Saltwater Fishing Sun, 22 Jul 2018 02:08:47 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Mayor of Monomoy

Two hundred yards away, countless shrieks erupts from the uninhabited shores of South Monomoy Island as an ornithologist passes through a colony of nesting terns. Here, on the only wilderness area in southern New England, hundreds of birds wheel into an avian tornado and rise above the sandy island. North and South Monomoy were separated from the mainland in 1958, and this terminal moraine from the last glacier is still unstable as the occasional screaming November storm rips new channels and redistributes its white quartz sand. Least terns, common terns, and the endangered roseate join 200 feet above the marsh grass and then settle as the naturalist moves on. “Featherhead” mutters captain Tony Biski. I’m not sure of it’s an epithet for the lone biologist or he just prefers the sound to something more formal. Tony likes colorful speech and delights in the way words sound in the brisk salt air. He calls his many stories “antidotes”, and as he leaves the dock he often exclaims “We’re off like a prom dress”, but beneath the ex-bar room bouncer’s formidable hulk is the soul of a poet. 

We’re drifting just off the shore of South Monomoy, but we don’t see any fish. It’s almost low tide, the sky is as bright and sharp as a Wyoming September, and if there were any bass around it would be hard to miss them. A half mile away, across a shimmering, glassy flat the unmistakable silhouette of a flats boat slides along a channel. It’s so calm we can hear a fly reel buzzing in the distance as a fish pulls line. “Richie’s guy’s tight”, says Tony. How Tony can tell it’s Rich Benson, along with Tony one of the pioneers of Monomoy Flats fishing, is beyond my landlocked perception. We don’t head that way. Tony has “his” area of the flats as does Richie and other local guides. They do cross turf and radio each other when they find fish, but the ethics out here—for now—are far more civil than those in the Florida Keys or the Madison River. One mainland guide appears to be completely numb to the unwritten rules of the flats and consistently motors into places where other boats have found fish, but thankfully he is an aberration.

It’s hard to keep secrets out here. Usually, when Tony is crowded by another boat, he looks away, slumps down in the boat, and becomes uncharacteristically quiet. But one afternoon, a civilian (in other words not another guide) motored into a cove loaded with spooky bass, less than 100 yards from Tony’s boat. He raised his substantial frame onto the bow and boomed “What do you think you are doing?”

“I’m just tryin to have myself some fun”, the intruder called back. 

“Well have yourself some fun somewhere else”.

On a calm day, sound carries beyond comprehension, and most of the fleet heard the exchange. The next morning at the Fishing the Cape fly shop, as guides lingered around the coffeepot, the buzz was that Tony had lost his temper. 

“Man, you really hammered that guy yesterday.” “It’s about time somebody said something.”

“I never heard you yell like that. You must have been really pissed.” 

He’s a big man, and like many powerful individuals he’s slow to lose his temper. In fact, nothing moves fast in Tony’s world if he can help it. But he puts in an exhausting day on the flats, more from emotional fatigue than physical, although he thinks nothing at pushing his 20-foot Jones Brothers 50 yards off a shallow flat while three people sit in the boat, drinking water and eating sandwiches. 

I did see him move like a flash once, in his old boat, a 21-foot Barcone . Spike Hamer, one of Tony’s regular clients, had taken a very large bass in shallow water on a crab fly and wanted to take the fish back to Vermont to eat. That day, Tony had three clients plus me, far more weight in the boat than usual. Tony, standing in the shallows off the stern, gutted the fish. Three saucer-sized crabs slipped from the fish’s stomach. The four of us moved to the stern, gawking at the huge crustaceans and wondering how we would cast a fly that big. 

“Hey, watch the boat”, Tony yelled. The four of us looked around for this boat he was so interested in.

“The BOAT!” He repeated. “MY BOAT!”

With the four of us at one end, the transom was almost under water. We all ran to the bow like a bunch of Keystone Cops in waders. 

“Get out, you fools!” Maybe it wasn’t quite fools he called us, but close enough. Tony hopped into the stern as we jumped off the bow. I swear he looked as nimble as Clint Eastwood jumping on a horse. He turned the key, jammed the throttle, and fishtailed around the cove a half-dozen times as water poured out of the scuppers.

This big man, who a friend of mine calls a cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Tony Soprano, full of good cheer and lots of salty tales that keep his clients in stitches throughout the day, starts every day full of anxiety. He rolls out of bed, and, listening to the wind howling outside his comfortable inland house, mutters “Oh shit”. He lights a Marlboro on the way down the stairs and grinds coffee for his daily cappuccino. He switches on the Weather Channel, then a weather radio, then his modem squeals as the radar web site shows the menacing band of a squall that may or may not kiss the flats. Somehow he sorts his game plan out as he stares silently at the computer monitor and the digitally generated voice of the weather radio and sappy music of the Weather Channel blend into a cacophony. As he rolls into Saquatucket Harbor and unloads his truck, the first smile of the day crosses his rugged face as tourists cross the parking lot and walk up the gangplank for the day boat to Nantucket. “Have a nice day on Martha’s Vineyard”, he calls cheerfully as the bewildered passengers run around the boat looking for the captain. 

Fishing for striped bass in shallow water off Cape Cod is not, as some people believe, a recent discovery. Nor is fishing for stripers with a fly rod. But the fish, with their cyclic abundance, tend to get forgotten by generations, then rediscovered as the populations regain historical peaks. Stalking bass on the Brewster Flats, in Cape Cod Bay, has been practiced as long as fishermen have chased bass. But fishing from flats boats, or wading the hard white sand flats and aquarium-clear waters off the open ocean, just south of Chatham, is a recent discovery. Always a great spot for surf fishing, a giant storm in the 1971 blew a hole in the middle of Monomoy Island, covering a huge expanse of eel grass with firmly-packed sand. And new flats are lost and formed each year. Just ten years ago, Hurricane Bob sliced a hole in the South Beach area of Nauset, opening a raw channel into Pleasant Bay, sealing the end of Chatham Harbor’s access to Chatham Roads, but now making it possible to walk from Chatham three miles out onto the barrier beach.

