrimp

The real critter that inspired the fly... a Mantis Shrimp
Drum roll please... !!

After much consideration, my top choice... my go-to bonefish fly is Bob Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp (available commercially from Umpqua Flies).

I've known Bob for many years having been asked by him to write a chapter on bonefish flies for his great book Innovative Saltwater Flies published in 1999 by Stackpole Press. I was honored to be included alongside such excellent fly tiers as Tim Borski, Dick Brown, Jack Gartside and Trey Combs. Knowing the company he kept, I knew Bob understood fly design and what it takes to make a fly work well, so I confidently tried his mantis shrimp pattern in a number of different bonefish destinations. It worked like a charm and it's been one of my default options ever since!

This fly is great on most terrain, but especially mixed bottoms such as turtle grass and white sand, dark or light or deep runnels running thru shallow undulating mounds. The mantis shrimp covers all my prerequisites: it is tan (as they say in the Bahamas, "Any color will work, as long as it is tan!") and it blends in like the real critter (see photo above), yet can be seen. In addition, the fly has rubber legs, big eyes and spikey dubbing. Bob's fly has all the qualities I like in a bonefish fly. It is also easily modifiable via different color/diameter rubber legs, dubbings (try coyote or fox) and weight or color of the eyes. I fish mostly #4′s, but do use size #2 and #6 at times.

Veverka's Mantis Shrimp

Here is the creation of the mantis shrimp in Bob Veverka's own words:

Bob Veverka

Several years ago while sitting at my tying desk contemplating an upcoming trip to the Bahamas, I looked over my fly box filled with all the standard Bonefish patterns. I felt something was missing, something different, a fly of my own design. I thought about all the stories I heard about these elusive, fly-pattern-wary bonefish. They eat shrimp so my idea was to tie a shrimp pattern that would entice the smartest ghost on the flat.

While tying the first Mantis Shrimp I thought back to a TV program I saw that included a clip on the behavior of Mantis shrimp. Most noticeable to me was the movement of their many appendages and their eyes. I feel that movement incorporated in your flies displays life,  and to a hungry bonefish, dinner.

When designing flies for predator fish I feel it’s best to match the prey they are feeding on. Most important are the size, shape and color. Size can easily be changed or matched by the size of the hook you tie on. Shape or silhouette must be built into a pattern so it resembles the prey you wish to represent. It should be a fly that’s easy to tie with basic materials, lands lightly, sinks fast and most important, catches fish. The bulky body on my Mantis pattern makes it land softly, and the bead chain eyes bring it to the critical zone.
To simulate a few key elements, small accents are added to our flies that make them look more realistic and lifelike. These features include translucent materials that reflect light, flash materials for attraction, legs that move and emulate life and the addition of eyes that are a predominant feature on all shrimp.

For the color of my mantis shrimp, I felt you can’t go wrong with a light tan or sandy color to match the environment. While tying up some false albacore flies with Craft-fur for the wings I noticed that the material contained shorter fibers that were pulled out and discarded. At the time I thought this would make a beautiful translucent dubbing material. With this thought it was only natural that I used tan Craft-fur for the tail and dubbed body on my Mantis shrimp pattern.

One notable feature on all shrimp are their eyes. Eyes on real shrimp move and make them look like a creature from another planet. I have not figured out how to incorporate this component into a fly pattern so I used the standard burnt mono eyes.

For the carapace I tied in a tuft of tan rabbit fur. This material looks bulky in the water and displays the most enticing movement. Even at rest this material quivers with life. A slight current or a strip on the line will make this material pulse like no other.

Perhaps the most important feature on my Mantis Shrimp pattern are the legs and the way they are tied on. Most bonefish flies that include legs have them tied in all together in one area on the fly. To me this looks like a clump of legs or a dead shrimp. I wanted my pattern to simulate life so each leg had to be separate and act like a natural shrimp with lots of movement. It takes a little extra time to tie a fly in this manner but I feel this is what makes this fly so distinctive and deadly on wary bonefish. Over the years it has become one of the go to patterns used in the Bahamas and a standard in every fly box that travels to this area.

