The Buddy System

I believe I have mentioned the phenomenon of the buddy system before, but I think it bears repeating.

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Very often bonefish travel and feed in pairs. Sometimes they are close together, but I have also seen fish a hundred feet apart that are clearly aware of each other and eventually meet up before leaving an area. This has a few implications for us as fly fishers.

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have spotted a feeding fish and worked out a good approach, but when my cast lands, it lands on a second fish that spooks, taking my intended target along with it. Sometimes I am just excited and I miss the second fish because I have tunnel vision for the first, but even when I slow down and check the area, the other fish is sometimes obscured by the glare, or hidden in a pocket of slightly deeper water.

Some bonefishing scenarios demand a quick reaction, too slow to cast and the opportunity passes. Other situations benefit from slowing down. I remember fishing one afternoon with Ed Tamai. We were walking the edge of a sand flat and casting at fish rooting along the drop off when we spotted a sizable fish higher up on the flat. I immediately started to pull line of the reel but Ed stopped me. “Just wait” he said. We stood still and watched the fish. It was moving over the sand in a slow, lazy loop, stopping periodically to feed along the margins of several weed beds. When it came back, it just started the loop all over again. Only once we understood the pattern did we slowly move to the most advantageous position from which to make a cast. We didn’t land that fish. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the slow approach is what stuck in my mind. We can’t all read fish-minds like Ed, but we can all benefit from slowing down sometimes. One of the advantages I have discovered is that by observing a fish for a few moments, it’s buddy will often appear too. Then you can assess which fish is the better target, and how to present your fly without scaring the other.

Pairs of fish (or even bigger groups) can also create an opportunity. If you can place your cast in front of several oncoming fish, it will often spark their competitive instincts and they will rush the fly without their normal wariness.

This buddy system is also common with carp, but they tend to move slower than bonefish so it is almost always beneficial to stop and observe for a moment before making a cast. Another difference is that while bonefish are usually paired with fish of similar size, I have seen an 8-10 pound carp swimming with a partner twice that big. The danger in this situation is that if the fish race each other for your fly, the smaller one might win!

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