Chad Shmukler's blog

Bonefishing: Yeah, so, not that hard

Chasing the ghosts of the flats is for almost everyone, despite what you've heard
Take the plunge and you too can be as happy as this elated angler. (photo: Brock Siegel)

In my experience, there's a significantly widespread misconception amongst uninitiated anglers that catching bonefish is extraordinarily difficult. You'd likely be hard pressed to find many anglers that have spent time casting to bonefish that would agree, yet the misconception seems to persist. I've even seen this message perpetuated by bonefish guides and outfitters which, for a business that relies on attracting anglers to their brand of fly fishing, seems like an awful strategy. The result is that novice, intermediate and even some experienced anglers place hunting bonefish on their "can't do" list thanks to its perceived difficulty. Well, I'm here to set the record straight. As it turns out, bonefishing? Yeah, not that hard.

Bonefish are known to virtually all fly anglers as one of the most sought after species across the globe thanks to the ubiquitous dissemination of tales of bright silver bonefish tearing off line, disappearing backing at alarming rates, burning up reels and so on. Add in the fact that all this is happening on a sun bleached, sandy flat somewhere in the tropics and it isn't hard to paint a terribly appealing picture. Unfortunately, these wholly accurate tales about hooking up bonefish also typically include 80 foot casts, often in gale force winds, that need to land on a dinner-plate sized target. That's the part of the story where many a trout fisherman, even some pretty damned good ones, thinks "I can't do that" and checks out. No bonefish in their future.

Kype Magazine Logo

There are many standouts amongst the rapidly growing ranks of women in the sport of fly fishing. One of our favorites is Aileen Lane. We've had the great pleasure of working with Aileen over the last year, sharing her insight on the expanding field of women-specific fly fishing products, bringing you her detailed and innovative fly tying recipes and more. Given that we've come to know Aileen as a creative and dedicated professional, we were pleased to learn that Aileen would be taking over as publisher and owner of George Douglas' long-standing online publication Kype Magazine, though the news was admittedly a tad bittersweet since it means we'll be losing Aileen as a regular contributor.

Kype Magazine has traditionally been primarily focused on the steelhead and trout waters of the American midwest. With Aileen at the helm, Kype plans not only to shift its focus to include the many great western waters, but also expand its coverage to "trout streams across the continent."

A beautiful wild brook trout from Moose Creek, one of Idaho's formerly secret waters (photo: Chris Hunt).

Sitting on a beach in Mexico after a fine day of bonefishing, it's hard to listen to Trout Unlimited's National Communications Director and Hatch Magazine contributor Chris Hunt's good-hearted lamentation regarding the long travels involved in getting from his home in the Rocky Mountain west to good bonefishing waters. As a resident of the smog, traffic and people-choked east coast, I'm in a perpetual state of jealousy towards those who call the preposterously trouty waters of the mountain west home. After all, they get to call some of the nation's best trout streams their home waters, streams the rest of us get to fish a few days each year, if we're even that lucky.

Thankfully, most of those folks -- Chris included -- are imprudently loose-lipped about their nearby rivers and streams, regardless of how counter-intuitive being so might seem. They share them with us through photographs, articles, even books that go into great detail about where to find them and how to fish them. While this is most likely because they've never seen opening day on Pennsylvania Approved Trout Waters, we can continue to absorb and subsequently leverage the knowledge these folks share until they wise up.

Photo: Tyler Bunderson

I like to fish a Royal Wulff. Big ones. No, I'm serious, don't laugh. Well, maybe you're not, but I can't tell you how often I've been mocked for doing so. If I'm prospecting riffles, having a tough day figuring out what I the fish are taking, or generally don't have another idea in mind, I'll often tie on this time proven pattern and go to work. I know plenty of other anglers who don't even carry this pattern and most certainly wouldn't be caught fishing it. The reasons always seem to be the same: it is old fashioned, non-specific (though what attractor patterns aren't) or -- more often -- it is taken as a sign of a lack of penchant for proper study and deduction on the stream. Oh, and it's not very cool.

As far as I'm concerned, this is all nonsense. Like many other fly patterns which have fallen out of favor with time, the Royal Wulff has -- in my opinion -- simply fallen victim to being unexciting. So many anglers are busy looking for the hot, new, trendy pattern that they've abandoned patterns that have survived for over a hundred years, presumably laboring under the delusion that fly tiers of the entire 20th century and before were completely devoid of imagination and forced to do little more than tie the same few dozen patterns over and over again.

Me? I'm interested in what works, and recognize that these patterns survived for so long because they do. As such, I'll often make it a point to carry these classic and sometimes rarely used patterns, laboring under my own delusion that the fish in the stream I'm stalking never see these flies anymore.

Small, even by the standards of my tiny home waters.

For many years, for a myriad of reasons, I was either limited in my ability or wholly unable to travel in order to fish. These past few years, however, I've been very fortunate to have found myself on the road quite a bit, venturing to destinations I long only dreamed of visiting, fishing storied and wild waters.

