WHAT MAKES A GOOD BONEFISH LINE
(and why this line fits the bill)
- It floats high. This seems like a simple thing but it’s about the most important consideration for wade fishing, regardless the species. A line that sinks, even a little is much harder to pull off the water for a quick cast, forcing you to make more false casts and modify your casting action. This line simply glides off the water, making the whole thing more effortless and enjoyable. RIO says it floats high because it’s got something in it called AgentX Technology. (I think that means it’s the line a spy would use, which is pretty cool.) Whatever; it works.
- It cuts through the wind. This is critical whether wading or from skiff. The tropical Trade Winds are legendary and ever present. Lines that are too limp tend to get blown around. A stiff line cuts through the wind giving more control and accuracy. The stiffness also helps eliminate slack in the presentation, which is good. On the salt slackness is a bad thing. You want to make the cast so the first strip you do moves the fly. If your shot is on the money, that first strip could be the strike and hookup. Any slack means the fish will have spit your stupid little fly long before you get your s*** together. This line lays out straight and tight at the end of any decent cast.
- It loads the rod quickly. I can’t stress how important speed is in bonefishing. It’s one of the bigger shocks to the trout angler, first time on the flats. On a trout stream one has time. The fish are there, in their lie, holding in the current. You can consider the presentation, maybe even sift the stream to see what’s hatching and perhaps make a cup of camp-coffee as you contemplate the poetry of it all. Bonefish are never still. Many times you need to make a cast immediately or your opportunity is gone. But the trouble with bonefishing is that the environment is so soothing, so relaxing. I mean, there you are floating/wading the turquoise waters, feeling the soothing salt breeze, listening to the rustle of the ocean when all of a sudden the guide calls, “Fish! 60 feet. 11 o’clock. See them?” “Um. No.” “Ok, 50 feet, same direction.” “No.” “Ok, 40 feet, cast now!” This takes about five seconds and if you’ve got to add a half-dozen false casts to get to 30 feet then you’ll miss that shot. It’s as simple as that. The heavy body of this line loads the rod almost instantly and lets you feel the rod for greater accuracy. During the course of this test I noticed anglers shaving false-casts off their presentations, dropping from 3 or 4 casts to 2, and simply shooting it out there. At the end of the day we reached more fish and missed fewer shots. You can’t ask for more than that.
MY FLY LINE PHILOSOPHY
(Why Anyone Should Care What I Think About Fly Lines)
During season I’m on the water 4-8 hrs a day, 4-5 days a week. I’ve been doing this for about 12 years now. That’s a lot of sun and salt… and bonefish. Nevertheless, I don’t think I expect much from a fly line. It should be able to cast, withstand the tropical sun and float. Basic stuff. Of course, it should do that with a minimum of fuss and maintenance—spray it off at the end of the day and maybe I slap a bit of line lube/cleaner on it once a fortnight, but that’s about it.
Not too surprisingly there are many lines out there that meet the criteria. What is surprising is there are still those that don’t. I mean, we’ve still got lines that cast well but have to be cleaned daily with soap (but never detergent), in warm water only, and soaked for exactly 5 minutes to dissolve the salt, and then dressed it at least once every 3 days… and I suppose all this under a full moon on midsummer’s eve while mumbling a few sacred spells, preferably in Latin. Frankly, who has the time?
Then there are the lines that say they float, but don’t. These really get me going. When you’re wading a line that doesn’t float is only marginally better than having no line at all. No. I retract that. It’s worse, because if you had no line you wouldn’t be spending all your time frustrated by a line that’s tangled around your ankles, turtle grass, conch shells, coral or lying peacefully two feet below on the ocean floor where you have to struggle with might and main to get it out of the water and into the air. With no line you’d be back at the beach bar telling fish stories, eating conch chowder and generally having a good time. So, a line that sinks when it should float is actually worse than not going fishing at all.
Basically, a line should do what the box it came in advertises. It doesn’t have to have some trippy nano-texture copied from a Jesus Lizard or slide through the rod guides faster’n a greased up snake. It just has to not tangle, load the road and not fall apart too soon.