Recipe for Bob Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp
  • Hook – Size #2-6
  • Weight – Bead chain or small dumb-bell eyes
  • Tail – Tan Craft-fur, same length as body. 2 strands of flash material can be added. One set of rubber legs are added at this point, 
  • Burnt mono eyes and a tuff of tan rabbit fur
  • Body – One turn of tan Craft-fur dubbing then another set of rubber legs, followed by another turn of tan dubbing and another set of rubber legs, 3 sets in all.

Bob also has some new variations on his classic mantis shrimp pattern that will soon be available from Umpqua Flies. They are:

Veverka's Spawning Mantis Shrimp

Veverka's Ghost Mantis Shrimp

Veverka's Ghost Mantis Shrimp
S.S. Flies also has a version that works great too.
If you are interested in buying this fly, give me a call (800-211-8530) or e-mail me at 
I'll give you a code for a discount and make appropriate color and size suggestions depending on the island you are fishing. 

S. S. Flies Mantis Shrimp

Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Top 5 Bonefish Flies: #2 The Tan Crab

OK, so here is a cold hard truth... a truth that produces an interesting dilemma for the bone fisherman:
A good time to see what this fellow was eating.

Every time I hook a bonefish that subsequently gets eaten by a shark or a 'cuda, I examine the contents of its stomach. I rarely,... let me re-phrase that, I never find anything but crabs in the stomach of a bonefish. They are usually nickel to dime-sized crabs that are a pale tan in color. Now this doesn't mean bonefish only eat crabs, but it sure as hell means they eat crabs... and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that they probably eat quite a few of them.

There are 2 billion crab patterns available! I have tied or bought no more than half that number.

Yet, most bonefishermen use SHRIMP pattetns to catch bonefish. But, we do not use shrimp because they are the main food source of a bonefish. I think we use shrimp patterns because bonefish do sometimes eat shrimp but more importantly, we use shrimp patterns because they are lighter and shrimp flies enter the water more quietly than crab flies. If what I say is true, what other species do you use flies that do not represent the predominant food source of their quarry because they are offer a better presentation?
So the logical conclusion would be: Use a crab fly! 
But if I suggest this, the majority of experienced bone fishermen would say "NO WAY!"
"Too heavy, too bulky and they make too much noise when they hit the water." 
... and I would wholeheartedly agree!

Eazy-body, rug yarn, epoxy, velcro, wool hair, spun deer hair, leather etc. ...all these traditional crab flies work great, sink quickly and catch fish. Unfortunately, that fish is a permit and for the bonefisherman, these same crabs land with a plop and spook even the dumbest of bonefish.
As such, I have very little confidence in them as a bonefish fly. Most commercially available crab flies are simply too big, too rigid and too heavily weighted... so  here is that conundrum again, if crabs represent the most prevalent prey species for bonefish, yet a rug yarn merkin, velcro, epoxy or spun deer hair crab fly simply does not work on bonefish... what the hell is the answer?
Well, here are a couple solutions:

Enrico Puglisi Micro-Crab #8 tan

Flies like the Enrico Puglisi Micro-Crab is a viable option. Durabile and easy to throw, Puglisi's crabs are made from synthetic materials that are durable, shed water and are dry after the first false cast. Enrico Puglisi Micro-Crabs avoid most of the problems inherent with traditional "permit" crab flies. Their ability to shed water also helps these flies make a silent entry, which is all important when targeting bonefish.
Now add these qualities and a couple others to the next fly and you've got my #2 favorite bonefish fly: That fly is the S.S. Flies permit crab fly. Don't let the name scare you off. I wish they would rename the fly. I'll get them to work on that!

This simple, easy to cast fly has fooled hundreds of bonefish for me over the years. In fact, I spent one trip in the Bahamas using only this crab fly. It worked so well, I saw no need to change it!  When one got too threadbare, I put on another!

Notice the fly!

The technique I prefer when fishing this fly is somewhat unique, especially for a bonefish fly.  There is no strip, pause, strip, pause, strip etc. etc.! Instead, I prefer to practically knock a bonefish on the nose with the fly then not move it... AT ALL! If the bonefish ignores it, I make one LONG, SLOW strip. I rarely have to make a second LONG, SLOW strip! 

