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]
I hate posting this sort of thing but it’s one of those “it’s soooo bad, it’s good” situations! I mean, seriously. WTF, OMG, LOL and pretty much every-dang-thing-else. This guy’s (?) cast is pretty sweet but A) the amount of slack after each cast—wow, and B) the trout set is spectacular. I’ve seen less aggressive sets from Bill Dance on a 2 pound bass.†
I could end here. I really want to, but it would be nothing more than another spectacle, mere calorie-free amusement. So, I figured I’d just ask a couple questions that might shed a little light on the subject:
- How many pounds of pressure does it take to bury a hook in a tarpon’s mouth.
- How many pounds of pressure does the average 8 or 9-weight fly rod tip deliver in your average “trout set”.
Well? Ok, I don’t know either (and I’m too lazy to get out the ol’ Boga Grip* and actually do some tests), but from experience I will say it’s not enough to actually hook a tarpon… or a bonefish, or redfish, or striper, or bonita, or snook, or permit, or mutton snapper or (God help you) a bony-mouthed barracuda. And that’s only the Atlantic sportfish that readily cross my mind. You’re dang sure never hooking a Pacific trigger or parrot-beaked humpy with a trout set.
I sound pretty sure, don’t I? Pretty dang arrogant and bombastic. True, but that’s only because in near twelve years of guiding I have seen like one, maybe two bones hooked with a trout set (and zero tarpon). Of those that were hooked, a full 100% popped the leader within naught point five seconds.
The only bone I’ve actually seen trout-set successfully was landed was by one Big Charlie Neymour, who is a fly fishing Jedi and can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. It is also the only fish I’ve ever seen him cast at, much less catch, so while far be it from me to suggest he could have gotten lucky that one time, but of the hundreds of bones I’ve witnessed the hooking and landing of that was the only one where a trout set worked. Just sayin’.
Ok, so here’s part of what I think is actually preventing a trout set from working: the tip of a fly rod is simply too flimsy to deliver enough force to drive a stout, salt-water hook into a fish’s mouth.
Of course, in fresh water—which in my feeble, unimaginative mind equates to trout fishing—you want a delicate hook-set because of all the X’s in your tippet, since, you know, trout are leader shy. Ok, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but what I am sure about is the size of most freshy hooks is much smaller than salty hooks. For example, the smallest bonefish hook I’ve ever used—usually to my regret—is a #8 while the first ever stream fly I used was a #12. ‡
About the only time a saltwater fly fishing guide uses the word “twelve” it’s either to refer to the weight of his fly rod or the number of beers in the pack you’ll buy for him as a tip.
Where was I? Right. Hook size. Freshwater hooks are freekin’ tiny, so the tip of a 5-weight can actually set the hook there. No problem.
The second issue is Slack. In saltwater you want none of it, but if you’re drifting a fly or bumping a black Woolly Bugger downstream for Smallies then you’ll have lots of it. A trout set is the only reasonable way to remove all that slack and come tight before the fish spits your fly.
Unless you’re doing something seriously wrong, you won’t have any slack at all in the salt. So, a simple long, smooth strip should get that hook in there nicely.
The final reason, the real reason trout sets don’t work and strips sets do, is actually a trade secret. I’d write it down but then serious looking men in black suits would pull up outside the address provide by my ISP and unpleasant things would happen. I am bound by protocol, morality (and fear) from going any further. But, the good news is you can rest assured that there is a secret, and it’s safe with me.
The better news? You don’t need to know the secret. In the immortal words of W. L. S. Churchill, Keep Calm and Don’t Trout Set. You can trust him on this.
† “That there’s a beaoootiful 4 pound bigmouth… call it 4 and a ha’f… heck 5.”
* Which has been lying idle in a drawer for the last 6 years except for the occasional knot or hook test.
‡ And even then they’re usually “2x Strong”, heavy-wire models.
Ok, so here’s another gratuitous, lazy-@$$ video post. It’s time. Tight video. Amazing fish. And no, I do not want to go out and buy an Orvis reel now… not even a little bit.
Wonder what kind of rods they were “blowing up”? Just askin’.
(Promo for the Mirage reel shot and edited for Orvis.)
I’ve been inspired by Bjorn over at BonefishOnTheBrain to post on some of the more practical aspects of my obsession. He’s off to a magical gathering called FIBFest (while us more plebian folk are left to freeze our nethers off–metaphorically speaking). That got me thinking about what I’d carry in my pack–other than like a zillion Gotcha-like flies–if I were off to somewhere remote to bonefish my brains out… by happenstance it’s the same as what I carry with me every day I guide.
All of my bonefishing is wading (except when I’m away from home in the Keys or the Bahamas or somewhere and can actually afford a guide), and here’s what I keep in my pack. With it I’ve been able to face most any situation, no worries. (I suppose it reads like a Top-Ten list, and if I actually counted I’d have more than ten categories in there, but these are probably the most important.)
1. Nippers on a lanyard attached to hip-pack. They’re usually tucked away on the top of a zip-pocket to be very accessible in a boat or wading. Save your teeth for food, trust me.
