The shimmering, silver tails were only 45 feet away - but they might as well have been 100, and the angler perched on the bow of the skiff was beginning to worry. He had already taken several nice Keys bonefish over the last couple of days on his new 8-weight, but conditions were suddenly much different. A 15-knot north wind had built overnight, and now his once-perfect bonefish rig wasn't so perfect anymore.
With no more fly outfits on board, he would just have to make it work, he reasoned. But with each futile attempt, he was unable to turn the bushy toad fly over into the powerful gusts. Time after time, the fly landed well short of the fish, plopping down anemically in a sloppy heap of line and leader. The angler was outgunned, and he knew it.
Welcome to the world of bonefishing. When it comes to targeting the gray ghost of the flats, experienced anglers know there is no one perfect fly rod. Ironically, though, many perfect rods are available - it all depends on the place and day. A quality 8-weight rod may be entirely adequate for the big bones of the Keys most days. When the wind cranks up, however, you'd better be prepared to up-size your gear.
But what are some of the other important features that anglers should consider when shopping for a new bonefish rod? And how do these features vary in importance at different fisheries around the world? We got in touch with a few of the sport's top anglers and guides, and they shared their thoughts on what they look for in an ideal bonefish rod. Here's what they had to say.
Match Rod Size to Fish Size
The first rule of thumb for narrowing down your selection of bonefish gear is to match it to the area you plan to fish. It's no secret that anglers traveling to destinations where bonefish (and their related fly patterns) are typically small will be able to get away with lighter outfits. Conversely, a beefy outfit often is necessary in fisheries where large fish and large flies are the rule.
Fly-fishing veteran Rick Ruoff takes a surprisingly simple approach to his bonefishing. When fishing virtually anywhere outside of the Keys, he typically relies on only one outfit.
"The 6-weight is the tool," Ruoff says. "It will get you by anywhere in Mexico, the Bahamas or Venezuela. You're never throwing a big fly or a weighted line in any of these places, and a 6-weight lays down much better than, say, an 8-weight."
Ruoff has hunted bonefish all over the world and says that he typically will bring an 8-weight along to these fisheries, as well, just in case the wind takes a turn for the worse or if he wants to throw a "fun" line for the occasional 'cuda or horse-eye jack. But in general he is a proponent of getting the most out of every fish, and he says a four-piece Cortland Big Sky 6-weight is just the ticket.
"Let's be real," he says, "only in the Keys - and sometimes in the Seychelles - do bonefish average 5 to 7 pounds, and nowhere else. You might as well enjoy the experience, and an 8-weight rod does not show off a 2-pound bonefish. He'll still burn off 50 yards, but you want to enjoy the fight, and a 6-weight rod will do that for you."
If you were surprised to learn that Ruoff prefers a rod as light as a 6-weight, you may be similarly surprised to learn what lengths Keys guides will go to when conditions dictate.
Capt. Greg Poland of Islamorada typically carries 9-foot, 8- and 9-weight fly outfits aboard his flats boat during charters. Yet he prefers the 9-weight. Why?
"Day in, day out, the 9 is the better bonefish rod," he says. "If a guy fishes 20 or 30 days a year, he's usually in tune with his equipment. But most of the guys who fish on my boat are on the water at best two or three times a year for two or three days each time."
Poland says that delivering typical, heavy Keys flies with a 9-weight proves to be much easier and more enjoyable for inexperienced anglers - and sometimes even for experienced anglers.
When the wind really gets howling in south Florida, however, guides will step it up yet another notch. Capt. Dale Perez of Marathon typically relies on an 8-weight when searching for bonefish under calm conditions. When the wind blows 10 to 15 mph, he'll bump up to a 9-weight. But when it's gusting harder than that and the fish begin mudding, he "won't hesitate to go to a 10."
"You're not going to do any good with a lighter rod," Perez says. "You won't be able to deliver the fly, and that's the most important thing."