One of the keys to this fly is in the claws. S.S. Flies uses cree and barred olive feathers mounted so they spread wide like a crab in a defensive posture. The body is synthetic like the EP flies, so it too is light and dries very easily. Notice the eyes in the samples below run the gamut from small bead chain to small silver lead eyes. The legs are tan silli-legs, but there is a lot of room for experimentation here!

Although S. S. Flies only stock the fly in size #1 for permit,  I special order smaller sizes like # 2 and sometimes # 4.

If you are interested in buying these flies, give me a call (800-211-8530) or e-mail me at 
I'll give you a code for a discount and make appropriate color and size suggestions depending on the island you are fishing. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bonefish 101: A Few Hints to Improve Your Bonefishing

Angling Destinations

bonefish 101

A few hints to improve your bonefishing...



Bonefish are sleek and slender, shy and suspicious. They reflect perfectly the pastel sparkling water where they make their home. With silver sides reflecting all, they seemingly have the ability to change color.
Bonefishing combines the best of hunting and fishing. You must have the visual concentration and patience to find the fish and a hunter's stalking ability to get within casting range. Your cast must deliver the fly quietly and precisely. You must entice the fish, with a proper retrieve, to accept and eat your fly. You must develop a feel for the hookset. In bonefishing, rarely is blind luck rewarded. Usually, the fisherman with the most skills catches the most fish.

The reward for all this concentration and applied technique is the hookup... the magical moment when a ghostly shadow becomes attached to your casting arm. Once hooked, you struggle for control as a bonefish run is explosive and blazing. Line rattles through your rod’s guides in a demonstration of pure power... 50, 100, then 150 yards of backing evaporate into the mix of sizzling tropical heat and gin clear water.
This is bonefishing. For many anglers, after all the trout, salmon, tarpon, and sailfish, the bonefish is still the ultimate quarry. The bonefish, Albula vulpes, the grey ghost, brings anglers back to the flats time and time again, year after year. Many words have been written about why we do it, but it’s really just "damn good fun".

bonefish 101 

The majority of bonefishing is done with a weight forward floating line (WFF). These lines lift easily off the water without spooking the fish and rarely get hung up on the bottom. Use a neutral or pale colored fly line; gray or sand is best. Very bright lines, especially fluorescent colors, can be as easy for the fish to see as it is for you. If you use bright fly lines, make sure your leader is long enough to compensate for the line's increased visibility.

Throw a wet towel over any obstructions on the casting deck of your boat. Cleats and handles can easily snare your fly line and ruin a cast or worse, break off a fish.

Don't strip out more line than you need to make your cast. Make a practice cast, then leave that measured amount of the line trailing in the water (if you are wading,) or stacked carefully on deck (if you are casting from a boat). This will minimize the amount of line that can tangle on your feet or form knots. 

  Do not pull line off your reel and stack it on the deck of the boat. If you do, the forward portion of your line is underneath the pile, then when you cast with the line stacked in this fashion, you will end up with a tangled bird's nest. Make sure you make a practice cast, then stack your line.

If you are casting from the deck of a boat take off your shoes. This will allow you to feel the fly line stacked on the deck and you can avoid stepping on it.

If you are using a monofilament butt section use .025 or heavier. This will transfer the energy from your cast to the leader. A butt section of less than .025 causes the cast to die as the energy is transferred from line to leader.

Using loop-to-loop connections allows you to change leaders quickly.  Attach a two foot butt section to your fly line, as mentioned above, then tie a loop in the end. Then, depending on conditions, you can use a pre-looped 7 foot leader if it’s windy or up to a 15 foot leader, if it is calm.

A ten to fifteen pound fluorocarbon tippet works well on bonefish. Check your leader regularly for abrasion and retie your fly after each fish. Test your knots every time you tie on a new tippet or fly. Don’t just pull halfheartedly when testing these connections... TEST IT! It's better to find out now than later when a fish is on!


bonefish 101 

The most important aspect of fly selection is sink rate. When tying or purchasing bonefish flies, vary the sink rate of your assortment through no eyes (also called blind), to pearl plastic eyes, to bead chain eyes (various sizes available), to lead barbell eyes (heaviest). This allows you to fish different depths of water and to tailing fish (cast close with light fly) and fast cruising fish (cast well ahead with quick sinking fly), effectively.