Tom Larimer hucks a spey cast, one of many, on Oregon's Deschutes River.

Steelheading isn't a numbers game. Not even on the best days. There's a reason that steelhead are often referred to as "the fish of a thousand casts." Searching out steelhead in rivers big or small takes patience and persistence. In winter steelheading, this reality is magnified. Fish are fewer and less active. Conditions are cold and wet, often icy. If chasing steelhead, in general, can be said to not be for the feeble at heart, then winter steelheading is reserved only for the most hardy of souls. Winter steelheading involves long days spent in tough conditions, launching a seemingly endless litany of casts, prowling water in search of the elusive grab.

There may be few that know the winter steelheading game better than Oregon steelhead guide and revered spey casting instructor Tom Larimer. In this short video by well-known fly fishing film maker R.A. Beattie and Simms, Tom and friend Ryan Buccola take to the late season, chilly waters of Oregon's Deschutes River in search of that grab.

PA Fly Fish

Fly fishing forums are plentiful. Virtually every region where one can find fly fishermen has an associated forum where both local fishermen and outsiders congregate to share fishing reports, stories, advice and answers to general questions. At least, that's the idea. Unfortunately, it rarely goes to plan. More commonly, fly fishing forums fall victim to one or more of the many pitfalls that commonly afflict most internet forums: they turn into spam factories, they are largely inactive, they are excessively off-topic with little in the way of valuable information, they become insider popularity contests and are excessively hostile to newcomers and so on.

And there are good reasons that these issues befall so many a forum: building a strong, healthy, active forum community requires an inordinate amount of effort and dedication. The assumption is often that because the users are generating the bulk of the content, forum operators need do little more than sit back and watch the hordes amass. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Establishing a base of community members, moderating (which basically amounts to supervising) user contributions and cultivating a community that produces a lively, ongoing discussion is a daunting task. The special combination of forum operators, moderators and members required to build a valuable forum community rarely comes together regardless of the subject matter and this is precisely why most online forums are disregarded entirely by those of us with better things to do than troll forums all day long.

As a result, many fly fishermen have abandoned the forum medium entirely. Even those forums that offer some good information are still rife with the aforementioned maladies, making sifting through the rubble to find the gems a task not worth undertaking. But there are exceptions to the rule.

Uh, there are bluefish out there.

For my part, the answer to this question has, over the last decade or so, become largely no. As a father of two and someone with hobbies outside the world of fishing, this is notable. It's not to say that fishing is the primary objective of my every trip I've taken in that time, or even that I've put in time on the water on every vacation, but I cannot recall an excursion I've planned in the last ten years where fishing was not at least a factor in the planning.

Fishing-specific travel aside, I've mixed or tried to mix fly fishing in with all manner of other travel. I've strived to fit chasing winter trout on spring-influenced streams and tailwater fisheries during winter ski trips to the Rocky Mountain West with old college friends. Family travel most certainly hasn't been safe from the urge to hit the water: I've pursued striped bass on the flats off the southern shores of Martha's Vineyard during an extended week at the beach, tried to squeeze a half-day bonefish outing into a recentt trip to Disney World, plied the waters of Vermont's Lake Champlain for carp and bowfin endeavored to while on a late-summer getaway to the Champlain Islands, swung flies on Oregon's Deschutes River when visiting my sister-in-law in Portland and so on.

Probably not typical, but this is still why you sling mice for trout.

It's New Year's day, so we're phoning it in a bit by looking back on the most read articles from last year. Even though we keep pretty tight tabs on which articles are well received by our readers, when you look back at a period as long as a year, there are often some surprises. The five articles that follow were the most read of those we published in 2013.

#5) This is Why You Sling Mice for Trout

While many of you already know that catching a trout on a fly pattern intended to imitate a mouse or other rodent is perhaps the most exhilarating way to do so, there are always some folks out there that find it hard to believe that trout seek prey as large as mice. The inspiration behind this article, a photo of an unintentionally killed trout that was revealed to have a staggering number of voles in its stomach, likely set those doubts aside for many fishermen out there.

#4) Nymphing: Get More Hookups

I'm always surprised to hear other fly fishermen remark that they very rarely nymph, due to its difficulty or perceived lack of efficacy. If for no other reason, nymphing should be one of every fly fishermen's go-to tactics particularly because it is so deadly effective. It is also simple to learn and become adept at nymphing. If you're struggling with nymphing or just want to up your catch rate, there could be one simple mistake you're making that's costing you hookups.

Winter Dry Flies

Earlier this week, we published a short piece titled Two Important Rules for Winter Fly Fishing which we feel offer those who are willing to brave winter temperatures in search of trout and other species a good basis on which to build success. But, of course, there's much more to the winter fly fishing game. Following are three good reads that should help to further improve your winter strategy and, in the case of the third from the list below, certainly serve to get you thinking a bit more creatively about your winter fly fishing adventures.

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