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This article will cover some of the best bonefish flies and when to use them. I’ll answer questions such as “What makes a great bonefish fly?”, “What do bonefish flies imitate?”, and “What are the best bonefish patterns?”, plus some more info you’ll likely want to know about bonefish flies.
Table of Contents
In my days of being a fly fishing guide, I saw many anglers come to Seychelles with boxes full of flies for bonefish.
However, they always keep fishing the same fly, despite signs that it might be better to swap. This article will also look at considerations to be taken when you’re out on the water and don’t know what fly to use.
It will also aim to help you select and fish the best flies so that you can catch more bonefish more consistently. So let’s get started.
What Makes a Great Bonefish Fly?
There are thousands of fly patterns out there. But what differentiates a good fly pattern from the rest? This question will, undoubtedly, receive a different answer from any angler or guide you ask. As with so many things in life, personal preference probably plays the biggest role.
The majority of the flies will probably catch you the odd fish. In my opinion, however, there are factors more important than just catching a fish here and there. Here’s my take on what makes a great bonefish fly:
The fly should be able to produce fish consistently. The amount of bonefish on St. Francois atoll, in Seychelles, is mind-boggling. As a guide, I was always looking for a new and more exciting method to catch these fish.
One day I tied a size 8 translucent baitfish imitation, very similar to the Gummy Minnow. At low tide, we found a large school of bonefish near a drop-off. The baitfish produced a couple of bones, just under the water’s surface.
We were all very stoked and thought we stumbled on a new method to catch these fish. Unfortunately, this fly proved to be inconsistent and therefore I wouldn’t classify it as a good bonefish fly.
However, if you ever do find yourself on St. Francois atoll, tie on a size 6 Pillow Talk or Golden Night. Then, you’ll see what a great bonefish fly is.
Tying the Fly
The second, yet equally important, factor that makes a good bonefish fly comes from the vise. A good bonefish fly must be easy to tie and should require minimal specialized material.
Look at a Crazy Charlie, for instance. A skilled tier can complete one in less than 3 minutes. It also uses basic materials. A hook, thread, vinyl rib, calf’s tail, flash, and two sections of a bathroom chain for weight. That’s it.
Best Bonefish Flies
Here’s a list of some great, effective bonefish fly patterns that you should have in your box when fly fishing for bonefish. Keep in mind that if one fly isn’t working, switch it and try something new.
1. James’ Sand Prawn
This fly was developed by veteran Alphonse Fishing Company guide, James Christmas. It’s an imitation of shrimp commonly found on sand flats.
The fly works well on both bonefish and permit, making it a good fly choice when either species may be encountered.
The weight is attached to a keel system which forces the fly to ride hook point up. In the standard dressing, the fly includes fluorescent orange eyes, beads, and underbody.
2. Golden Night
Many of the great bonefish flies originated from the effective Crazy Charlie. The Golden Night is an excellent variation. The fly includes a gold-colored body, tan synthetic wing (such as EP fibers), two black antennae, and a set of dumbbell eyes.
I recommend carrying sizes 6 and 4 in your box in various weights.
3. Green Machine
The Green Machine is another good Crazy Charlie variation. The body, wing, and flash are all made using chartreuse-colored material.
I recommend this fly in a light version, using only bathroom chain eyes. Size 8 and 6 work well.
This is also a good fly to cover algae-eating fish such as Batfish and Milkfish. These species may be encountered while you’re fishing for bonefish.
4. Pillow Talk
One of the most used and successful bonefish flies in the Indian Ocean. If the fish are switched on to this fly, it will be a bonefishing day you’ll never forget. Dedicated bonefish anglers on St. Francois cat 50+ bones a day with this fly.
Due to the fact that most 9-weight rods are rigged with a Pillow Talk, it has also taken a considerable amount of permit. Doesn’t matter what fly you have on, if you see a permit, fish it.
The fly includes a pearl body, chartreuse and white calf tail wing, Krystal flash, and a red nose. Carry enough size 6s and 4s in various weights.
5. Taylor’s Delight
The Taylor’s Delight is one of my all-time favorite saltwater flies. I like tying them skinny and small for fussy bonefish. The movement created by the natural fibers allows you to fish the fly, even though it’s stationary. You’re almost allowing the fish to discover the fly by itself.
It’s also an incredibly effective triggerfish fly for the Nubian Flats. On these pristine flats, the triggers seem to prefer an understated fly. No fluorescent orange colors or flash.
The Taylor’s delight includes a rabbit zonker wing and a pair of brown rubber legs. Carry a good selection of sizes and weights in your general saltwater fly box.
The Gotcha is probably the most popular fly and one you’ll find in all bonefish fly boxes. And, with good reason.
The color, profile, and design makes for a perfect bonefish fly. It also works well on many other species.
If you really want to make it a versatile pattern, ask your custom fly tier to strap on two or four rubber legs.
7. Spawning Shrimp
The Spawning Shrimp is a good general saltwater fly. Tied in small sizes, 8 to 4, it’s a good bonefish fly.
Especially when the bones are known to feed on longer length shrimps. Tied on slightly larger sizes, it’s a very effective permit fly.
