Tackle and equipment
Now that we know about the bonefish and his world let’s talk about the gear we need for catching bonefish. But before we start let me say this, everything you’ll read is my own opinion. And yes some other people may have different opinions. For me I want the best gear out there, because when I spend time out on the flats I don’t want to worry about anything. I just want to have a good time! So the last thing I need is the drag of my reel to breakdown or loosing a big fish because my leader breaks or my hook isn’t sharp anymore. That being said, you can and will catch bonefish with a really cheap outfit. It will work but eventually the fast running fish, hard wind, the salt etc. becomes a problem and things start to break and malfunction. And your time out on the water is ruined, so buy the best gear you can afford. Not so you can show off to your fishing buddy, but it will allow you to keep on fishing effectively.
What rod to choose for Bonefishing?
The most common used rods are fast action rods, and I highly recommend them myself. Just remember that a rod also needs a little finesse so you can deliver your fly up close and softly to so you don’t spook the bones. There are many great rods out there made by various companies. Remember always cast a rod yourself before you buy one and do not buy a rod because someone else likes this or that rod. It is a matter of personal taste and your own casting stroke. Just remember that you’re almost always battling the winds that are prevalent on the flats so keep that in mind. The rods I use myself right now are the Sage TCX 691-4, TCX 790-4 and the ONE 990-4. Now I’m not being sponsored in any way, I bought these rods myself after testing a lot of different rods. The TCX is an ‘older’ model, but still an amazing rod! Usually 9 foot rods work best and a #8 weight rod is the standard in bonefishing. But I do not use an #8 weight myself, so why? Well because the TCX 691-4 casts a #7 weight line very well and I use this rod for bones in Mexico, Belize etc. so let’s say up to 4-5 pounds. This little rod has become my absolute favorite and combined with an Einarsson 5plus reel it’s a great lightweight package that handles small to medium size bones very well. But the main thing for me is that I have a rod that has backbone for casting and playing fish, but at the same time I can present my fly in a very stealthy way. So I like to be able to cast the lightest fly line possible, but have enough power to cast in windy situations and battle fish.
Which rod & reel combo you use doesn’t really matter, as long as it gets the job done and you are happy with the looks and performance.
The TCX 790-4 plus the Einarsson 7plus is my kit for ‘bigger’ bonefish in the 4-5 pounds range and up. I like to rig it with an #8 weight bonefish line, by doing so I can reduce the number of false casts to a minimum. This amazing rod has a lot of backbone and can even handle double-digit bonefish without any problems. It is an #7 weight rod but with the power of an #8 weight. It’s the rod I use when I suspect larger bonefish or when the wind is picking up and becoming a problem for the lighter set-up. The ONE 990-4 and Einarsson 9plus come in handy when the wind is blowing hard or when I’m going after large bones and also if there is the possibility of catching Permit, Snook, baby Tarpon etc. in the area I’m fishing. So why the ONE and not the TCX for my nine weight rod? The TCX is just a little to stiff for my personal taste, the ONE has the fineness I’m looking for. If I would be casting heavy permit crabs all day the TCX might be the better rod choice, again all a matter of taste.
My lightweight bonefish outfit: the Sage TCX 691-4 & Abel 6N + wf-7 bonefish line.
A four-section rod will make it much easier when traveling to and from destinations; so all my rods have 4 sections. Personally I also like a fighting butt on my rods because it makes fighting the bonefish less stressful on my arm and wrist. A few things to take into account: always clean your rod guides before you start fishing. I do this after every day out on the flat. It will ensure that the line shoots through the rods guides properly. And also rinse your rods after every session with fresh water, by doing so you prevent the oxidation of the guides. If you maintain your rods properly they will probably last you a lifetime. The rest is a matter of personal taste and preference, so go to your local fly shop and pick the right rod for you.
Maybe the most important piece of gear you’ll buy for bonefish. It has to be saltwater proof, now many fly reel manufacturers claim that their reel is saltwater proof. But believe me when I say that is not the case for all of them. Sure the reel will work fine on your first trip, but when you really put the reel to the test you’ll find out that some parts of it eventually malfunction. And we al now that what you pay, is what your going to get right! So in my opinion it’s better to spend a little more on a quality piece of gear. Then to eventually having to buy that quality reel anyway. I myself once fished with a ‘cheap’ reel and one day hooked a big bonefish after working really hard to get one to eat my fly. Now that bonefish once realized it was hooked took off like a lightning bolt… and unfortunately my reel didn’t do the job it supposed to do. The reel jammed and my leader snapped, leaving the bonefish with a fly in it’s mouth and me with… well let’s say… a slight feeling of disappointment. So never ever again will I fish an inferior fly reel for bonefish… ever!
