There are several important variables when it comes to choosing what fly to use: how heavy, and how the fly is weighted, the size and shape of the hook, the size and profile of the fly, and color. In my experience, the actual fly pattern is probably the least important variable when it comes to catching bonefish. The final variable I consider in my fly selection is confidence. Even the best fly will falter unless the angler is fishing it with confidence.
Today I made a plan for an afternoon session with Makani on his boat. Of course the plan was pretty crazy and involved dropping a van off at the port and then driving across the island twice, but that’s how Makani rolls. I’ve had some tough days on the water recently so, despite the wild logistics, I was looking forward to hooking a bonefish.
Well, you all know what happens to the best laid plans. At the last possible minute, Makani had to drop everything and fly to Maui to buy a car! The sun was still high in the sky and all my gear was ready to go, so I re-routed to my neighborhood flat. When I arrived, the tide was coming up but the water was still clear and the wind was a light 10-15 mph. I tied on a small, brown, crabby-fly that had worked well the last time I fished the spot. The first few hundred feet of this particular flat are usually pretty good, so I started out slow. Sure enough, I spotted fish right away. I made two decent presentations, and both fish rushed towards my fly when they saw it, but they didn’t eat.
In Bonefishing With A Fly, Randall Kaufmann offers the following advice on choosing a fly:
I usually ask my guide which fly I should fish. I do this partly out of respect and partly for the sake of curiosity. Over the years the general response has been a shrug of the shoulders and a casual pick that would be considered a good habitat matcher. However, when the fly has been refused twice, most guides quickly demand a change of color
This is advice that I have used with success for years so I snipped off my brown crab and tied on a tan and rust-colored shrimp that was about the same size and weight. The next fish I spotted was swimming in the same direction I was wading. It was slowly overtaking me about thirty five feet off to my right. I made a back-hand cast but overcompensated for the breeze and set the fly down behind the fish, just close enough to startle it a tiny bit. It sped up but I could tell it was a curious because it started to turn back the way it had come. I held perfectly still as the fish made a wide, slow loop and finally returned to where my fly was still waiting. I made couple of short strips and then paused as the fish darted forward and tipped down to eat.
The visibility dropped quickly as the tide peaked, so I soon packed it in and drove home to do some laundry. It wasn’t the epic afternoon I had envisioned, but it felt like success.
I immediately sent the picture to Makani, of course, just to rub it in.