This instability creates a fishery that, along with the cyclic abundance of striped bass, bluefish, bonito, false albacore, and recently weakfish (they’re baaaack) is never easy to predict. Tony spends almost every day, eight hours a day, studying the channels and currents off Monomoy, but every spring he buys a new aerial photo before the season starts.

About four years ago a storm cut a new channel into one of the barrier beaches and the spot became “The New Cut” to Tony. Last summer, after many sparse days in his usual prime spots, Tony noticed that the New Cut was filling in, blocking bass from swarming from the open ocean to Nantucket Sound via The River of Life at high tide. “It’s over”, he moaned to me over the phone all summer, “I haven’t seen a bass in my usual spots in weeks”. I don’t agree with him, preferring to think that the bass stayed off South Beach, in the open ocean, because massive schools of big sand eels parked there for the entire summer. All winter long, no one knows what winter’s storms are doing to the flats, and on his maiden voyage to the flats in May he may find a New New Cut.

Although you can’t always catch stripers the way you want to, if visiting anglers and charter captains are flexible they can always tangle with something. Tony’s flats had a bad spell last summer, so he swallowed his pride and parked off the beach, throwing Clousers and Deceivers into fish that busted bait on the surface all day long. Some of his better clients caught well over 30 fish a day. But as with any kind of fly fishing where your fortune depends on migratory species, productive days are precious. “People come here expecting to catch 20-pounders all day long, or they count fish and aren’t happy when they only catch a dozen”. This is his mantra every morning on his way to Chatham Provisions to pick up a few of Howie’s giant sandwiches, the best on Cape Cod. 

“And they all want to come in the middle of the summer, when the kids are on vacation and the water’s warm. Why don’t they come in May when there’s stupid fish all over the place, or September. September we’re loaded with albies” (false albacore). I’ve seen both ends of that spectrum and it’s a shame he and the other Cape guides have weeklong blank spots with no customers in their log books at the shoulder ends of the season. 

May can be cold, as it takes water a lot longer to warm than air. So when people on land are sweltering over Memorial Day barbecues, it can be pretty uncomfortable off Monomoy when water temperatures hover around 55 °--especially with a 20-knot wind. But when migrating stripers and blues first come from offshore covered with sea lice, they push into shallow bays, where the water can be 15 ° warmer and baitfish are packed into estuaries. The fish have not been pounded by Rebel plugs, Clousers, or live eels yet, and they’re not to suspicious at mealtime. You don’t see any jet skis. Most sailboats are still in the harbor. And weekend Boston Whalers are still sitting on trailers in back yards.

Still, you take your chances in May. A few years ago, Tony E-mailed me just before Memorial Day: “Get your ass down here. Tie Yellow Gurglers. Patty put clean sheets on the guest bed.” Bass were everywhere, and typical of early migrants, they were all over surface flies: Poppers, heavily dresssed Deceivers, and Jack Gartsides simple but effective Gurgler fly, basically a foam-backed giant Humpy with bucktail streaming off the bend of the hook.

As soon as I arrived on the Cape the wind blew northeast at almost gale force, making most of the usual places unfishable, five-foot seas making standing in the boat a joke, the water filled with debris. But he found one cove in the lee, and as he motored close to the shallows we saw swirls everywhere. Giant bass were hovering just under the surface. Maybe they were there to get out of the weather. The calm water might have provided a refuge for baitfish. One thing was clear—the fish had just arrived from the Chesapeake and they had not been fished over this season. If you lined them, the fish would swirl and spook, but if you could get a fly off to the side of a pod, three or four fish would turn and inhale the fly with a boil that looked like someone tossed a bowling ball off a bridge. Although the only baitfish we saw were tiny, young-of-the-year sand eels, the best flies were big yellow Gurglers and six-inch Chartreuse Deceivers. Hardly matching the hatch. And we did not see another boat for three days. Our only witnesses were a couple of young women on the beach, desperately trying to sunbathe despite the biting northeast wind. They stood up to watch the show and looked pretty good from a distance.

For the rest of May and through the end of June that season, Tony and his clients enjoyed almost constant action on poppers and Gurglers. (Once the fish settle in for the summer they become shy and lose their aggressive surface orientation.) Yet the next season, we could barely interest a fish in a Gurgler, and what had become his go-to fly got pushed to the crowded rusty corners of seldom-used fly boxes. Why fly preference should change from year to year with a migratory species is beyond me, but like the absence of fish on the flats last summer, it may have something to do with changing bait populations.

Just as the guides on the south Cape have many options for finding fish, fishermen have lots of options and every captain has his specialty. If you hire a flats boat, you’ll sight-cast to fish in shallow water and see them coming from a long way off if there is sun on the water. Each captain does things a little differently, and Tony recognizes them from a mile away. “OK, now look over there”, he’ll say. “That’s ‘Will the Thrill’ Raye. See how his baseball cap is pulled down tight? And he’s always busy, always moving around, fixing tackle or tying knots. And there’s Dave Steeves. He’s about the opposite—steady, low key.” Even offshore, when most of the boats are chasing fishing breaking in schools of baitfish, Tony still recognizes, respects, and acknowledges the stars. “The big guy over there in the Jones Brothers is Bill Cooling He’s always testing the envelope, always in the white water. “There’s Jeff Walters coming in from chasing tuna on a fly on the ‘Strip Tease’”. Bob Luce’s slip is two boats down from Tony’s in Saquatucket Harbor, yet their methods could not be further apart. Bob specializes in catching giant bass from the offshore rips, and his 31-foot Duffy diesel, the “Striper”, can run the 17 miles to the shoals off Nantucket in less than two hours. It’s mostly fishing with 11-weight rods and fast-sinking lines, but he seldom returns to the harbor without a fish box full of stripers in excess of 20 pounds.

