See This, Do That: Bonefish Flats with Mangroves

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Since it snowed a foot on me in Colorado yesterday, my mind immediately kicked into tropical mode. As I flipped through some photos from the Bahamas, I came upon this shot of a real challenge I experienced on Acklin's Island. As I remember it, a large school of bonefish is slowly creeping its way up this flat, into the mangroves--the fish are swimming toward me from the open ocean.

I have a mangrove to the left of the casting slot, a smaller mangrove to the right and a lot of little plants spread throughout the target zone. Knowing that a bonefish is apt to make a long run if I hook one and fearing the snags, I have to adjust my plan and do things differently than I would on a wide-open sandy flat.

1.) The first thing I'm going to do is size up on my leader. Actually, I knew we were going to be fishing weedy, stumpy water, so before we even started the day, I put on a 15-pound leader instead of the usual 8-12-pound leader. I also cranked my drag down a little bit. I'm willing to sacrifice a little stealth in the leader for strength. Hooking fish with light leader in this water is a lose-lose proposition. I get frustrated, and a fish ends up with a Crazy Charlie in its mouth trailing two feet of leader.

2.) I know exactly what the tide is doing. In this case, it's incoming (toward me) so I have every reason to believe those fish are going to just keep funneling up here. Were this an outgoing tide, I'd boogie my way around the mangroves to cut the fish off as they headed off the flat.

3.) I used that left mangrove as a "casting blind," crouching right up next to it, and allowing the fish to get closer before I even made a cast.

4.) I cast to an area, and not a fish. In this case, there's actually another mangrove beyond the one on the left. I wanted to make sure I hooked my fish before it cleared that mangrove. Hook the fish behind the bush, and 99 percent of the time, the fish is going to run away, so the bush is a non-factor. Let the fish clear the bush, and you're stuck. My cast landed just to the left of that little brush sprig in the middle of the photo.

5.) When I hooked the fish, I immediately lifted my rod, as high as I could, to take the vegetation out of play. When the fish broke out into the mini-pocket of open water, I walked out of the mangroves, and dropped my rod tip low, using side pressure to steer the fish around the remaining bushes. Once I took the fight into open water, it was a done deal, and I landed an 8-pound bonefish.

It's tricky to transition from trout thinking to bonefish thinking. The most important thing to remember is that bonefish are on the move. They aren't like that trout, holding in a run and waiting for his dinner to float down to him. Bonefish work for a living. So always be thinking about where the fish is going to go, before and after you hook it. That is the number one key to successful fishing for bones.