So, when I find a line that not only ticks all the right boxes but also makes my rod a better casting machine, I’m truly impressed.
Let me clarify. Very often my guests that don’t bring their own tackle get to fish with my personal flyrod, a 9’ 6” 8-weight R.L. Winston BIIx and the best casting bonefish rod ever made. Period. It’s basically the Stradivarius of flyrods. Yet, I might get one client a week that comments on this rod. Usually it’s so understated and businesslike they never notice it. But since I’ve been using RIO’s new Bonefish Quickshooter the comments have been non-stop:
 ACTUAL TESTIMONIALS
Wow! What kind of rod is this?
Sorry I lined those fish… I didn’t think I could cast that far. This rod really shoots!
Well, the fishing was tough today but I’ve learned that the rod and line really matter. That rod and line combo is amazing.
Of course, most folks don’t realize that I’ve been fishing with this rod for several years now and while it’s done its job brilliantly, I’ve never heard the profusion of praise before, and it started the first day I strung up this new line.
I was asked to test this line, for free. This is SOP in the industry; tackle companies seek out individuals who can simply put in more time on the water than they can. If they’ve made a good product they’re willing to take a bet that the tester will like it. If that tester has access to a media out let of some kind (website, blog, facebookthingy) then so much the better.
I’ve only occasionally been involved in product testing before—several reels and a couple lines, with mixed results. My main hangup has always been feeling a bit leery about taking free stuff from someone yet needing to maintain absolute, stone-cold frankness when it comes to reviewing that stuff. The simple fact that I get it free means I’m already influenced. I mean, if I have to shell out my hard-earned cash for tackle and it’s even marginal, I’ll feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth. However, in the case of most industry reviews (e.g. fly fishing mags, fly shops, etc.) my own money is never an issue and I can’t help but wonder if I subconsciously factor that into my review. You know, something subtle like, “Well, for a free line it’s pretty good.”
I’m reminded of an incident a couple years ago during my annual Keys tarpon trip. On my second cast I hooked a nice fish that ran off the flat into deeper water. We started up and had just begun to give chase when the line went slack. I reeled in to find my fly line gone. Completely. The last couple feet of backing had been shredded down to wisps. We figure a small cuda hit the line-to-backing knot. Anyways, the line was gone so I had to grab a new one. Being on a budget I opted for the store brand instead of dropping $30 more for the top-shelf line. I regretted it. Sure, the line worked but I couldn’t help thinking about how much nicer the line I lost cast and handled. Even at 2/3rd the price I thought my new line was pretty much crap. However, had that line been free I may have felt differently.
I’ve always felt this was the problem with industry-sponsored gear reviews: they’re typically written by industry insiders. It’s a catch 22; on the one hand a buyer on Amazon or wherever can review all the same stuff as a pro, but unless they choose to share them, you have no idea of their credentials. Does, for example, This line doesn’t cast very well actually mean I can’t cast this line very well? On the other hand, they presumably have no incentive to be generous or cruel in their review , so they actually have more credibility in the honesty column than industry types.
But, it’s more than that. For me a review seems the last example of the persuasive essay and we are not only convinced by facts, but by rhetorical argument. In fact, reviews are examples of the practice of rhetoric, in the classical sense. The casual buyer has a more firm moral footing than the industry insider, because they paid their own money for the product, and moral footing is no slight issue as far as rhetoric is concerned. In fact, it’s nearly everything. When an Amazon customer displays righteous indignation because a product performed poorly, as readers we can feel that emotion and empathize. And we know that they’re holding nothing back, because they have no fear of retribution; there’s no nagging thought What if I’m never asked to review this brand again? behind a regular review.
Much of this was on my mind when I accepted this request. Here is an excerpt of my reply to the nice person representing RIO:
Just to be clear, our niche is very specific: we are a strictly wade-in, fly fishing service for bonefish and tarpon. Our gear gets seriously abused and our lines must perform. I am not generous in my assessment of products, nor do I need free (or discounted) gear. I will honestly and clearly review products I’m asked to and you can be sure that if they meet my standards then I will endorse them. For example, I currently boycott [redacted] saltwater lines because they can’t seem to make a floating line that actually floats. I’ve tested product lines from 5 or 6 years (including the [redacted] line) and given many chances. They all failed the basic wading test.