If you get queasy at the thought of fishing from a boat, there are a couple of superb “land captains” in the area. Tony has taught me how to recognize them, even from a mile across the flats. “See those two specks over there, with a short one next to a taller one? The guys that look like Siamese twins? That’s George. No doubt about it.”

George Ryan, short, gravelly voiced and constantly baked like a lobster from the wind and sun, takes his clients from Outermost Harbor to the flats on the Water Shuttle, which runs between the mainland and the outer beaches and North Monomoy Island on a regular basis throughout the day. George never strays more than a few feet from his clients and amuses them with salty tales while spotting fish. You can always tell my old friend Randy Jones. Like George, he takes his clients across on the Taxi, but Randy carries a small stepladder with him, giving him the same sighting advantage as a flats boat but with much less chance of spooking the fish. Of course, he doesn’t have the mobility of a flats boat. To find fish moving through a channel, he often slogs across a mile of squishy mud to get to the hard sand flats where the fish are moving—dragging the ladder! These guys are tough.

And nobody does it quite like Tony. But his style is not for everyone. His preferred method is to idle carefully into about six feet of water, watching the temperature gauge while scanning for the pale gray/green/silver shadows of moving stripers. The open ocean during midsummer averages in the mid to high 50s, yet water on some parts of the flats may be in the 70s. Unlike Long Island Sound, where you mainly find fish feeding in shallow water at night and look for cooler water, here bass feed best in the warmest water you can find, at the lowest moving tide and in the shallowest water. Provided nobody is running over the fish and driving them to deeper water.

You can run across a 50-foot channel and find water temperatures ten degrees higher on the other shore, so Tony has spent the past ten years watching currents, tracing the flood of cold ocean water as it meets water that has baked on the flats. The algorithm is totally incomprehensible to me after years of trying to figure it out. I’ll say “Tony, why don’t we try Cormorant Island?”

“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s a full moon, strong tides, and the water’s going to be freezing over there. Just keep throwing your damn fly out there and let me be the captain.” Maybe damn isn’t quite what he says.

Once Tony finds fish, he’ll slip back into deep water as quietly as possible, motor down the shore, and pull his boat onto a flat where clients can get out and wade. Usually, when you find fish they’re concentrated. The makeup of the schools varies, from tight schools of hundreds of 20-inch bass to more spread-out schools of bigger fish. Almost always, somewhere in the area will be pairs or singles of big bruisers, fish over three feet long.

Like most things in Tony’s life, approaching the fish is not done in haste. While I am typically ready to chew through my wader suspenders and will launch myself off the stern as soon as the water is shallow enough to wade, with clients on board I have to do it Tony’s way. Check rods, leaders, watch from the high vantage point of the boat to see if any fish are in close. Then Tony shoos his clients off in the direction of the fish like a mother dropping off her kids at school. “See what you can do. I’ll be there in a minute.” 

Then he’ll fiddle with the anchor to make sure the boat won’t get grounded by a falling tide. Light a Marlboro. Look around for oystercatchers, his favorite bird. If you want casting lessons you’ve come with the wrong captain. If you need you nose wiped every few minutes you’ve missed your boat, so to speak. Whether it’s calculated on his part or just the way things work in Tony’s World, I believe fishermen learn more from his methods than when standing in a boat obeying the captain’s every command. By wading onto the flats alone you learn to tell the deeper green water from the shallower yellowish look of the bars. You try to spot fish on your own, distinguishing between the slower-moving, dark brown horseshoe crabs from the faster, more erratic movements and greenish cast of stripers. Or on occasion the neurotic movements and sickle-shaped tail of a giant bluefish.

By the time Tony ambles over, usually in shorts and bare feet, even in 60-° water, you’re ready for some words of wisdom. “Turn around and see what’s behind you.” While you’ve been staring into the five-foot water in front of you, a pair of 20-pound fish backdoor you, sliding through two feet of water, looking for shrimp. “The shallower you wade, the better you’ll be able to spot fish. Plus, the bigger ones like the really skinny water. You get up to your waist, you can’t see them coming.”

“Don’t go running down the beach like a wild dog!” (This one is usually reserved for me). “Walk slowly until you start seeing fish. Figure out their pattern. The schools will string out along the edge and it gets like a highway. Try to get the fish coming straight at you. That’s your best angle. Then stay put.” If it all goes right, you can sometimes find a spot where bass are coming at you from all directions. As you risk whiplash trying to figure out which fish to cast to, Tony stands at your side, cupping his hands in prayer, looking to the sky, mouthing “Thank you, Lord.”

At rare times bass on the flats are aggressive and will slam a fly cast right to them and stripper through the water. However, after being hammered by fishermen for a month, things get sticky. There can be days when you’ll cast over thousands of bass and never hook up. Seldom at a loss for pithy expressions, all Tony can say on these days is “Hey, wanna go see the seals?” There is one tiny sand spit off North Monomoy that hosts hundreds of gray seals, and gliding the boat into their bawling, midst while they perform an underwater ballet under the hull is a real crowd-pleaser. He’s even confessed to me a desire to turn his boat the “Take It EZ” into a seal watch operation. Especially on days when we’ve been skunked. “Look at the shit eating grin on that guy’s face”, he’ll say as we pass a boat full of seal-watchers driven by a smiling captain. “He always makes his people happy. The seals are always there. That’s what I should be doing, not chasing these stupid bass all over Nantucket Sound”. Maybe stupid wasn’t quite the word he used. Close enough.

The doldrums can sometimes be cured by going smaller, sparser, and deeper. Tony will often set up his fishermen with a sparse olive Clouser or Monomoy Flatwing, a long fluorocarbon leader testing at 8 or 10 pounds, and a Clear-Tip intermediate or full-sinking line. “Figure out where the fish will be in ten seconds, cast there, let the fly settle to the bottom. When he gets close strip it once. If he follows keep stripping.” Since these fish are eating crabs and shrimp as well as baitfish, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that techniques that work on bonefish and permit work on stripers. I’ve had success on really snotty fish casting a crab fly in their path and just letting it settle to the bottom without any added motion. Just like permit fishing. And don’t worry about knowing if a striper has eaten your crab. The line will tighten and keep pulling until you set the hook. When the fish on the flats get impossible Tony always has other options up his sleeve. He constantly scans the deeper water offshore for birds, and if he spots what looks like a school of bluefish or bass busting bait on top (they hardly ever do it on the flats), he might round up his charges and suggest a boat ride. Fish in deeper water feeding at the surface are invariably easier that cruisers on the flats and some days you have to swallow your pride and chase the easy targets. 

