When you’re out on the flats looking for bonefish, there are a few ‘stages’ that you go through, ranging from locating the fish to really reading how the fish is behaving. In today’s post we’re going to outline these stages – hopefully you’ll find something helpful in here!
These stages apply to your overall career as a bonefish angler (i.e. when you’re starting out, locating the fish is enough), but they also can apply to more advanced anglers in the context of a single fish (i.e. locate the fish, then move to the next stage). Regardless, you want to move as far through these stages as you can, in order, when you’re looking for bonefish.
Spotting Bonefish in Stages
- Locate the fish. This obviously step #1 – figure out where the fish is. You may be looking for movement or you may be looking for a dark spot on the bottom, but you first need to know that there’s a fish there. This introductory post may help.
- Decide which direction he’s facing. This is almost always a requirement for a good presentation, since you almost always need to land the fly in front of the fish for him to eat. There are certain angles from which you can figure out where he’s facing by looking at the shape of the fish – by seeing the thicker shoulders in front of the thinner, waving tail – but the most of the time you can figure out which direction he’s facing by just watching him for a second once you’ve located him. They’re always moving, and they can’t swim backwards!
- Try to read his path and speed. Now watch closely and make a quick decision about where he’s headed and how fast. ‘Where he’s headed’ might mean more than just ‘left to right’. He might be wrapping around a mangrove shoreline, or following a little channel away from the bank, or jumping from grassy patch to grassy patch. His path and speed together will dictate where you should land your fly.
- Assess how he’s acting. Is he cruising along steadily, looking for food? Consider a big strip to get his attention. Is not only moving slowly, but zig-zagging and constantly tipping down, chowing and filling his belly? Land it on his head or he’s not going to care. Is he acting jittery, speeding up and slowing down a lot? He might be spooked – wing it out there but don’t get your hopes up. The more you can read how he’s acting and even feeling, the better!
We’re not saying that you can’t catch bonefish without giving them an at-a-glance personality assessment. Lots of bonefish get caught after stage 2, and some get caught after stage 1. We’re just saying that you should work your way through the stages, as far as you can, whenever you’re looking for bonefish.
Have fun out there!