To get some background on where this is coming from, let alone where it is going, let's look a typical angler. Let's call our angler "Alfredo". Alfredo has a good cast, fairly tight, good rod position and better than average line management. Turn overs are decent and he has opposite side presentation ability. A dream of a client, really. That is, until you put Alfredo in front of a double digit bonefish tailing at 35 feet. Behold the transformation of our formally competent caster at the mere sight of a fish. Albeit the fish of a lifetime, our buddy Alfredo starts to false cast at a rate that makes his rod look like a blur, with the rod tip moving from below sea level on the back cast to pointing towards China on the forward cast, at a rate of speed that would make most ceiling fans jealous.
As a result of this morph in our angler, he has eliminated any line delivery capability or any chance in hell of the fly landing any where near forward of the end of the fly line. The fish is, of course, gone and severe depression has set in on account of Alfredo’s piss poor performance. I fish almost exclusively for big bonefish in skinny water, to the tune of about 120 guided trips each winter season, and would conservatively say that 70% of my anglers suffer from Alfredo syndrome. This syndrome can be otherwise described as letting adrenalin take control of a situation that, under a cool conference, would be fairly simple to handle, i.e. just putting the fly in front of that stupid fish.
Although I don’t indulge myself, there is a lot to be said for smoking pot and wading the flats. Some of the best flats walkers I know are always stoned when they fish. A lot of them are names you would recognize. It makes perfect sense, get rid of the jitters, slow the whole thing down and your presentation is bound to improve.
Don't Get Made
One of the truly great walkers is from my part of the Caribbean and once described to me how bonefish do the “make”. He would describe how when a bonefish “makes you”, he tilts his head just slightly to the side and looks you directly in the eye as he slides slowly away. Nothing hurried or desperate, but no chance of changing his mind. Now, this particular gentleman smokes an exorbitant amount of pot when he’s fishing. So, when he started describing how sometimes fish that had made you would swim away thrusting their heads out of the water from time to time and really glaring at you as they made their exit, I just passed this of as sensamilia delirium. That is until, a couple of weeks later, I observed the same phenomenon and have actually observed it several times since (totally sober, by the way). Point being: my pot smoking friends are noticing things on the flats that I have been over looking. Being "made by a fish" and understanding what is actually going on between you and the fish at that time is critical to honing your flats skills. My pot smoking long sticker has earned my respect.
Where I’m trying to go here, and there actually is a destination, is that an angler's attitude on the flats is key to his or her success. If you fish all wound up and carry your job and other stress with you, it will reflect in your cast, your strip, and your ultimate presentation. 99% of all bonefishers, when casting to a tailing fish, strip too fast. Before you cast a new pattern for the first time, drop it in the water while holding on to the tippet about a foot above the fly. Watch the sink rate and move your hand in such a way that the pattern looks the most realistic to you. That’s the speed and the motion with which you should be stripping the fly when it is sitting in front of a big bone. Imitate what you are throwing. Crabs hardly move at all, shrimp dart, and baitfish swim. Use common sense.
Incoming Traffic Only
Never waste a cast on a big bone unless he is coming towards you. Nothing in his world that he would be interested in moves toward him, which is what he would experience if you were stripping a fly to a fish moving away from you. Even at a right angle, you risk the chance of over casting and pulling the fly line in front of the fish. Remember: fly lines are poison. Never let the fish see your fly line. My favorite saying is “let the fish find the fly not the fly find the fish”. If you mis-cast, pull the fly out of the water and drop your line behind you in one quick motion. You are now in a position to water haul forward without a false cast to place the fly in a better position when needed.
Don't Be a Gonzo
This brings me to my last, totally sober observation and suggestion. Always limit your false casting while on the flats and never walk and false cast at the same time. Besides looking like a total gonzo, there is nothing more visually and audibly disturbing to big bonefish than someone trying to make up for poor positioning by doing the above. You already made one mistake, don’t compound it.
Getting back to the overall theme, there comes to mind an angler friend who comes to our flats around 4 or 5 times a year. He fishes for 6 to 8 hrs at a time and smokes pot the entire time. In that time period, he will make only 6 presentations and catch 3 fish almost consistently. One or two of these will be in the 7 to 8 lb category. 6 presentations while observing 30 or more fish in a 8 hr period. Get the point?
Chris Goldmark is a fly fishing guide in Culebra, Puerto Rico and Cape May New Jersey. You can learn more about Chris by reading his guide profile, checking out our feature Bigger Bonfish, On the Cheap or visiting his web site Culebra Fly Fishing.