Ironically, as Tony’s bookings dwindle in late August and September, false albacore, and less commonly bonito and Spanish mackerel invade the bait-rich waters of the lower Cape. Sometimes they’ll run the edges of the flats but most often it’s boat fishing, anchoring up just offshore and waiting for schools to blast by the boat. Despite the abundance of gamefish in his playground, mediocre or disappointing days outnumber great ones about three to one. Anybody who tells you otherwise has an IV hookup to chamber-of-commerce propaganda. One week last June, on the first day of a four-day charter for some of Tony’s best regular clients, the wind blew southwest so hard he couldn’t get out of the harbor. He asked me to play land captain for them, as Tony is not fond of long walks. He calls the hike over the sand to Nauset Inlet the Bataan Death March. 

For the next couple of days the weather didn’t improve much, but at least he could get the boat out of the harbor. It was too cloudy to spot fish on the flats and too rough to fish the outside rips. We finally ended up tucking his Jones Brothers way back inside Stage Harbor, dredging a few schoolies on sinking lines, threading our way between moorings, watching a guy bull raking for clams from his boat, suffering through the loud radio of some carpenters working on a nearby beach house. It was one of those times you feel foolish sitting there with a little fish pole in your hands while real men do real jobs. 

Tony and I went back to his house that afternoon pretty sour. But after dinner the sun came out and the wind seemed to slack. “Let’s go take a boat ride”, he said. We motored down the shore a mile or so, and the world suddenly hushed, like the way a trout stream feels at dusk. A few heavy fish swirled close to the surface, and when the wind finally died we saw a line of fins glinting in the warm evening light, stretched to the west as far as we could see. Most of the fish were over 20 pounds and there were hundreds of them. We drifted down that line a dozen times and we only caught a couple of fish, but they were strong, silvery, and coated with sea lice. On the last drift, Tony spotted something on the surface and as we drifted closer the shape turned into a tiny duckling. As the boat drew up to the little bird it spun upside down, righted itself, then whirled around 360 ° like a wind-up toy. “Oh, man, where’s its mother?” Tony looked around in panic. The duckling was a half-mile off shore, all alone, in the middle of huge ocean predators. It had probably gotten lost in the rough weather of the past couple of days. We mumbled a few words about picking it up, taking it to shore, not interfering with nature, would the bass eat it. Tony started the engine and we rode the sunset back to the harbor in silence. As we drifted into the slip, he broke the silence and said, “What do you have to remember right here?”

“Don’t hit the dock?” I suggested. 

“No, you idiot”. Maybe it wasn’t quite idiot he called me. “Let the wind be your friend.” Then his voice lowered and the big man said, “What do you think happened to that little guy out there?” 

Tony’s Tips for Great Striper Fishing

  • Watch the water temperature. Look for water temperatures on the flats between 68° and 74 °.
  • The tide waits for no man.
  • Anchor up on breaking fish, don’t chase them and don’t drift through them. It’s hard to get a good presentation on feeding fish when the boat is moving.
  • Blind-fish over channels at high tide. Look for them in the shallows from two hours into a falling tide through an hour before high tide.
  • Don’t leave fish to find fish.
  • Stay shallow so you get a better sighting angle. Plus the biggest fish often cruise the skinniest water.
  • When you find stripers on the flats, figure out their highways, then stay put and let them come to you.
  • Use intermediate or sink-tip lines and lead the fish so your fly runs along the bottom as they approach.
  • Go early; stay late.
]]> (Tom Rosenbauer) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:20:46 -0500
Magical Mullet on Florida’s Southeast Coast

On Florida's southeast coast, when we think fall fishing we think mullet run. Every fall we experience a magical mullet migration, where millions of fingerlings head south down our beaches and rivers. If you want to have a successful day, look for mullet schools, and fish with mullet flies, or other wide baitfish patterns. Snook, tarpon and large jack crevalle are our main targets, although you might hook up to sea trout, ladyfish, or redfish.

Fishing Tips

  • Find the mullet schools off the beaches or in the rivers.
  • Use larger flies. (mullet patterns, large deceivers, or poppers) Deceivers - In Colored Water, browns, olives, red; in clear water, white, blue
  • Fish the outer edges of the mullet schools.
  • Focus on ambush points. (seawalls, bridges, docks, jetties)
  • Fishing is best at first light or last light.
  • Use eight thru ten weights like the Helios 908-4 Tip and the 909-2 Mid (larger flies and typically larger fish)
  • Large Arbor Reels are excellent for quick line retrieve Mirage IV or Batten Kill Large Arbor IV
  • Intermediate Wonder Lines to get the fly just under the surface.
]]> (Captain John Meskauskas) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:19:45 -0500
Fall Action in the Everglades

Fall slamming is one way to describe the fishing here in the Ten Thousand Island and Everglades National Park. If you have ever wanted to tie into the elusive Backcountry Slam this is the time to put that notch in your cork grip.

These days the islands are quiet of wintertime boat traffic, but that is all that's quiet. Redfish will start schooling in the early fall working the flats around Estero Bay and tailing the incoming tide. Or one can find them milling around the island shorelines that are dotted with oyster bars. They will fall prey to shrimp and baitfish patterns and Kirk's spoon fly pulled through the grass. The backcountry snook will be crashing finger mullet and other small baitfish along oysterbars making them suckers for topwater flies. And for the Oceanside snook they will still be on the beaches and passes around Naples and Marco Island looking for the well-placed live baitfish for those that don't fly fish.

