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Bonefish Fly Essentials

The small details make a world of difference

June 24, 2015
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fly-fishing for bonefish
A bonefish expert offers tips to select the right bonefish flies for different situations. Alex Suescun

As a veteran flats guide, I’ve seen days when bonefish are surprisingly voracious and attack even a bright ’cuda streamer on a wire leader. Of course, there are many more days when the bones are insanely persnickety. Then, only the right fly induces a strike. Following, I offer some tips to help you identify key features of bonefish flies and help you pick the pattern best suited for different situations.

bonefish fly-fishing flies
Most bonefish fly designs are pretty basic, but you can tailor certain features to the mood of the fish and the conditions. Alex Suescun

Most bonefish fly designs are pretty basic: a wing, which helps the point of the hook ride upward and is made of bucktail, squirrel tail, foxtail, or synthetic fibers, like craft fur, to provide a little bulk; a body, mostly fashioned out of chenille, Mylar or monofilament wrapped around the hook shank for a segmented look; eyes (weighted or not), and a tail, often made of marabou, rabbit strip, Flashabou or Krystal Flash.

Bahamas flats water
Natural materials can work together with synthetics to create very effective bonefish fly patterns. Ted Lund

Half the fun is making a fly look juicy enough to light up a fish and get a take. And natural materials can work together with synthetics to create magic. Some of my favorite patterns combine rabbit fur — which undulates and breathes in the water, making the fly come to life — with the sparkle of Krystal Flash and rubber legs for extra action and a more lifelike appearance. Take into account, however, that sparsely tied flies are often best. They cast well, sink fast without much weight, and they land with minimal splash.

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bonefish flies
Most bonefish flies incorporate the same basic parts or features. SWS Staff

Bonefish Fly Features

1. Head: Thread coated in head cement or epoxy

2. Eyes: Nylon, bead chain or lead dumbbells

3. Body: chenille, Mylar or mono

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4. Tail: Krystal Flash, marabou or craft fur

5. Wing: Natural or synthetic hair

6. Weed Guard: Single or double strand of monofilament

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fly patterns for bonefish
There’s plenty of room for creativity in coming up with a fly pattern to pique the interest of a bonefish. Clint Kemp

There’s plenty of room for creativity in coming up with a fly pattern to pique the interest of a bonefish. And, while realistic imitations are not always productive, it’s still best to emulate, if loosely, shrimp, crabs, worms and the small finfish increasingly favored by the larger bonefish.

bonefish bait types
The small critters that bonefish feed on typically blends with the grass, coral or sand on the bottom. Your fly should do the same. Ted Lund

Be it crustaceans, small fish or invertebrates, all the life forms bonefish consider food depend largely on camouflage to survive. Their coloration typically blends with the grass, coral or sand on the bottom. So wherever you happen to target bonefish, your flies should look like they belong in the surroundings.

color combinations for bonefish flies
Best colors for bonefish flies include tans, browns, pinks and white, but a bit of green, chartreuse, orange or yellow helps the fish detect a fly. Ted Lund

Bonefish flies come in a gamut of colors, but tans, browns, pinks and white cover the spectrum of common bonefish forage. However, a bit of green, chartreuse, orange or yellow often helps the fish detect a fly. And a couple of wraps of crystal chenille or a few strands of Flashabou or similar flashy material further enhances its appearance. For instance, I find that purple and pink UV Krystal Flash resemble the appendages of small crustaceans and make flies more attractive and more visible to foraging bonefish.

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bonefish fly colors
A good selection of bonefish flies should include proven classics and effective new designs. SWS Staff

Old classics like the Crazy Charlie, Gotcha and Clouser Minnow, and more modern producers like the EP Spawning Shrimp and Gord’s Cayo Coco Loco, owe their effectiveness to various distinctive features, not just the color and size. Myriad materials — from natural animal hairs and feathers to synthetic simulations — produce the desired looks and action. And whether you buy the flies or tie your own, you should be familiar with some of those materials and how they make a fly more effective.

flies weights for bonefish
Carry a flies of different weights to match the water depth, the strength of wind and current, and the reaction of the fish. Ted Lund

While an unweighted fly might be the ticket for skittish bones in 12 inches of water, it’s best to carry a selection with different weights to match the water depth, as well as the strength of the wind and current, also factors on the weight a fly needs to reach bottom.

unweighted flies for bonefish
Weightless flies are ideal for bonefish in very shallow water. Ted Lund

Most weightless bonefish flies don black nylon eyes or a facsimile fashioned out of monofilament line with the ends melted into a ball. Those are ideal for targeting bones tailing or milling around in very skinny water.

Small bead-chain eyes provide the next step up in weight class. Then come larger bead-chain eyes, followed by lead or tungsten dumbbell eyes of several weights and sizes.

using weighted flies for bonefish
In deeper flats or when the tide rises, it’s time to use weighted flies. Ted Lund

If a fly produces during the lower tide stages, use the same pattern with heavier eyes when the tide rises. Just remember that too much weight makes a fly hard to cast and land with a crash that sends bonefish hightailing for the horizon.

bonefish in Bahamas
The species and size of bonefish’s forage can vary greatly from place to place. Alex Suescun

Depending on the location, the primary forage and its size differ greatly. In South Florida, bones gorge on fairly large shrimp and crabs. In the Bahamas, on the other hand, the fish have a more limited diet of smaller critters. So it’s imperative that you tailor your fly selection accordingly.

flats fishing for bonefish
Before your next bonefishing trip, find out what the flats look like and what flies are recommended. Mary Raulerson

Do some research about your destination before your next bonefishing trip. Find out what the flats look like and what fly patterns are recommended. Your local fly shop can often provide valuable information and even connect you with anglers who recently fished the place you are headed.

Size, color, weight, shape and materials all matter. So choose wisely and carry enough of a fly assortment to provide you options for success.

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