Use the right fly. In most cases that means using the heaviest fly that conditions will allow. Weight is my single biggest consideration when choosing a fly. Most bonefish, but especially big bonefish, will refuse a fly that isn't on the bottom. The fly must also stay on the bottom. Wind and tidal current can pull on too light a fly and move it up and off the bottom. This makes bonefish nervous, because their prey do not behave like this... bonefish prey hug the bottom!  If a bonefish follows your fly and does not tip down or comes up in the water column to look, your fly is too light. Be more concerned with the weight of your fly than with the pattern you use. Experienced anglers may not change a fly pattern during the day, but they do change the weight of the fly often based on current conditions and water depth.

Bonefish have a powerful sense of smell. They can smell shrimp and crabs they cannot see. They can also smell insect repellent, sun block, gasoline and after-shave. Keeping your hands clean will help keep your fly clean. Never grip your fly by the tied portion, always grip your fly at the bend of the hook. 

As a general rule, use light-colored flies on light (sandy) bottoms and dark-colored flies on dark (turtlegrass, coral) bottoms. In nature, being too visible can be dangerous.  Most prey on bonefish flats are well-camouflaged. Try smaller flies (6,8) to fish that are spooky or are tailing on clear shallow flats in calm weather conditions. On deeper flats, or in windy conditions, larger flies (2,4) work well on larger fish or fish that are cruising very fast. 

Subtle earth tone flies, (tan, brown, olive, green, gold, yellow) work best on sunny, bright days in shallow water when bonefish are spooky. Bright flies, (pink, orange, chartreuse) work best on cloudy or darker days in deeper water or later in the day especially at sunset.

Fly tip: Rub your fly in the sand after handling. This makes the fly smell like the ocean and its surroundings. Not like your sunscreen, insect repellant or deodorant. 

Fishing for these elusive creatures is as much hunting as it is fishing...

-You must have the visual concentration and patience to find the fish and a hunter's stalking ability to get within casting range.
-Your cast must deliver the fly quietly and precisely. 
-You must entice the fish, with a proper retrieve, to accept and eat your fly. 
-You must develop a feel for the hookset. 
-You must fight the fish properly to bring it to hand.

...screw up any of these steps and you’re left with nothing. All you get is a big goose egg and an evening of what could have been.

bonefish 101 

In the boat, be quiet, don’t drop cooler lids or bang the boat’s hull. When wading, be quiet and go slowly. Bonefish can "feel" water being pushed by your legs. Use your eyes... scan constantly, you are hunting as much as fishing. 
Bonefish have an acute sense of vision enabling them to see colors well and in a wide variety of light conditions. They can see motion in muddy or clear water and also when they are stationary or traveling at top speed. That mango Hawaiian shirt looks good in pictures, but tan and pale blue will allow you to spook fewer fish. Remember to remove shiny jewelry. Also, don't hesitate to cast from your knees or to crouch if need be. Try to disappear into the fish’s surroundings. Stand in shadows, on patches of turtlegrass, behind trees, rocks, or mangroves.

Don't wade into the water from the shore without looking into the shallows first. In other words, look closely before you enter the water.
Don't wade noisily or too quickly to get to an area that looks promising. This drastically reduces your odds of success once you get there. Likewise, don't wade quickly thru a shallow bar to "get to the other side".

Don't false cast or practice casting while you are wading. You are alerting fish as to your presence.

Use the wind and sun to your advantage. If possible, wade a flat with the wind behind you. If there is little or no wind, have the sun behind you. Often, after spotting fish, you have time to navigate upwind of the fish, but wade slowly until you are in place to make your cast.

 A hat with a long bill will protect your face from the sun but will also improve your vision especially if the bill's underside is dark. The dark underside absorbs reflected light.

Scan the water constantly. You can look for surface disturbances (called nervous water), but to consistently spot bonefish, you must imagine the water does not exist by looking through it to the bottom. 