The fun tarpon (30lbs and under) are mixed between the back bays and creeks that feed these large bays to quiet outside coves. Being little doesn't mean they don't pack a punch. They still do backflips, jumps, burn drag and throw hooks just like their bigger cousin. These are great warm up fish for when the larger spring tarpon show up giving you the upper hand.

A Helios 9' 7 wt. matched to a Battenkill Large Arbor with a floating Wonderline will cover the water column and will be the right tackle to handle our Summer Slam action. This is a lightweight outfit that will not wear you out during the heat of the day. The fly rods this time of the year should match you quarry 6-7 wt for the streamer fishing and up to 8-9wt's for throwing larger poppers and streamers and the occasional large tarpon.

Fishing Tips

  • Wear neutral colored clothes when in shallow water
  • Use Orvis Sunglasses with amber-colored polarized lens
  • Match your fly to the color of the water. Dark water, dark fly. Clearer water, light fly
  • Minimize false casts because the fish can see you waving the rod
  • Strip strike saltwater species for positive hook set


]]> (Captain Al Keller) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:17:39 -0500
Read This Before You Go Bonefishing

trulem en0904The bonefish broke away from the school and took the fly. After the student set the hook, the fish quickly started its famous run, which gives the species the name “torpedo of the flats”. After a run of perhaps 120 yards, the bonefish slowed down and turned – to the relief of the angler – and after a couple of shorter runs, the happy angler had caught his first bonefish. After a couple of handshakes from the guide and me, it was time to wade-on and look for more fish. This was the morning of the second day of The Orvis Bahamas Bonefish School, on famous Andros Island.

Most beginning bonefish anglers have fished for trout and are looking for new challenges and some sunshine and excitement in the dead of winter. Bonefish tackle is not complicated, and the same outfit will serve you well for bonefishing from the Bahamas to the Seychelles.

Fly rods: A nine foot, eight or nine weight rod, with a mid or tip-flex action will handle the majority of bonefishing situations. If the majority of the bonefish are large, like in the Florida Keys, a 9-weight outfit is the best choice. Also, if you are going to a bonefish destination during the windy season a 9-weight will make the job easier. If most of your fishing will be for smaller fish with smaller flies, or you don’t expect a lot of wind, an 8-weight will do just fine and will give you an added measure of delicacy—bonefish can be spooky! Eight and nine weights also double as “baby” tarpon rods (tarpon under fifty pounds). These babies are great fun!

Fly reels: Fly reels for bonefishing are a very important, just as important as the fly rod. Reels for bonefish should have the capacity to hold at least 175 to 200 yards of 30 pound test backing. Many anglers these days prefer large arbor reels. Large arbor reels offer anglers the ability to retrieve line much faster than conventional fly reels: after a bonefish makes that first run, they will sometimes swim (very quickly) back toward the angler. Large arbor reels help you maintain a tight line, and put pressure on the fish--with slack in the line it is easier for the bonefish to wrap the leader around coral heads (I think they do this on purpose) and other obstructions. Maintaining a tight line and putting pressure on the fish will also help you “lead” the bonefish away from other objects, such as mangrove shoots.

I’ll never forget the first bonefish I hooked. After the first long run, the fish started swimming toward me, and I could no longer feel the fish. After several minutes of franticly cranking (with a conventional fly reel), I realized I was fighting the fly line, not the fish. Sometime during the fight, probably just as the fish started swimming toward me, slack line let the fish shake the hook, resulting in my first bonefish L.D.R. (long distance release).

Reflecting back on that first bonefish encounter (and others), a large arbor reel would have helped me keep a tight line, and avoid the dreaded L.D.R. A few years ago I was conducting a fly fishing school in California, one of the students mentioned to me that she had some arthritis in her hand, and because of her limited movement, large arbor reels made it much easier for her to retrieve line.

The importance of a smooth drag system should not be overlooked. Line should come off the reel without hesitation, or “hanging-up”. If the drag sticks or hesitates, when a bonefish makes a sizzling run, you will end-up with a broken leader. The reels we used in the bonefish school are all OrvisBattenkill Large Arbors, and they perform flawlessly. A thought on which hand you should retrieve with: I recommend you retrieve line with the hand you can get the line in the quickest, (I have done a lot of studies on this) and most people can retrieve line faster with their dominant hand.

Fly lines: Fly lines for bonefish should be floating, with a weight forward taper, matched to the weight of the rod. Choose a bonefish taper – these lines are specially designed to be fished in warm tropical environments. In hot weather conditions, a standard fly line can become sticky and too soft, and will neither cast nor shoot through the guides as well.

Flies: Bonefish feed primarily on crustaceans (shrimps and crabs) so most bonefish flies are tied to imitate them. Bonefish flies are tied on size 4, 6, and 8 hooks – remember, hook size and fly size mean the same thing, the flies are tied in proportion to the size of the hook. Because most bonefish flies are fished on or near the bottom, the flies are usually tied with the hook inverted, or hook up, to help keep the fly from hanging up on bottom obstructions, coral, and grass. Bonefish flies are usually weighted – an exception to this would be fishing for bonefish in very shallow water (10 to 18 inches deep). In skinny water conditions, the fish are extremely spooky, and an unweighted fly will land softer in the water than a weighted fly. Weighted flies are usually tied with bead chain eyes or heavier dumbbell eyes to help get the flies on or near the bottom quickly. Remember, bonefish, with their “under slung” mouths feed mostly on the bottom. The type of weighted fly you choose will be determined by water depth – plastic eyes for very shallow water, bead chain eyes for knee-deep water, and dumbbell eyes for deeper water. Some of the top producers throughout bonefish country include Crazy Charlies, Bonefish Gotchas, and Meko Specials. As far as fly color is concerned, a good rule of thumb is to match the color of the fly to the color of the bottom. Prey take on the color of the surrounding environment for camouflage. When fishing in off-colored (murky) water choose a larger fly with more “bulk” – a larger, bulkier fly will “push” more water – helping bonefish “hear” the fly using their lateral line system.

