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How hard is it to get a bonefish to bite?


Intro

I got this letter a few days ago from someone calling themselves “a committed guide” [1]. It’s so damn funny and insightful and delightfully frustrated (in a ranting, I’ve-just-gotta-vent kind of way) that I couldn’t help posting it. Maybe the humor is only apparent to other guides and those readers who’ve only ever been on the other side of that business arrangement might find it harsh or sarcastic or even insulting. I hope not. Instead, heed the simple, earthy wisdom and, go ahead, laugh a little. What follows is the letter in full with only a few minor editorial adjustments for clarity. Enjoy, and please leave a comment.

~ Davin Ebanks (a.k.a. Flatswalker)

How hard is it to get bonefish to bite?

Basically it’s only as hard as you make it. I watch people catch them all the time so know it isn’t that hard. First, the cast has to be in the right spot. Second, you have to move the fly in the right way. Third, you have to make a long sharp strip to set the hook. Fourth, let the fish run when it wants to and keep the line tight if it swims towards you. If you don’t do any of these things it will not work.

Sounds simple but, not really. The Bahamas or Central America or Florida all use different types of flies and different retrieves and different presentations. Now I haven’t fished for bass or trout or salmon, but if I was fishing with a guide elsewhere where the fish are feeding mainly on minnows I wouldn’t throw a fly imitating a minnow at the fish and move it like it was a crab or a shrimp, it [probably] won’t work.

If the fish wants the fly 8 inches from its face to notice it and I put it 5 ft. away I don’t [can’t] expect it to bite. If the fish needs the fly to land a minimum of 3 ft away to avoid spooking it and I put it 8 inches away instead, I won’t expect the fish to bite.

Bottom line: the cast, retrieve, and hook-set determine if you’re going to be successful or not. You don’t even need to see the fish; just put it where the guide tells you and retrieve it like he says. If I were to fish elsewhere and didn’t listen to the guide and didn’t hook up, I would be wasting my time and money because I would be paying someone else to advise me on what he knows works and doing things my own way and wondering why it didn’t work.

We [as guides] can only take them where we know the fish have shown up before, advise them on what they need to do, and watch them do their own thing. Remember that it isn’t the guide that wants things a certain way, it is the fish that we are trying to fool with bits of fabric tied into various concoctions. He wants what he wants to eat. Simple.

Remember the strip set, because if the fish bites and never gets hooked the first 2 steps are wasted. Yes, reflex takes over and the rod gets raised and the fly just pops out of the fishes mouth: reflex, habit, it happens to everyone.

All fishermen make errors: bad casts, rod-sets,  the list goes on, (and I’m certainly including myself here), but to blatantly disregard what someone is telling me to do in order to catch a fish… well, not guilty.

I find that people that have never fly fished before listen better than those that have fished in all the exotic locations. Unfortunately it takes a lot of time to get over the rod-set but they end up getting way more bites than the more experienced clientele. [True.]

The only thing that the novice does better than a seasoned fly fisherman is to listen to advice. He can’t cast as far or as accurate but he tries and listens. That is why he is more successful, not beginners luck.

I think it was Lefty Kreh that said the three most important things in fly fishing is presentation, presentation, presentation.

Remember, if it doesn’t look right and doesn’t move right its not going to get bit, RIGHT?

There are some days where nothing works to get the bite or (even worse) there are some days that the fish don’t show up at all. The worse thing is to give up. The sport is called fishing, it is ultimately up to the fish whether it is going to show up and bite or not. Trust me I have yet to meet someone who can promise the fish are going to be at place X at time Y and they are going to bite on fly Z. All you can do is try. By giving up it is guaranteed that you are going to fail. If you don’t try or aren’t there you can’t win.

Do you think this sums up all the things that can go wrong? [Wait, I just thought of another:] add too much alcohol and chances are the fly will never get in front of a fish, and someone might end up with a new piercing. Not cool.

Listening is such a small thing but often without it the hookup will not happen.

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE!!!!

__________

Yes, we’re here, my brother. Semper Fi.
____________________
1 I’m not quite sure if the author was aware of the dual meaning of the word “committed” when he chose that pseudonym — as in “poor bastard just couldn’t stand the strain; I hate to say it but he should be committed”. [back]

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2 Comments
  • Reply

    Yeah, I remember periods like that: whole stretches of days or weeks where the fish always seemed spooky, weather too hot, too windy, too calm, or whatever, and you’d find yourself pushing. For some reason I can’t explain pushing just won’t work.

    In the words of Rashi, “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”

    (Yes, I did just see “A Serious Man”. Weirdly enjoyable flick.)

  • sensitive soul
    Reply

    Yeah he sounds frustrated! Guess it’s been a rough year.

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