Again there are many good fly reels out there on the market today, company’s like Abel, Einarsson, Nautilus, Tibor, Hatch, Mako and many more make excellent saltwater fly reels. I like the ones that are machined out of a single piece of aerospace grade aluminum and that feature premium quality brake systems. If you go after hard and fast running fish make sure your gear is good enough to do the job. I personally fish with Einarsson and Abel reels… love the bonefish print on their reels!
There are many different brake systems I won’t go in to it to deep, but the main two are the closed systems and the open or cork drag systems. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. The closed drags are great because you don’t have to worry about sand and saltwater becoming a problem. The cork drag systems are among the best money can buy and they only use a few parts. So incase you have to replace or repair something it can be done in a matter of minutes. But you’ll have to maintain your cork drag properly for it to function at its very best. For me that is no problem at all just oil the drag after and before every trip and you’re good to go. Only a little maintenance is necessary for it to be in order. For backing I like to have at least 150yards on my #6 outfit and 250yards on the larger reels. Now I never encountered a bonefish that runs more than 175 yards. Not even the double digit ones will run that far so for me 150 yards of backing plus 30 yards of fly line is more than enough for the small to medium size bones. And the 280 yards in total on the larger reels gives me the confidence that I’m always in the safe zone. I used to like the GSP backing because of its thin diameter, the advantage is you get more backing on a reel then with normal Dacron about 30% - 40% more of the same breaking strength. Butt sometimes GSP can cut you because of its thinner diameter and because of the bonefish’s ability to run very fast. So what I like to use is something in between, being the Cortland micron backing. It’s thinner than Dacron but not as thin as GSP. Again use what ever you prefer Dacron, GSP or micron backing it all works, just use the one you like best.
Just like your rods rinse your fly reels after every fishing day with fresh water. When it is time to head home take them apart, clean and lube them so they are ready for your next adventure. And a tip if you use Abel and Tibor reels that have cork drag systems, make sure that your cork drag isn’t dried out. Make sure it’s oiled so that you have the lowest start-up inertia possible. If you don’t the drag will not perform at its best.
Fly lines for bonefish:
All major fly line companies sell specialized bonefish lines. But what’s so special about them? Accept from the fact that their taper is designed for the job, they have a special core. That core can resist the high temperatures that our fly line has to face on the flats. So whatever line you use, make sure it’s designed for use in the tropics. When its hot normal lines will turn into spaghetti and you won’t be able to shoot line very well so get a line that can withstand high temperatures. Personally I like the ‘standard’ bonefish lines the ones I use are the RIO bonefish line and the Monic clear tip floating ones, but some fishermen and woman like fly lines that feature a heavy shorter belly. For example a redfish, clouser or bonefish quick shooter line. Try different lines to see what you like best, not one of them is the perfect line. Because during the course of a day you might be casting 80ft with a small lightweight fly on a dead calm morning trying to seduce tailing bones and an hour later you’re on a deep flat casting a lead eye fly 45ft in to strong winds to a cruising fish. In any given day you’ll find yourself battling different conditions, so choose the best all round fly line or carry different ones with you. For me a ‘normal’ or standard bonefish line is all I need for my fishing. I actually like the belly a bit on the longer side. But I also bring a intermediate tip to the flats, I really like it for deeper flats. Flats that normally holds bigger fish as well, but you need to get your fly down to the fishes level as soon as possible. A long leader with a heavy fly is one option, but a heavy fly and a long leader are not exactly best friends. So what works for me is to use an intermediate tip line and a 12 - 15ft leader. Your presentation will be much nicer too that way! Because of the angle the line has from you to the fish and the fly will be in ‘the zone’ much quicker. I like to present my fly close to a big bonefish, that way the fish doesn’t have time to inspect the fly. An intermediate tip line enables me to do just that.
One thing not many people do is clean their fly line daily. Well I clean my line every otherday! For that I use a wet towel to clean off the nasty stuff and then I use Loon linespeed, this stuff make your line smoother and protects it and yes you will cast farther and easier after using it. If you want your line to shoot as far as possible it is essential. And when you can shoot more line you need less false casts and that’s always a good thing when you’re out on the flats. So clean your line more often, you’ll be amazed how much dirt comes off you line after just two day’s of fishing. The way I connect my fly line to my backing is with a nail knot and I like some UV resin on the knot, so that it runs through the guides without any problems. For the connection to my leader I like to nail knot a piece of 35-pound hard mono to my fly line. About 4 inches long and with a non-slip mono loop on the end of it. I just use a loop to loop connection to attach the leader. On the end of my leader I use a heavy duty tippet ring that allows me to quickly change my tippet if necessary.