I don’t want to sound too harsh but I just want to be clear about expectations. First, I would run the review by you to OK whether I should publish or not. Second, the review won’t be quick. I can’t assess the quality of a line in a week. What I can offer is an extended use review over the next couple months and provide potential customers with a real review as to the products longevity and quality.
WindKnot the Angler
I was ready to hate this line. I was ready to ridicule. I was, but RIO’s Bonefish Quickshooter fly line is actually very good. I’ve seen fish lost with other quick-shooter style lines. The Achilles of these lines has always been the ultra-thin running line which seems forever prone to tangle. I’ve seen monster tangles jam half-way up the rod-guides on double-digit fish. I’ve seen anglers desperately trying to untie knots as the guides desperately pleaded with them to cast at approaching fish. I simply don’t like shooting-head style lines. I think for bonefishing they’re stupid. But, this one works and works well. Time will tell how long it lasts, but even if it only lasts one season it’s worth it. Even if it only lasts a couple months I’d buy another.
On the water,
WindKnot the Angler
 THE BORING STUFF
Front Taper_________6’6” Body (Belly)________31’6” Back Taper__________11’6” Running Line________50’6” Full Length_________100 Ft / 30 m Temp. Range_________75 - 100° F / 24 - 38° C Welded Loops________Front & Back Colors______________Duotone: Aqua Blue Body, Sand Running Line
1 Poorly recollected from real conversations with clients, but the gist is there. Also, they sound like they’re actually praising the rod, not the line, but you can’t cast a rod without a line. In fact, a line can make or break the feel of a rod. Most folks think the main player is the rod itself, but the line has an equal part to play. [back]
2 Copied pretty much verbatim from the box the line came in. I could have fact checked this stuff, but, hey, they made it, they should know the stats. [back]
3 Unless you consider the subtle and insidious subconscious motivations provided by brand loyalty and consumer-driven identity, but to attempt to unpack those here would be a whole other article, which I’m not even remotely qualified to write. Suffice to say that we all know that stuff is in the background of all reviews and, as modern-day internet consumers, are pretty savvy at factoring that into how much weight we give any one review. [back]
Ok, ok. It’s finally been done. Finally. This is probably the first (and only) really great fly fishing video I’ve seen. At last, someone has got it right.
If that sounds harsh to all the other production crews and fly-anglers-come-videographers out there, well, let’s just review. We had the Trout Bum Diaries produced by the now extinct Angling Exploration Group (AEG, which has actually been re-invented in the Geofish series, but more on that later). These films were OK, certainly better than what was around at the time, but they still didn’t really get it. Mostly it was a bunch of guys who wanted to go fishing and maybe use the video as an excuse to get sponsorship to fulfill an angling dream. Good for them. Clever. However, it was pretty obvious that no one wanted to hold the camera. So what we got was a jumbled story-line, incomplete fishing sequences, and a final Smörgåsbord of dripping fish to finish the movie off.
Saltwater videos have done no better. The dudes that did The Search: Tahiti made a good start of it, but also had an aversion to actually holding anything so mundane as a camera when bonefish were around. As a result the film falls flat.
I mean, it’s not a complicated formula. If you set up the journey/quest by saying, “We’re off to [insert exotic destination here] to see if we can catch trophy [insert species here] on our own”, then you’ve got to get the shot. Simple.
However, film after film left us hanging. Bonefish: A Fishing Odyssey was another that started well but failed to capture the final shot. There was simply no pay-off for the weeks of searching for the elusive double-digit bonefish. Sure, there was some shaky footage at the end where Mr. Rangely-Wilson is holding a so-called 10-pounder (and since he was there and we weren’t, he’s got the benefit of the doubt) but we don’t really see it. What we get is some shaking hand-held footage of a bonefish release. No hookup, no fight, nothing.
