9 Tips on How to Catch Bonefish on the Fly in the Florida Keys

So, you want to learn how to catch bonefish? Get ready for one heck of a fly fishing challenge, and know that simply laying eyes on one of these special fish is worthy of a celebration.

Often referred to as "ghosts of the flats," bonefish are found year-round in the flats of the Florida Keys and will test the patience, perseverance, and casting skills of any angler.

If you're up for the challenge and ready to duke it out on flats, these tips will help you get started in your pursuit of the ever elusive Florida Keys bonefish.

How to Catch Bonefish in the Florida Keys

1. Wear the Best Polarized Sunglasses You Can Afford

Bonefish have an uncanny ability to blend in with the sandy bottom of the flats. Any glare on the water makes them practically invisible. And since sight-fishing is the name of bonefishing game, you need all the help you can get from a pair of high-quality polarized sunglasses.

Plan on allocating a decent portion of your fishing budget to the nicest pair of polarized glasses you can afford. Without them, your chances of actually seeing a bonefish are slim and all the money you spent on your rod, reel, flies, guide fees, and everything else will essentially go to waste.

2. The Sun is Your Friend

On overcast days, the blanket of clouds in the sky reflects off the surface of the water, creating a mirror-like effect that's very difficult to see through — even with polarized sunglasses. But on cloud-free days, the sun can be a huge asset to help you see through the water with more clarity.

To use the sun to your advantage, make every effort to keep the sun at your back. From this position, the water in front of you is illuminated, giving you a clearer view that can help you spot more fish.

3. Practice, Practice, and Practice Your Casting

To make the most of your bonefishing trip, practice casting your fly rod as much as possible before you head to the flats.

Practice casting into the wind, with the wind, and across the wind. Practice shooting line to 40, 50, 60 feet or more. Practice presenting the fly on the back cast. Try to perfect your double haul, and get comfortable making quick, accurate casts with as little delay as possible.

If you're short on practice time before your fishing trip, take a few casting lessons from a certified fly casting instructor. If you tell the instructor you're going bonefishing, they should be able to give you some huge pointers to improve your casting in short time.

4. Minimize False Casts by Shooting Line

Every time you false cast, you risk spooking the bonefish you're trying to catch. So, how do you make a long enough cast without false casting?

Ideally, the bulk of your casting distance should be obtained by shooting line. This is achieved by quickly loading the rod with a double haul, then releasing the line on the forward cast so that it shoots through the line guides, propelling the fly towards your target.

Becoming comfortable shooting line takes a lot of practice, and if you're not sure how to do it, use the previous tip and take some fly casting lessons. The ability to shoot line also is dependent on the type of fly line you use, which leads us to our next tip...

5. Choose the Proper Fly Line

Luckily, choosing the right fly line for bonefishing is easy... Get a "bonefish" line.

Just about every fly line manufacturer makes a bonefish line. These specialized lines are designed to perform well in the demanding conditions of the bonefish flats.

Bonefish fly lines generally have long, heavy heads that help the rod load quickly and punch your casts through the wind. They also have stiffer running lines that shoot through the rod guides with ease, helping you achieve greater casting distance without the need for multiple false casts. The stiffer line is also less prone to tangling at your feet on the casting platform — a common struggle flats anglers face.

6. Play the Current

Just like rainbow trout in a stream, bonefish generally face into the current when feeding.

Once you spot a bonefish, position your skiff so you can present your fly upstream of the bonefish. If you're not sure which way the tidal current is moving, look at any seagrass present and see which way it's bending, or stir up some mud or sand and watch where the current pulls it.

7. Strip Strip Strip...

With your skiff in position, cast your fly in front of and slightly beyond the bonefish. Then, quickly strip your fly into the strike zone, just in front of the bonefish.

Once your fly is in the strike zone, slow down your retrieve and start twitching and manipulating your fly to trigger a strike.

Remember, when you get a shot at a bonefish, things happen fast. If all goes well, the bonefish will charge your fly and take you for a ride. But if not...

8. Be Prepared to Waterhaul

If you present your fly, strip it into the strike zone, and the bonefish doesn't take your fly, or if it swims off somewhere else, all is not lost. It's time to make another quick presentation, and for this, a water haul cast is what you need.

A water haul cast uses the tension between the fly line and the water to load the fly rod to cast the line. This action allows you to recast your fly line without performing any additional false casts. Here's how you do it:

Instead of lifting all the fly line off the water to make your back cast, keep the line anchored on the water so that when you start your casting stroke, the rod bends and loads. It will feel like you're dragging the line across the water. Then, when you lift up to make your back cast, the rod will be loaded with energy, allowing you to make a quick forward cast and shoot line if needed.

9. Enlist an Expert for Your First Time Bonefishing

When it comes down to it, fly fishing for bonefish is very difficult. Everything needs to come together just right to even get a shot at one of these mirage-like fish. That's why if you're new to saltwater fly fishing, hiring a guide for your first time bonefishing in the Florida Keys is one the smartest things you can do.

Even if you have your own boat and plan on going the DIY route, going with a local guide who specializes in catching bonefish will shorten your learning curve immensely and make all your future efforts more fruitful.

Conclusion

Learning how to catch bonefish with a fly rod is a huge challenge but one that is well worth the effort. There's nothing quite like the feeling of hanging onto your rod as a bonefish rips off like a torpedo. We hope these tips gave you a good idea of the challenge you're up against and some good tricks to try when you make it to the Florida Keys bonefish flats.

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