Equipment Tip: Polarized sunglasses are absolutely essential for spotting bonefish. Brown or gray lenses work best on bright days; yellow on cloudy, low light days. Copper or amber are the best all around lenses. Wrap around style will eliminate much peripheral light. Make sure you use an eyeglass retainer strap to avoid losing your expensive glasses. For more info click  here:

A Word on Stealth: Fish may not immediately leave an area when they become aware of your presence, but they will behave differently. If they know something is up, they are far less likely to eat. In order to get a shot at a big bone before he "makes you", you must learn to think like a predator...  this is, after all, what you are. Your mindset is all important.

Stealth is as much an attitude as any particular technique. When you integrate the attitude of the hunter and all that entails, you are well on your way to becoming invisible to your quarry. This single thing will increase your fishing productivity more than any other single skill learned!! 

bonefish 101 

There is a certain depth at which bonefish are most often found. It may vary a bit, but at this particular depth, once found, they will continue to be found at this depth. Learn to feel and seek this level. Get a gut level feel for it. If you are not seeing fish because you might be too deep, wade to more shallow water and vice versa.

Once you find fish, more fish will be found at that level especially on that stage of the tide. Usually it is around knee deep to mid-calf. It will be towards the more shallow end on a rising tide when they will push their luck (sometimes very aggressively especially on spring tides) and at the deeper end on a falling tide.

The same can be said for direction. If you encounter fish coming from a certain direction, they will almost certainly continue to come from that direction on that stage of the tide. Knowing this will help you tremendously when planning your strategy.

Be aware of the type of terrain you are on too! Undulating flats can allow bones to follow the deeper arteries into very shallow water. Bones will often tail in extremely shallow water if deep water is immediately adjacent. Sand bars, undulating flats and shallow crests of deeper flats are all areas that fish rely on to be in the shallowest water possible. 

Remember bonefish want to be in shallow water. They want it, they seek it... the need it! At high tide, they are literally in deep trouble. This is why they go up into the mangroves or school-up at high tide. They won't spread out again until the tide has fallen to "their" level. Then they rarely follow deep channels or creeks. They filter in on edges. And when the tide rises again, they seek the shallowest rivulets or newly flooded flats where they can stay as shallow as possible.

bonefish 101 

Why do bonefish seek the shallows so single-mindedly? Were bonefish designed to live in the shallows? Do they have an important advantage in skinny water? The answer is, yes, yes... and hell yes! 

Let's skip the huge tail, mirror-like scales and underslung mouth all of which give bonefish a huge advantage in the shallows. Instead let's concentrate on one of their biggest assets: SLIME! A slime that covers their bodies.
In the shallows bonefish can accelerate and reach top speed quickly without the turbulence that hinders other species. If you've ever paddled a canoe and hit shallow water, you know about this turbulence. It makes it impossible to paddle any faster in shallow water. It is the same principle that makes a plane hover over the runway before landing. Pilots call it the ground effect. The bonefish slime reduces this turbulence and allows bonefish to go fast in very shallow water. Hence the shallows are their niche and of course, where we find them. It is not an accident. Sharks and 'cudas struggle in very shallow water, but quickly gain a the advantage in just a little bit deeper water.

bonefish 101 

False cast away from the fish, especially with slow moving or tailing fish. This will keep the fly line from spooking the fish. Cast away at a 45° to 90° angle from the direction that the fish are heading.

If it is windy, make your false cast by holding your rod as parallel as possible to the plane of the water. The wind’s friction with the water lessens its velocity in the area 3 to 4 feet above the water's surface. This casting technique makes it harder for the fish to see the fly line and allows for a very quiet presentation since the fly does not drop from much height.

It is better to cast too short and hope the fish sees the fly, than to cast too long and spook the fish. In nature, prey species rarely move toward a predator. Never place a fly so that when retrieved, it moves toward a bonefish. Predators chase their prey, they expect their prey to be moving away from them and fleeing. When confronted with an approaching fly, a bonefish will change roles and become quite nervous. They change from predator to prey and often flee. Few fish can leave a flat as quickly as a bonefish! 

