Peninsula Fly Fishers

How Good Am I?

My travels this summer took me to Christmas Island where I had time to think about the qualities that make a good bonefisherman. I came up with 5 major skills that determine the success of a bonefisherman:

  • spotting - an individual who is good at spotting fish will have more opportunities during the day.
  • fly delivery - a large proportion of fish are spooked by rod movement or the sound of the fly entering the water.
  • fly selection - fish will either flush abruptly from a poor fly or follow it slowly and just lose interest.
  • timing of hook set - it's usually difficult to know when the fish has taken the fly. Strike too early and it pops out of his mouth; too late and he spits it out.
  • line management - the initial surge of a fish will often result in a breakoff due to the line coiled around the reel handle or the rod butt.

These 5 skills are listed in the order of usage during an encounter with a fish. For example: A fish enters your field of vision. If you see it, you apply your second skill: delivery. If you haven't spooked him he will examine the imitation, your third skill comes into play.

We can quantify each skill level by keeping track of the number of attempts to use that skill and compare it to the number of times it was successful. The resulting value is the score of the skill. A model of an outing can be derived by showing the numbers of bonefish encountered and the effect the skill levels have at each phase of an encounter. We will call a model of a specific outing its profile.

Here is the profile of my Xmas vacation:

Each day about 1650 pods of bonefish entered my field of vision. I saw 15% of those fish. I did not spook 25% of those fish. Sixty percent of fish that were not spooked took the fly. Etcetera. You get the picture. Fortunately, bonefishing is a visual sport and the cause of each failure can be determined and tallied very easily. The only number that is difficult to obtain is the pool of bonefish that are available during an outing. This has to be estimated and there are ways of doing this intelligently.

What good is this model? By comparing the scores you can see where your strengths and deficiencies lie, allowing you to concentrate your efforts on the weaker skills. My profile shows that my best strategy for improvement is to concentrate on spotting and delivery. Spotting bonefish is a particularly difficult skill to master because of the ability of the bonefish to blend into its background.

Which skills are most important to success? It would appear that the skill used earlier during an encounter is more important than one used later. As one member once wrote in the bulletin "What good is a perfection imitation if you can't get the dang fly to the fish". The model answers that question for us. Below are 2 contrasting profiles.

Good spotting (50%) - poor fly selection (10%):

Poor spotting (10%) - good fly selection (50%):

The above models show only the first 3 skill scores applied to an identical pool of bonefish, 500 fish. By interchanging the skill levels (50% and 10%) of spotting and fly selection we end up with exactly the same number of fish caught, 15. This result is due to the commutative properties of multiplication:

500 x 50% x 60% x 10% = 500 x 10% x 60% x 50%

Therefore, we conclude that all skills are equally important in bonefishing. It should be comforting to each of our PFF workshop leaders to know that what he is teaching is just as important to success as any other workshop leader. And that it is not more important than the others. However, not all skills can be mastered with equal ease.

By comparing profiles we can see what a guide adds to the picture.

With guide:

Without guide:

A guide essentially takes over a skill for his client. Technically, the client's profile fishing with a guide should not include the spotting phase. An angler fishing with a guide is actually casting to more bonefish than when fishing by himself. However, when fishing with a guide you are often asked to cast to fish you don't see so the delivery score goes down (15% vs 25%). The improvement in spotting, however, is greater than the degradation in casting so the net catch is greater with the guide (15 vs 32 fish).

The skills that you use in bonefishing do not, of course, change daily. However, your success rate does. That's because you are fishing different flats daily, each with it's own different characteristics. By comparing profiles at different flats we can make decisions about where we would prefer to fish. Let's look at the profiles generated on 3 flats at Christmas Island.

Paris Flat:

Perry's Wharf:


Paris flat has about an average number of bonefish. However, the spotting is very good because it is a sandy flat. The number of fish spooked by the delivery is much larger than average because the profile was generated during a full moon. The area is fished heavily during this time because they are spawning and you have a good chance of catching a large one. The large number of anglers really spook the fish and it is very difficult to make a successful delivery. Most fish are lost during this phase of the encounter.

Perry's Wharf flat has far less fish than the average flat. Furthermore, we fished it in the afternoon, a time of poor lighting. This made spotting even more difficult. The net result was that this site consistently yielded fewer fish. One afternoon I fished with a group of 4 people and nobody caught a fish here.

Y-site seems to have a lot of fish. Spotting them is not particularly difficult, nor easy. However, the fish on this flat seem to be particularly self confident and you can often deliver a fly fairly close to the fish and not have it bolt off the flat. In fact, I have often spooked a fish on this flat only to follow it 10-20 yards and find it feeding again. The catch rate is usually above average on this flat.

So now that you have seen the numbers where would you like to fish? Your answer is probably Y-Site. Unfortunately, human pleasure is hard to quantify or predict. After a few days of easy fishing at Y-Site one looks forward to the challenge of Paris. One definite conclusion can be drawn - don't waste your time at Perry's Wharf flat!

Igor Doncov

Peninsula Fly Fishers 1976-2022
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