But these were all done by amateurs, anglers that set themselves a quest and either accomplished it or didn’t. You’d think that professional guides with nearly endless time on the water could do better, but no. Not so much. Black Tailed Devils was awesome in trailer form but the actual feature film was just horrible. Save your money on that one.
A major exception was In Search of a Rising Tide, which features a couple Bahamian guides on a “day off.” Of course, it’s filmed and produced by Howard Films, and these are guys who know how to get the shot. I remember reading an interview with the videographer where he said he refuses to combine fishing and filming, because he’ll either miss the fish, or miss the shot, or, more likely, both. The man is dropping knowledge, and it paid off. For me this short film is pretty much a cult classic for anyone interested in trophy bonefish on the fly. But, it’s a somewhat different set-up. It’s not so much about a journey or quest as it is about the history of Bahamian bonefishing. It’s a glimpse into the life of the younger generation of guides that have taken the sport of bonefishing with a flyrod to the next level. Being on board with Andy Smith and “Big” Charlie Neymour as they cast flies at bonefish is a relaxing, almost comforting experience, not the nerve-wracking trek the boys from Geofish set themselves.
So, back to that. I can personally attest that their first installment, Geofish Mexico, really does capture the same sense of a wild adventure that you see in the above trailer, and they do it by sticking to the script. First, there’s the set-up: four friends (which, weirdly, includes some of the original Trout Bum players) have the idea to travel from the Pacific Northwest down to the tip of South America, by driving… and, of course, fish like hell along the way. But, this time there’s no rush to get to the fishing action. The first half of the film is dedicated to the journey, and the first half of that first half is them simply trying to get the truck they bought to actually work on recycled frier oil. There are some truly classic scenes here. Think A-Team if the dudes from Top Gear were in charge: ambitious, but rubbish. By the time we do actually get to some fishing you can seriously empathize with the guys on-screen who’ve been waiting much longer than you have. Basically, they get you into the story by mimicking—on a smaller scale—the frustrating wait they had themselves. This is a case of giving the audience what they need, not what they want, and in this world of short attention spans and 30-second film bytes, I applaud them for this. Of course, it’s also simply good story-telling.
In the end that’s what this first film is: a great story, well told. I could go on, but I won’t. Buy a copy now! You’ll thank me later.
Sitting down to watch it again,
WindKnot the (jealous) Angler
Hunting for the Search
I actually told people back home that all the hype about bones is nothing but bullshit… it’s just all hype. But I’ve had to take it all back. I’m sorry.
Ok, so here’s another in the growing list of “extreme angling” expedition adventure films. Why, you ask yourself, should you care? Well, you probably shouldn’t unless you like living a vicarious dream that ends in giant bonefish. Never mind the incomplete fishing sequences, jumbled storyline and mediocre camera-work, we’ll deal with that in a moment. Frankly, at this point I’m getting a little upset with myself for being constantly seduced by these types of documentaries. And I’m not just referring to this particular film, not by any means. On the face of it the premise should make for a great film and I think that’s what keeps me scouring YouTube, Vimeo, and the blogosphere to find new titles, despite the growing banality of the genre.
I mean, it’s so easy to imagine me and my buddies planning similar treks and in my mind the setup always goes something like this:
Hero: “I’ve got a dream. Somewhere out there is a place, a special place where no one/almost no one/very few humans have set foot, much less cast a fly line. Let’s drop everything, invest our savings in gear, and head out for adventure. Brothers, think about it: we might be the first to EVER cast a fly at these fish. Just imagine huge virgin bonefish/stealhead/roosterfish/tarpon/trout/etc. all to ourselves, man. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but isn’t the journey itself part of the adventure?”
Buddies: “Dude, you had me at adventure, I’m in.”
However, what inevitably unfolds on-screen is a comic parade of wise cracks, inept searching, the (seemingly prerequisite) angst-filled moment when the fish aren’t biting/aren’t there/aren’t accessible, and then the final fish-porn montage where you lose all sense of fulfillment in the blur of (nearly identical) huge, dripping fish.
Wait, what happened to the story? What about triumph over adversity, the moment when the heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? What about a little suspense, some drama? What about a flippin’ plot?