Leaders: 9 foot knotless tapered leader in 8 to 12 pound test (depending on conditions, and fly size) are all you will need. Some anglers prefer to tie their leaders, but keep in mind the knots on a knotted leader are much more likely to catch on aquatic grass and coral. When fishing in shallow water for spooky bonefish, go to a longer leader by simply adding 2 to 3 feet to of .023” leader material to the butt end of your 9 foot knotless leader. In the last couple of years, I have gone exclusively to Mirage Fluorocarbon leaders for bonefish, for their abrasion resistance and knot strength. Mirage is also more “invisible” to the fish because its refractive index is closer to water than nylon.

Sunglasses: Because bonefishing is a sight casting game, polarized sunglasses are an absolute must. As far as lens color is concerned, choose a brown or copper colored lens for normal conditions on the flats, and an amber or yellow lens for cloudy, overcast conditions (gray lens are not the best color for sight casting on the flats).


Casting: Because of wind, fly casting in saltwater can be quite demanding. Most casts to bonefish are between 35 and 60 feet, with a certain amount of accuracy (especially when casting to “tailing” bonefish). Forget about the old casting method of stopping the rod at two o’clock and ten o’clock – this can be very restrictive, especially for longer casts: the distance of the casting stroke is determined by how much line you have out of the tip of the rod (short line, short stroke, longer line, longer stroke), not by a clock. Learn to keep false casting to a minimum.

Students often ask me in our fly fishing schools to describe the difference between casting to trout in moving water, and casting to saltwater species. Trout, in moving water, remain fairly stationary (especially in moderate to fast current) to conserve energy, and let the current bring them food. Saltwater fish are usually always on the move, chasing prey, or fleeing from predators trying to eat them. When a bonefish is sighted, it is important to get the fly to the fish quickly, by making as few false casts as possible. Learning to double haul will make long distance casting much easier, and make it easier to cast in windy conditions. Also, the hauls you give to the line when you double haul will take a lot of stress and strain off of your casting arm, and will enable you to fish for longer periods of time without tiring.

Presentation: Bonefish normally feed on food items that use short, quick bursts of speed to escape: your fly retrieves should reflect these movements. After the cast is made, get into a good fishing position by hooking fly line over the middle or index finger of the hand holding the rod grip, lower the rod tip to the surface, and eliminate all slack line between the rod tip and fly. Retrieve the fly with the rod pointing straight toward the fly. In this position, you will have better control of the fly; feel the fish take the fly, and put yourself in a much better hook-setting position. Vary the speed of the retrieves until you figure out what is working – six to twelve inch pulls are usually best – and remember, the slower you retrieve, the deeper the fly will stay in the water column.

The position of the bonefish to the angler is critical. Fish that are swimming toward, or to the side of you offer the best “shots”. In this position, you can present the fly to make it look like it is trying to escape. Fish that are swimming away from you offer the poorest shots-- a fly line cast over the fish can spook it, and retrieving the fly toward a bonefish is unnatural (shrimps and crabs do not swim toward bonefish). Keep the fly moving. When a bonefish has spotted your fly and moves toward it, resist the temptation to stop and let the fish catch up to the fly because the fish may loose interest.

Setting the hook: Bonefish do not have tough bony mouths like tarpon, so you don’t need to use a lot of hook setting energy. When a bonefish takes, use a strip-strike to set the hook: when you feel the fish take the fly, strip the line with your line hand, keeping the rod tip low. After the fish is hooked, you can then lift the rod, (usually it’s best to lift the rod slightly off to the side, rather than straight up), clear the line (get the line on the reel), and enjoy the run. For more hook-ups, remember to keep the hook points sharp. To make releasing fish easier, and to do less damage to the fish, mash the barbs of the hooks down.

Of all the students attending The Orvis Bahamas Bonefish School this year, only one person had previous saltwater experience and two students had no previous fly fishing experience at all. Not only did all the students end up catching bonefish in the school, some of the students had double digit days – and most importantly – had a great time in a beautiful environment pursuing the “ghost of the flats”.

]]> (Truel Myers) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:10:55 -0500
Five Secrets You Must Know About Bonefish

fishfeature2Know What Makes Bonefish Tick

Bonefish are predators, but their life is still one of eat or be eaten. If you have ever seen a bonefish do battle with a crab you will be convinced of its determination to eat. Watch a bonefish become alarmed and it is astounding how quickly it will abandon that meal when it senses a threat. A bonefish has a radar array that is controlled primarily by its lateral line. It senses both good and bad vibrations. A shark entering the flat 100 yards away can put down an entire school of bonefish. A crab shuffling its fins into the marl produces a sound that rings like a dinner bell. An angler can see the excitement in the bone by the way its dorsal fin quivers. Often, in this state of tunnel vision, a bonefish can be excited to the point of distraction. A wise angler chooses this moment to make the shot.

Make a bonefish eat (even if it really doesn't want to)

You have psyched yourself up to the challenge of bonefishing. You have discovered where they live and how to make a quiet approach. You have the right fly rod in your hand and your cast is on target. Now what? Capitalize on everything you have learned about bonefish. Appeal to their competitive nature. Target the most aggressive fish. Just getting the fly in the right place is not good enough. Make it look like food. A clump of marabou can give a better perception of being a shrimp than the real thing if the angler properly works the fly. Remember that these fish eat as predators and flee as prey. Stripping the fly so that a passive bonefish first notices, then follows, chases, and finally pins it to the bottom before claiming its prize, is an accomplishment that lets you remember why you are fishing instead of instead of playing golf.

