OK, you’ve spotted a bonefish, hooked him, and fought him in close to you. Now what?
For those new to it, landing bonefish isn’t easy. You can’t use the same techniques used with smaller fish like trout – and at a place like Andros South where we do a lot of wading, you’ll often be landing fish on your own.
For a primer on how to land bonefish, we turned to none other than Bruce Chard, flats legend and teacher of our bonefishing schools at Andros South. Thanks, Bruce!
How to Land a Bonefish
You can make landing a bonefish on a fly rod easy or really expensive. In this post we will explain some great techniques for landing bonefish in ways that are safe for the fish, your tackle and yourself.
In a Skiff
Let’s start with landing a bonefish in the skiff. When you hook up and bring a bonefish boat side, it’s good to try not to even bring it out of the water at all unless you plan to take a quick picture. Remember that the fish has just fought for its life and is exhausted so limiting time out of the water is critical for the survival of the fish.
Landing the bonefish that you have boat side is easy. I like to make sure that I have at least the leader and 5 feet of fly line out of the tip of the rod tip. This amount of line is very important as to help not to bend the tip of the rod back towards itself and break. When the fish is boat side you might have to pull line off the reel to give yourself that amount of line outside our tip. I like to have a large long bend in the rod at all times.
Then I like to rotate the reel in my right hand away from me and extend that same hand and arm behind me, raising my rod hand as high as I can. This will create a large long bend or arc in the fly rod and allow the leader/line to fall in front of you to grab with your other hand. Then once you have the line in your hand you can get down into the cockpit of the boat and get down on your knees. Bending over the side of the boat you can then pull the fish to you by pulling the line in with your hands.
If you don’t care to take a picture, plan on never lifting the fish out of the water at all. You can simply reach down under the water (keeping the fish under the water at all times) and grab the fish over its back. Once you have a hold of the fish you can roll the fish over on its back. This will calm the fish and also brings the fish’s mouth closer to you and makes it easier to work on getting the hook out easily.
Grab the hook at the bend and push out the same direction it went in and the fly should pop out. Then flip the fish back over while switching your handle on the fish to the tail. Resuscitate the fish by moving it back and forth lightly in the water till he starts kicking. Then give him a big push forward when you release the fish so fresh oxygenated water gets flushed over his gills.
If you do wish to take a picture do the same process to land the fish. When you get the hook out, instead of rolling the fish over right side up, keep the fish upside down while still keeping him completely submerged in the water at all times. Make sure whoever is taking the picture has the camera on and ready to snap a pic off. Then you can pick the fish up out of the water (still holding it upside down) and get in your picture pose. Then roll fish over in your hand, take a quick shot and quickly put fish back in the water. Resuscitate the fish and release.
When you’re wading, the technique is exactly the same, if not a little easier since you don’t have to worry about moving around in the boat. Keep 5 feet of fly line out, raise your rod hand high, keep a long arc in the rod and reach out to grab the line! You can see this pictured at the top of the post.
More on Handling (Not Handling!) Bonefish
Bonefish are extremely slippery. They have a slick slime that covers and protects them from infections and helps to hide them from being detected from predators. This slime is critical to the survival of the fish.
I personally try my very best to not ever even touch the fish at all unless I plan to take a picture. I will simply keep the fish submerged the entire time. I run my hand down the leader, grab the fly only (either with my fingers or my hemostats/pliers), take out the fly and release the fish without ever taking the fish out of the water or touching it, jeopardizing its protective slime. Of course if I can’t get the fly out very easily I will have to end up touching the fish but I do everything I can to not do so.
I hope this helps you land the big ones and send them on their way safely!