The Search: Tahiti is definitely a cut above in this department; at least it begins well. The premise is good—a group of buddies freighter hopping from one atoll to another, looking for the cosmic untouched bonefish nirvana—and the location is absolutely amazing. There’s a comfortable amount of setup, just enough suspense and drama to make the audience appreciate the effort that goes into these expeditions, not to mention a glimpse into some of the less glamorous aspects of life on the edge of civilization—camping on bare rock and meager rations. The cinematography here is pretty good, with just enough of an artistic edge to keep let us appreciate the beauty of the place. Unfortunately, most of this goes out the window as soon as they actually find bonefish. In fact, when the moment comes it’s with some wonder that you quickly realize these guys don’t really know how to actually shoot a fishing sequence. No drama, no coordination, no story.
Ok, but wait, maybe they were just taken by surprise with those first fish. You know, none of the crew expected any of the others to actually land a fish on that coral-studded flat, so they weren’t actually filming in time. And, I will admit that the (incomplete) scene that follows—watching one of our heroes slog across the flat, falling into holes and dodging around coral “bombies”—was entertaining enough to be redeeming. Fine. But every other fishing sequence follows the same modus operandi. No build-up, no hunt, no cast, no take. Just a dude in the distance holding a bent rod.
Let me say for the record that there is a major difference between filming a fishing movie and simply turning the camera on someone fishing.
Let me reiterate, this film has a much more cohesive plot than any of the (by now) countless others out there. There are some very amusing moments with one of our heroes trying to land monster Napoleon Wrass that methodically wreck his tackle. His comments about bonefish are among the most hilarious I’ve ever heard:
“I actually told people back home that all the hype about bones is nothing but bullshit… it’s just all hype. But I’ve had to take it all back. I’m sorry.”
Too bloody right you’re sorry.
In fact, the first two-thirds of the film are really enjoyable as we follow the crew—seemingly led by Nick Reygaert, an intrepid, bonefish-obsessed Kiwi—as they simply try to find any bonefish in a completely foreign world amongst locals who speak a different language (and, on the rare moments they do understand our heroes, think their quest more amusing than serious). This is good stuff—the angst of wasting their time and money, what in the world are they doing there, and so on—but I think the moment the plot started to drift was when they unceremoniously began catching fish off the back of the boat. There is an attempt to tie this into the story—trying to keep up moral and so on—but there’s simply no build-up to this moment. Is it me or if you’ve traveled thousands of miles, spent queasy days on a freighter, not to mention dreamed and planned this trip for months, shouldn’t your first fish should be a little more celebrated. Shouldn’t there be at least one shot of the seasick Nick saying, “I know I’d feel better if I was fishing.”
I can imagine the narrator (I hear David Attenborough) saying, “Nick couldn’t wait any longer. He knew the silver shapes flashing below weren’t bonefish, but he didn’t care. After so many months he just wanted a fish, any fish on the end of his line. Luckily the captain was a kind-hearted soul (and a fisherman himself) so he parked the back of the freighter over a large patch of coral and told the guys to go at it. What followed was sheer mayhem.”
And that’s what a fishing and (not to put too fine a point on it) travel film should be: an escape. It should be a means to transport us to those magical places we cannot (yet) make it to ourselves. They should be an inspiration, a call to arms, a kick in the pants. We should be sitting there thinking to ourselves, “I could do this; shit, I should do this. I’m going to do this,” and it’s the filmmaker’s ability to put themselves in our place that puts us in theirs. We should celebrate when they do and they should celebrate when we would, if only we were there.
This seemed to be a missed opportunity for character development or a deepening of the story-line. Instead there are a few blurry sequences of our heroes leaning against bent rods, silver shapes flashing in the depths, and then they’re shoving strange Pacific fish at the lens. Amazing fish, to be sure, but they mean next to nothing to the viewer because our heroes don’t share that with us. How do they feel about it? Are they relieved to be catching fish, disappointed they’re not bonefish? Ambivalent? They could have been over the moon to land those fish be we don’t know because we are deprived of the build-up to that experience and any meaning our heroes might have found in its aftermath.