Ok let me be clear on this one, different people like different things, thank god! But from my experience a stiff or hard mono leader is far superior to the pre-packed knotless leaders that most manufacturers sell. Because they are just way to soft and collapse in the wind, the hard mono leaders will straighten out perfectly even in strong winds. And it’s almost always windy when chasing Bonefish, doesn’t matter where in the world you go to chase the grey gogst, there will be wind trust me. So I like to knot my own leaders with RIO or Tiemco hard mono or I’ll buy the Froghair blue water leaders. RIO used to sell hand knotted hard mono leaders, they were also great but not exactly cheap. For tippet I use Tiemco Fluoro Stealth ranging from 8Lbs to 18Lbs depending on where I fish. Normally people fish 9-12ft leaders including the tippet but I like my leaders a bit longer. If it’s a really windy day I’ll go down to a 10-12ft leader, but only if I have to. Normally I’ll use 15ft leaders but I’ll lengthen them to 18ft if conditions dictate it. The advantage of a longer leader is that you are less likely to spook the fish. Maybe you won’t spook the fish you are casting to, but often its the fish that you didn’t see. So as a guideline use the longest leader you can that will land straight on the water. You’ll catch more bonefish this way. The leader formula I use is pretty straightforward and I use blood knots to connect the pieces together.
If you’re going to knot your own leaders with hard mono a good tip is to use some acid free Vaseline on the knots. Because it can be really though to tighten those blood knots if you use the thicker diameter mono. Just don’t use a lot of Vaseline on the knots just a little will do just fine. If you want to use tippet rings, please don’t use the ones designed for trout fishing. Use the heavy-duty rings that can at least take 20Lbs, that way the only thing you can lose is your tippet. If it happens all you’ll have to do is to tie some fresh tippet to the tippet ring, a new fly and you’re back in the game.
When we go out to the flats there are a few other pieces of gear we have to take with us. One of the most important being a pair of good quality flats boots. Because if you step on a sea urchin barefooted its game over!
On some flats barefoot wading is not a problem, but most flats have little rocks, broken shells, sea urchins etc. so be smart and protect you feet.
Flats boot will protect your feet from sea urchins and sharp objects while wading the flats searching for the ghost.
Simms, Orvis and Patagonia to name a few all have flats boots in their collection. Just make sure they have hard soles so that you are well protected while out on the flats. Because it can be really hot on the flats it can be nice to have a fanny pack for all your fly boxes, tippet etc. especially when wading for bonefish. I like the waterproof ones, because salt water will ruin everything from nipper to your flies and leaders.
Another thing that is crucial is a pair of polarized glasses! They are essential and don’t go without a good pair. Because without a pair of glasses you won’t be able to spot the bonefish as well if at all. I always carry a spare pair, lots of cleaning fluid and a micro fiber cloth to clean my glasses. Stripping fingers or gloves can come in handy to, protect your hand and fingers from the salt and sun. Your stripping a lot and when your fingers are wet you get small wounds, stripping fingers will protect you so you can keep on fishing all day every day. In addition to the basics like nipper, pliers, leaders, tippet etc I also take a thermometer with me. This will allow me to very quickly see if the water is the right temperature for the fish. If not I’m not wasting time looking for something that’s not there. As a rule I try to take only the essentials with me, I like to keep things a light a possible. So these are the basic things I carry with me to the water.
- Simms flats pack
- Polarized glasses
- Light weight cap with black bill
- Tippet 8-12-15-18 Lbs
- Pre knotted bonefish leaders 6X
- Spare tippet rings
- Photo camera!
- Nippers & pliers
- Stripping fingers 2x
- C&F waterproof fly box large 2x
- Lens cleaning fluid & micro fiber cloth
- Small Leatherman tool & thermometer
- Buff, mosquito repellent and sun block
If DIY fishing all day long I’ll carry a Simms waterproof rug sack containing a snack pack, water, rain jacket and extra photo gear.
Ready for a long day fishing the flats, Burkheimer 790-4 SW & Abel Super 7/8N.
If I go DIY or wade fishing I take one rod and reel with me, on the boat I’ll carry these additional items to the water:
Fishing from a boat:
- 4 rods in total: #6, #7, #9, #12 ( the #9 rod usually rigged for permit, snook or baby tarpon, the #12 for large tarpon)
- Fly reels for all the rods
- Spare fly lines
- Extra fly boxes containing permit, snook and tarpon flies
- Rain jacket
- Spare polarized glasses
- Pen and paper for taking notes
- Tissues J
Saltwater will ruin the hooks on your flies, so make sure that you use waterproof fly boxes. As a matter of fact waterproof everything you take with you. TMC ceramic nippers, leaders, pliers... basically everything you carry with you does not like saltwater. So either waterproof your gear or rinse with fresh water every day you’ll be happy you did!