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

There is no such thing as a lucky bonefisherman. If you can deliver the food to the table, you are (usually) rewarded with a bite. Taking too many false casts to load the rod, leaving the cast five feet short of the fish, casting a heavy loop that lands fat, are all techniques certain not to catch bonefish. Think of the fly rod as a conductor's baton. Establish a rhythm that matches the pace of the bonefish. If a fish is moving off a flat, it is still possible to get a grab, but the delivery must be forceful and without delay. If the bonefish is noodling around in six inches of glassy calm water, your cast had better float down like a feather or that fish will be walking on water as it blows the flat. Choose your fly rod more carefully than any other decision you make when you are fishing for bonefish. If the cast is not there, you are going back to the dock empty handed.

All Bonefish Are Not Created Equal

Do not let anybody tell you that bonefish, even small ones out of vast schools, are carbon copies of one another. Each fish is as different as a snowflake. They feed differently, fight differently, and to an observant eye, they appear different. Anglers who understand this catch more fish. Bonefish-savvy anglers know when to upsize or downsize tackle. Fly selection is as critical as it is to trout eating emergers. The true challenge of this great fish is its unpredictability. Bonefish are ultra-competitive when they feed. Being able to identify the alpha bone in a pack of tailing fish brings an angler to a higher level of the game.

A bonefish in hand is worth a hundred on the flat

You have heard the anglers who come in from bonefishing and they say, "Gosh what a wonderful day. You know, just seeing all those bonefish was great!" Hogwash. If you want to see bonefish go to the New England Aquarium. If you want to catch bonefish, remember that if you pay your dues, you catch your fish. Paying your dues means being prepared mentally-this is a chess match and the fish usually win. You must be prepared physically-stalking bonefish all day under a tropical sun is difficult if you are hung over or out-of-shape. Moreover, the angler must come equipped with the right tools for the job. A soft action fly rod will not be effective casting in conditions that include wind and moving targets. The Helios 908-4 Tip Flex is my idea of a perfect bonefish rod. It is balanced, accurate, and has all the juice necessary for bonefish. Your click-and-pawl salmon reel will not stop these fish. I use a Battenkill Large Arbor Big Game because it is a lightweight reel with a fast retrieve and a drag to stop a hard-charging bonefish. Borrowed flies that work great in Belize are not going to catch bonefish in the Florida Keys. My fly box for the Keys includes the Meko Special, Foxy Bonefish Clousers, and my all-time favorite, Whisper Crab. Turning over these heavy flies is critical, so use Mirage leaders and tippet material. It is strong, abrasion- resistant, and invisible. Stack the cards in your favor. We are blessed to be in the presence of bonefish but be well advised not to underestimate them.

Jeffrey Cardenas guided anglers to bonefish in the Florida Keys for more than two decades. He is the owner of The Saltwater Angler, an Orvis Endorsed Outfitter in Key West, and Contributing Editor for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. Signed First Editions of his new book, Sea Level are available by calling (800) 223-1629.

]]> (Jeffrey Cardenas) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:04:59 -0500
Cast Better Into the Wind

JimLepage WindcastingWhen I first started fishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon, I imagined dead calm waters with tailing bones and tarpon running flats on which you could see a 100 yards. After all, that’s what the shows I saw looked like. It took many trips before I saw the first of those days, and I remember thinking after my very first trip; “Man, when I get home I’m going to practice casting big rods, with big flies, into a strong wind” because I never saw a calm day. It seemed whenever the sun was at my back, the wind was in my face. I mean really in my face.

My very first tarpon trip more than humbled me; I felt like a neophyte angler that couldn’t cast a fly more than 20 feet, and even then I wasn’t close to my quarry. Bonefishing was no different; calm days when tails are up and you can see the water shake 100 yards away weren’t the norm.

So, take it from me who learned the hard way—before going on your first flats trip, or any saltwater trip, practice, practice, practice before your trip. Don’t wait until you get there. Here are some things I recommend that big trip:

- Practice on windy days, and cast with the wind in your face and from odd angles. You never know when you’re in the flats boat which way the wind will be blowing. The guide will always try to position the boat as best as possible, but at times shots are quick and you want to be ready regardless of wind direction.

- Use a target when you practice. I like to use a hoop, but any target on the lawn or a pond will work. Move out to many different distances, close, far, and in the middle; wind in your face, and a cross wind that challenges the drift of the fly before it hits the water. If you can master this at home with a stiff wind, your chances of hooking up on the flat will be greatly increased.

- Use various fly weights and bulk when practicing. This is critical. A heavy fly won’t turn over as easily as a lighter fly, nor will a big bushy fly flow through the wind as easily as a sparse Charlie. If you use a heavy lead eye permit fly on a 9 foot leader into the wind, trust me, they’ll make you feel inadequate unless you know what it feels like to cast it before you get there. I can’t tell you how many times the guide’s recommendation was a heavily weighted crab fly that I didn’t have in the box, and became a challenge to cast on my rod. So don’t only practice with the easy flies, try them all, including the heavy and bulky.

- For rods, don’t go under-gunned. If you can take a second rod, go up a line weight, not down. An 8-wt rod is best for bonefish, but bring a 9-wt with you for a really challenging day of wind; you’ll be glad you did. And that’s important. There are a lot of guides and fisherman that will go lighter in rod weights. If this is your first trip, you don’t want to take a lighter rod for bonefish. Fortunately, the New Zero Gravity saltwater rods are the lightest, best-balanced saltwater rods made; so you can cast them longer with far less fatigue than any other rod. A 9-wt truly feels like a six weight in hand.

- A tip flex rod keeps a tighter loop on windy days. Although I’m a mid flex caster, I make sure to have a tip flex rod when the wind picks up. It allows me to control my loop, to make it as small as possible. A big loop catches wind, a small loop exposes little of the line to the wind and casts farther, more accurately. In order to maintain that small loop, you’ll need to concentrate on your casting stroke.

- Another trick is to over-line your rod. If you have an 8-wt rod and you encounter a really windy day, put a 9-wt line on a back up reel for the rod. You’ll find it loads easier, and it tends to punch and turn over flies in the wind better than the 8-wt line. Some anglers might say, “go to a smaller line, there’s less diameter to be affected by the wind.” The reason I say go larger is the biggest impediment is the fly you’re turning over, and a lighter line will only make it more challenging. There are casters who can control a smaller diameter line, but for most of us, the larger line weight will help turn over the fly, and punch more into the wind.