It’s funny that these teams of would-be cinematographers never put two and two together; never realize that a good fishing film should echo the experience of fishing itself. And it’s not the good times that make for the best stories; it’s the search, the hunt, the struggle against the odds, against the weather, against your own ineptitude, your own shortcomings, and finally, the moment of magic when it all comes together. The feature film tries to stick to this plotline, but gets mired by (what I can only assume) is a lack of footage. Well, that’s not entirely accurate; it’s a lack of the right footage. I mean, you can have all the build-up you want, but you’ve got to get the shot. Right? This is SOP for these fly fishing adventure teams (witness the AEG boys) where they seem to be so caught up in the actual fishing that they forget that you can’t tell a story in film without footage. In other words, someone has to hold the camera.
I think what these guys need to do is sit down with a stack of BBC nature DVDs, Life or Planet Earth or something, and watch all the “On Location” bits. These are the mini-documentaries behind the making of the films. What fascinates me is the way they’re always able to turn the raw footage into a cohesive narrative with meaning and depth. In essence the premise of all these films is the same as a fishing movie: there’s the search to get the shot, traveling thousands of miles lugging gear, the waiting, the unpredictable factor of the animals and the weather, gear failure, and a personal search for meaning behind “getting the shot”. In the end they do get it. Of course. And that’s the payoff, the feel-good moment that brings it all together. This is what a good fishing story should be, what, in fact, they’ve always been. Read The Longest Silence. Read Hemingway.
So here’s my list of things you should try and actually shoot if you’re in the mood to make one of these things. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means and (I know you’ll recognize) it is a kind of Monday-morning-quarterback syndrome. These are in a sort of order, I suppose, although most of the first few could be shuffled a bit.
- The Set-Up.
- The Preparation.
- Getting There.
- The Search.
- The Struggle.
- The Shot.
- The Wrap-Up.
And, let me suggest that sometimes just getting the shot—the epic stalk, cast, bite, (with or without the landing)—is better than a whole parade of hero shots. (That’s where Felt Soul‘s Running Down the Man got it right.) That’s how all these films eventually end: with the team finally catching the hell out of fish, and good for them. However, that actually makes for a pretty poor climax to the story, unless it’s a series of short clips run as a backdrop to the narrator saying something like:
“And then, one day, it all came together for the team. They started to catch fish, big fish, lots of fish, but it in the end it had become about something more than that. It was about discovering new places, new cultures, new friends, and ultimately, discovering themselves.”
At least, that’s how I would do it.
Interestingly, the teaser below is much better constructed. This is par for the course, I suppose. Think of all the amazing Hollywood trailers you’ve seen where the actual film has been a disappointment. Not that this was that bad, but the tightness and clarity of the short film below is not in evidence in the larger film. For example, below we get a sense of the frustration of the search, the time en-route, the hardships of life in camp, the introspection that comes of confronting a culture whose sense of pace is vastly different from ours, and, of course, a sense of the huge rewards available to these intrepid anglers if they get it right. In other words, there is a tight, stick to the plot-line (but leave room for interesting developments) organization to it. All you would-be directors out there, take note.
I’ve never done this, but couldn’t help it. The film in question is just a sweet, sweet video that I had to do a review on what I’ve learned in a just a few practice sessions.
Below is my video review of the fly casting DVD “Taming the Wind: Prescott Smith Reveals His Secrets & New Techniques for Casting Into the Wind.”
A breakdown of the basic techniques covered in Mr. Smith’s instructional DVD, and the benefits of this revolutionary casting style. Though this DVD has been out for a while, I’d heard very little about it. So, I bought it, watched it, studied it, practiced the techniques, and used it to help teach a brand new fly caster. Guess what: IT WORKS! I really wish I’d found this DVD years ago. I KNOW I’d have gotten better faster.
Even though I cover some basic stuff in it, there’s plenty more there, trust me. Do yourself a favor and find a copy. Doesn’t matter where we are–the river, the lake, the beach, or on the flats–the wind is our biggest challenge…rise to the challenge with the movie.