Bruce Chard has been guiding for two decades and is considered by many the premier Florida Keys guide. If you are lucky enough to get a day on the water with him, you will immediately be drawn to his unbridled enthusiasm and true passion for the sport of fly fishing.
How to Land a Bonefish
You can make landing a bonefish on a fly rod easy or really expensive. In this post. we will explain some great techniques for landing bonefish in ways that are safe for the fish, your tackle and yourself.
In a Skiff
Let’s start with landing a bonefish in the skiff. When you hook up and bring a bonefish boatside, it’s good to try not to even bring it out of the water at all unless you plan to take a quick picture. Remember that the fish has just fought for its life and is exhausted so limiting time out of the water is critical for the survival of the fish.
Landing the bonefish that you have boatside is easy. I try to have at least the leader and five feet of fly line out of the tip of the rod tip. This amount of line is very important as to prevent tip damage. You may have to pull line off the reel to give yourself that amount of line outside our tip. I like to have a large long bend in the rod at all times.
I rotate the reel in my right hand away and behind to create a large arc in the fly rod and allow the leader/line to fall in front of me. Bending over the side of the boat, you can then pull the fish to you by pulling the line in with your hands.
If you don’t care to take a picture, plan on never lifting the fish out of the water at all. You can simply reach down under the water (keeping the fish under the water at all times) and grab the fish over its back. Once you have a hold of the fish you can roll the fish over on its back. This will calm the fish, bringing the fish’s mouth closer to your hands for easy hook removal.
Resuscitate the fish by moving it back and forth lightly in the water to get freshly oxygenated water over the gills.
When you’re wading, the technique is exactly the same and perhaps a bit easier. Keep five feet of fly line out, raise your rod hand high, keep a long arc in the rod and reach out to grab the line!
More on Handling (Not Handling!) Bonefish
Bonefish, like all sportfish species, are extremely slippery. They have a slick slime that covers and protects them from infections and helps to hide them from being detected from predators. This slime is critical to the survival of the fish.
I personally try my very best to not touch the fish at all unless I plan to take a picture. I will simply keep the fish submerged the entire time, run my hand down the leader, grab the fly only for removal (either with my fingers or my hemostats/pliers) and release the fish without ever removing it from the water. If you have to touch the fish, make sure your hands are wet to minimize removal of the protective slime.
I hope this helps you land the big ones and send them on their way safely!