Generally, a tailing fish has his head tipped down and is already occupied... consequently, the fly must be dropped very close to him.  In contrast, cruising fish can see a fly from a much greater distance and the fly can and should be presented further away.

Learn to strip-strike. Trout fishermen (there are lots of us), usually raise the rod tip to strike a fish. This technique, when used on a bonefish, will quickly remove the fly from its field of vision (if he has not eaten the fly). The strip-strike keeps the fly in the bonefish strike zone and will give you a second chance. A 1 to 3 foot strip-strike done firmly by the hand not holding the rod accomplishes the strip-strike.

When retrieving your fly, point your rod tip directly at the fly. This gives the proper action to the fly.

Lift your fly line quietly and slowly off the water to initiate another cast. DO NOT use the water to load the rod tip. Many beginning anglers do this “water loading” of the rod tip to allow themselves to make longer casts or to cast into the wind. This noisy lift off will almost always spook bonefish.

Do your homework before going fishing. Learn to cast accurately and quickly. Do not false cast excessively. Learn to make 2-3 false casts playing out line with each cast then shooting your line accurately to the fish on your last cast. As well as wasting valuable time, repeatedly false casting over a fish (in an effort to "measure" distance and accuracy) often spooks fish as they repeatedly see the fly line whipping in the air.

Casting tip: The most common mistake made by anglers is to cast too early or too far. Many anglers cast too early because they believe that if they are not initially successful with a long cast, they will get another chance with a shorter cast. In reality, this rarely happens. If you try to make a cast longer than your skills or the conditions (primarily wind) allow and your fly does not get to the right spot, it will take too long to cast again. By the time you are reloaded, the bonefish will have moved on or will have become aware of your presence.

Imagine you only have only one cast you can make to any given fish. If you did indeed have only one cast you would wait for that perfect moment. You would wait for that moment when you know you can make the cast, when you know the fish will see your fly and when you know you'll be able to see where the fly lands.

Wading tip: When wading, use your legs as a thermometer. Get an idea of the temperature of the water you are finding bones in. If it is too hot, oxygen levels are too low and even if the water is appropriately shallow, bones will abandon the area. If the water is too cold, especially if the area is near deeper colder water, bones may move to more inland creeks and flats to maintain their metabolic abilities.

bonefish 101 

 When a bonefish follows a fly he will almost always take it. Some clues that a fish has taken your fly are: his dorsal fin or tail flutters or quivers, he flashes his side in the sun, a fish races a second fish to a spot or a fish scurries to another spot leaving his companions or school behind and most importantly, if he tips down and his tail comes out of the water. If any of these occur, chances are he has eaten your fly. Count off one or two seconds and strip-strike. Sometimes, if you can't see the fish, you can feel your line vibrate or jump. In that case, strip-strike again.
If a fish follows closely, but does not take your fly, change your retrieve: speed up, slow down or stop entirely. This change will often elicit a strike.
A bonefish can travel 26 m.p.h. for several hundred feet in six inches of water. Set your drag before you cast to a fish, and once hooked, get all the spare line safely out through the guides. Always fight a bonefish on the reel... to do otherwise, invites disaster. Until the fish is on the reel, watch your line, not the fish. After getting the line on the reel, hold your rod high. This will create a steeper angle and help the line get over coral and mangrove shoots, resulting in fewer break-offs.
The harder you fight a bonefish, the harder he will pull back. If a fish gets tangled around a mangrove, in the weeds or coral, take all the pressure off the fish. Bonefish will usually stop. You can untangle your line and resume the fight.
Handle a landed fish as little as possible (remember the all important slime?). Pinch the barbs on your hooks beforehand.  Hemostats will often allow you not to have to touch the fish at all.

When the day is done: To avoid corrosion, rinse your reel and rod with fresh water at the end of each day. After you start to head home, trail your fly line behind the boat (without a fly) to remove kinks and twists. As you reel in the fly line, pass it through a cloth soaked with fly line cleaner and you will be ready for the next day.

Here's to bonefish tails shimmering in the sun, perfect casts and screaming runs!

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P. O. Box 845
Sheridan, Wy 82801

© Scott S. Heywood