2. Multi-tool. Absolute must for building tarpon leaders, cinching down knots in heavy mono, and crimping wire leaders for cuda. Plus they’ve helped me do everything from emergency surgery on reels, to tightening the terminals on the boat battery, to opening the plug on the gas tank when we ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere in the Keys and a kindly boater let us siphon a few gallons from his tank.
3. Leaders, tippet, and fixin’s for building leaders .
4. Something to tie Nail Knots with. I put loops in the end of all my fly-lines by tying a couple Nail Knots with 10-12 lb. mono around the doubled fly-line. Occasionally baby cuda will hit the leader to fly-line connection as it’s zipping through the water, destroying the end of the fly-line. I use a small section of Cortland Loop material as the “nail” to tie my Nail Knots. Because it compresses I can wrap the mono tightly around the fly-line. When I’m finished wrapping I push the end into the open Cortland Loop material and pull it through. The material grabs the mono and I have a neat Nail Knot. I’ve had to repair several fly-lines this way. (As a side note, I’ve also had to put new loops in fly-lines after trimming a few feet off the end of the line. Last spring a buddy of mine visited and we fished a particularly shallow series of flats on very windy days. Because the fish were fairly small and the water so shallow, we used 6-weights, but his line simply couldn’t turn his fly over into the breeze. His line had a particularly long front taper and it was killing the energy. After I cut about 6-8 ft. off the end and rebuilt the loop, he was able to easily turn his fly over and start feeding fish.)
5. Stripping guards. These are my secret for feeling the subtle take of a bonefish.
6. Land’s End Ointment or Sting-Eze. There are lots of stuff that stings in the ocean: tiny jellyfish in turtle-grass, random floating stuff, etc. Nothing can ruin a day like being distracted by a sting.
7. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) antihistamine in those water-proof plastic packs witht the foil backing. Again, you never know when you’ll get stung by stuff on the water–jellyfish, stingrays, or even bees–and if you haven’t been stung by them before, you don’t know if you’re allergic or not. Having some antihistamine could just save a life.
8. Locking hemostats for removing flies and debarbing hooks (on my buddies flies when they’re not looking). I’ve even used these as a make-shift vise to modify/repair flies in a pinch. I remember a trip to Exuma where I ran out of Gotchas the second day and used my hemo’s and dental floss to cobble together others for the remainder of the trip .
9. Zip-lock with Aspirin, Acetaminophen, and Ibuprofen: for headaches from sun, dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, or (more commonly) hangovers.
10. Small micro-fibre cloth (in ziplock) to clean glasses. If you’re glasses aren’t clean, you can’t see fish. Needless to say, since my job is spotting fish, I’m absolutely OCD about keeping my glasses clean.
That’s about it, excluding lots of flies, of course. I dispense with some things like hook-sharpeners by using very sharp hooks to begin with, (and in a pinch I can whip out the muli-tool and use its file). I also used to keep a spare set of sunglass and some DEET in there until the latter leaked, ate through a couple baggies and melted the former on the way through the rubberized bottom of my pack . After that I figured there was very little bugs could do to me that was worse than getting DEET anywhere near my skin so I found other, less toxic options. OFF Botanicals® has worked pretty well so far on the usual suspects (mosquitoes and sandflies), but the only effective defense against the “doctorflies” of the Bahamas is to put a layer of clothes between you skin and their jaws… and even that isn’t full-proof. This stuff doesn’t always live in my pack, but if I’m heading somewhere that might hold populations of the bloodsucking bastards I’ll toss it in there.
By the way, if you’re in the market for a multi-tool, save your money and buy one of the slide-out Gerber models instead of a Leatherman. The hinging mechanism in the latter never fail to rust solid in a salty environment, no matter how well you care for them. In contrast, my Gerber lasted for 10 years in the bottom of my (often soaked) hip pack with only the occasional rinse and oiling until it was confiscated on a recent trip through MIA. I just ordered a replacement. (Plus, you can open and close the slide-out type with one hand, which is pretty cool.)
One final item, I always carry a spare buff (clean) which I can whip out heroically when my buddy (who swore he’d never wear something so stupid) starts to fry about mid-day.
1 Why the “fixin’s”? On my first permit hunting trip I was using store-bought 12-foot, 12-pound leaders but just couldn’t get them to turn those heavy flies over cleanly. A crumpled leader means there’s slack in the cast, if there’s slack you could (and probably will) miss feeling the bite. On inspection the butt-section of those leaders was too short (I refrain from mentioning the actual brand but their leader proportions seems somewhat arbitrary to me), so I lengthened the butt and shortened the tippet. Voila: the leader turned over. [back]
2 Yes, they looked like hell, and, yes, they caught fish. [back]
3 And I mean melted. These weren’t your cheap, drug store shades, they were Oakley®. Nevertheless the plastic frames turned to a gooey, sticky mess–like a piece of licorice on a hot day–and the lenses looked like they were covered in frost, permanently. [back]