- Wind is a challenge: concentrate. Adding the excitement of seeing a 150lb tarpon, or that tailing permit only makes it worse. One of the hardest things to do is to slow down and concentrate on making the cast that you know you can make. I’ve seen great casters crumble when confronted with that tarpon. Slow down and think about your cast. It’s not easy but the calmer you remain as you begin your cast the more successful you’ll be in delivering the fly in challenging conditions.

- Flyline is important too. In most situations you’ll typically fish a floating line. It picks up easier than an intermediate or a sinking line and allows for maybe one more crucial cast to a fish. Sinking or intermediate lines have a smaller diameter but the same mass as a floating line, making them easier to cast into the wind. But you may lose that extra cast.

- Keep your flyline clean. A clean line will always perform better than a dirty one. A dirty line sticks to guides, especially in the wind. So keep a line cleaning kit with you, too.

Use these tips and your next trip to the flats, especially if it’s your first, will be more enjoyable.

]]> (Jim Lepage) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 15:01:58 -0500
Preparing for Your First Bonefishing Trip

0107 BonefishMost people travel a long way and spend a week’s pay or more for a bonefishing trip. I’ve watched even experienced trout anglers frustrated, angry, and even embarrassed on bonefishing trips because they weren’t ready for the wind, difficult fish spotting, and unfamiliar directions given by a guide. Just a little preparation will make your first trip a lot more fun.

First, practice your casting. Most bonefish are caught within 40 feet, but that 40-foot cast must be made quickly, under pressure, with deadly accuracy, and with the good chance of a stiff breeze. Being able to get 40 feet of fly line outside the rod tip is not enough. Pace out 40 feet and make sure you can hit a target the size of a hula hoop with reasonable consistency, with a wind coming from any direction, and be able to change directions to cast to another hula hoop with just one false cast. Bonefish are spooky critters and too many false casts will ruin your chances.

Either before your trip or just after you arrive, take a heavily weighted (also called deep version)

Either before your trip or just after you arrive, take a heavily weighted (also called “deep” version), lightly weighted (shallow version), and unweighted (tailing version) bonefish fly to some shallow water where you can see the fly sink. Watch how fast each fly lands, as having different sink rates in bonefish flies is far more important that having the favorite fly on the island. Over sand and mud bottoms you want the fly to sink to the bottom and make little puffs of silt when you strip, because these plumes attract the attention of a bonefish looking for a crab or shrimp trying to escape. Over weedy and coral-covered bottoms, a bonefish can’t see a fly that sinks down into the debris (and you’ll get hung up) so you’ll begin to strip your fly before it hits bottom. And you never know beforehand how deep the water will be on a given flat, so you must have some idea of how fast your fly will sink—and be prepared with flies with different sink rates.

Steve Hemkins with a great bonefish catch.

Steve Hemkins, Senior Product Developer at Orvis Rod & Tackle, with a great bonefish catch.

No matter how good you are at spotting trout or steelhead, you will have trouble seeing bonefish in the water, at least for the first day and probably for a couple of days. Count on it. Bonefish are nearly invisible underwater because their shiny sides reflect the bottom, and without a shadow to pinpoint their position you’ll have a very difficult time. If you are unlucky to have a week of cloudy weather you may see very few of them unless they are tailing in shallow water. Some guides are excellent at helping clients learn to spot bonefish, others, because of a language problem or reticence, just tell their anglers where to cast and forget about trying to teach them. Try to discipline yourself to see through the water, not at it, and remember that bonefish hardly ever stop moving, so look for shadows and grayish indistinct shapes that don’t stay put.

Once you get onto a boat with a guide, remember that he will be giving you directions to cast by the hands of a clock in relation to the boat. Twelve o’clock is always directly in front of the boat, not where you are looking. And you will get befuddled—guaranteed. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a guide say “Cast 30 feet at 9 o’clock.” Sigh. “ No. The other 9 o’clock.” I even saw an enterprising young Bahamian guide on my last trip who had painted the hands of the clock, including the numbers, on the bow of the boat, just for clods like me.

The other miscommunication with guides and clients is distance. Different people have different ideas of what 40 feet is, especially in the heat of the moment. Make a short and a long cast before you start and ask your guide how far the casts were. If you’re traveling to Mexico or Central America, it’s not a bad idea to learn the words for 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 feet before you leave.

Finally, the strike is the bane of all trout anglers. You should never strike a bonefish (or any saltwater fish) with the rod tip, but by making a long, firm strip with the line while the rod is held low. Raising the rod tip lifts the fly out of the water, and if a bonefish hasn’t really taken it or misses the fly, it may come back to a fly that just makes a long dart through the water rather than one that goes airborne. (Many guides, when they see a bonefish take a fly, will instruct the angler to “make a long strip” because they know if they say “strike” up will come the rod tip.) One of the best suggestions I’ve heard for people who cannot modify their reflexes to strip strike is to retrieve a bonefish fly with the rod tip help a few inches underwater throughout the retrieve. With the tip underwater, the line stays in excellent control and it’s almost impossible to make a “trout strike.”

Places for Bonefishing

If you’ve never fished for bonefish before, probably the easiest place to learn is in Belize, where fish are smaller but very numerous. The Bahamasis also a good place for the beginner, although the fish are bigger and sometimes not as easy. Fell free to call the experts at Orvis International Travel. They’re experts at matching your fishing skills and desires with the right location, and will also help you find the right location for non-fishing members of your family. To Contact Orvis Travel: Call us at 800-547-4322 or e-mail us at

Advice on Bonefishing Gear

If you need advice on what gear you need, you can view our complete bonefishing package online, or call our fishing expert line at 1-800-548-9548 for help every step of the way.

]]> (Tom Rosenbauer) Saltwater Fishing Articles Wed, 11 Jan 2012 14:59:03 -0500