Bonefishing Tips

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.

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 they enter and leave the adjacent flats flat from the 2 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 a coral bottom. The reason is that most encounters with bones are of fish viewed from the side. When you look at a bonefish broadside the sand is reflected on the fish's mirror-like scales and they become virtually invisible. Bones over coral appear gray.

Bonefish are usually easier spotted on sunny days than otherwise. 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.

Bones are often easier to see with direct overhead cloud layer. If the cloud layer throws a shadow over you but is behind your line of vision and therefore not being reflected into your line of vision the fish are easier to see. The subdued light makes it easier to see them. In such cases bones appear green over brown coral and yellow/brown over gray sand.

Casting into Wind
Learn to cast into the wind!!! Bonefish feed facing into the wind. They are far more approachable from their backside. 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 20 mph wind at Xmas will usually not spook him.

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 20 yards of the windward edge of the flat, often facing into the surge.

Best Tides
There are 4 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 that 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
The cast and wait method is one of the best and easiest techniques, especially for beginners. The cruising fish is led by 10-15 ft during the cast and the fly allowed to sink to the bottom. When the fly is 3 feet from the fish it is pulled gently about a yard and allowed to sink. The fish should move to the fly. The greatest asset of this technique is that it overcomes faulty deliveries (the main cause of failure). However, there are numerous problems with this method such as schools changing direction. Also, it doesn't work for tailing fish.

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 fishing is considered best 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
At least 30% of the fish will not be seen initially and will be spotted less than 20ft from you, the angler. At this point any movement will spook the fish. Casting a fly with just the leader requires a lot of motion. Freeze! Let him swim right past you. After he's a safe distance away turn 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.

The single most important skill in bonefishing is spotting. After 2 weeks at Xmas I could see about 15% of the fish within 40 ft of me in the direction I was searching. The guide sees about 50%. Your guide's main function is spotting fish. However, casting blindly to fish that only the guide is seeing is no fun at all. After learning the basics of bonefishing use the guides sparingly or go solo. It's far more rewarding.

Igor Doncov