8. Small Avalon Shrimps
The Avalon Shrimp is one of the most successful permit flies ever created. This doesn’t mean it can’t catch bonefish. This large profile fly works really well on large bonefish, especially tied in sizes 8 to 4.
I’ve also had good success using this fly on triggerfish.
The fly includes a keel system (similar to James’ Sand Prawn) which forces the hook point up. A unique feature of the fly is the two tan zonker strips that are tied in on either side of the hook shank.
This gives the fly incredible movement when retrieved.
9. Bonefish Scampi
The Bonefish Scampi fly resembles a Gotcha in many ways. However, the wing is made using natural tan zonker strips. This alteration makes the fly move and appears different in the water.
I’m a fan of using natural materials, which is why I love this fly.
10. Pseudo Shrimp
The Pseudo Shrimp has been around for quite some time. What makes it different from other patterns is the positioning of the weight. A relatively heavy dumbbell eye is tied in halfway along the hook shank.
The fly can be tied in various colors, ranging from tan to olive. It’s also a good triggerfish fly.
11. Pink Puff
One of the more unusual flies, I must admit. I remember the first time I saw this fly, I thought my fellow guide, Wayne Haselau, was joking. He wasn’t. This little cute looking fly hammers bonefish.
12. Veverka Mantis Shrimp
The Veverka Mantis Shrimp looks very similar to the James’ Sand Prawn. However, the original dressing does not include fluorescent orange accents. It also doesn’t have the keel system.
This is a very good general shrimp imitation. I use them in slightly larger sizes but light in weight.
My favorite fishing scenario for these flies is in the surf zone where you’re likely to encounter triggerfish, bluefin and giant trevally, large bonefish, and the odd permit. It is a good one fly does all rig.
13. Christmas Island Special
The Christmas Island Special bonefish fly is derived from the Crazy Charlie. It’s incredibly effective. If I had to choose one single bonefish fly to carry with me all over the world, this would be it.
The fly includes rearward and forward-facing rubber legs. These legs give the fly incredible movement, but can also be removed quickly with a pair of nippers, should the fish respond negatively to them.
14. Alphlexo Crab
There is no fish an Alplexo Crab can’t catch. This is a bold statement, I know, and obviously, there is a list of species you probably won’t be able to catch using this fly. But, this is an unbelievably versatile pattern.
It catches permit, trevally (on larger sizes), and triggerfish. Big bonefish love this fly. I must admit, it’s not my go-to fly on the sand.
However, bonefish cruising over a coralline bottom or in the surf zone absolutely guns this fly. These fishing areas are also the habitat for triggerfish.
15. Bonefish Bitters
The Bonefish Bitters is a peculiar looking fly. It’s unlike any of the other patterns on my list. Like the Alphlexo Crab, it won’t be the first fly that I throw at a sand flat bonefish. Although it might catch the odd bone here and there, this is not where the fly excels.
In my experience, the Bonefish Bitters shines on turtle grass and coralline structure. The wide resin head and natural weed guard formed by the spun deer hair, prevent it from getting stuck easily.
I recommend having a selection of these flies ranging from 8 to 6.
Pre-Tied Bonefish Flies
A great way to pick up many of the flies on this list is to order them online, pretied in a box. You can get some really great flies on Amazon and here are some decent sets:
Discountflies Bonefish Flies Collection
- Pieces: 12
This Discountflies Bonefish Collection is a great set of 12 highly effective bonefish and permit flies that have been tried and tested over the years. The box includes most of the flies on this list including Gotcha, Crab Patterns, Shrimp Patterns, Crazy Charlies, and more, all tied with quality on size 4-6 hooks.
What Do Bonefish Flies Imitate?
A bonefish’s diet consists of worms, shrimp, crabs, and small baitfish. Depending on the area and tide their diet will vary. For instance, in some well-known fisheries bonefish can be caught using small shrimps. In others, the most successful flies are small crabs.
Having said that, most bonefish flies imitate shrimp. This is because we usually target them on shallow flats. They come onto the flats and prey on small crustaceans on the bottom.
Bonefish Fly Hooks
If you’ve spent enough time fishing for saltwater fish, you’ll know how important hooks are. There are a couple of important things to say about this topic.
The first, and probably most important, is that if you’re planning a once in a lifetime, or even once a year, trip, do not skimp on hook quality. You’ll get by catching the small ones on inexpensive hooks. A big bonefish, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish (pardon the pun).
They are fast, powerful and the fight can last more than 15 minutes. Cheap hooks will not last. Spend money buying quality tied flies from a reputable custom fly tier. It will make all the difference.
Hooks That Work
Whether you’re tying your own flies or really want to get down on the technical lingo us fly fishermen love, knowing your hooks is a good thing. When choosing a bonefish hook the wire strength, sharpness, and shape (and look) should be considered.
The shape of the hook required will be determined by the ultimate shape and size of the fly. Short vs long shank. Black vs chrome color. Wide vs narrow gape. Obviously, all hooks should be as strong and sharp as possible.
Some of my favorite bonefish fly hooks are:
- Mustad 34006 – This is a good quality value for money hook. It has a great shape. The wire is on the flexible side.
- Mustad C47SD – A very good choice for flies like the Bonefish Bitters. The shank length suits short fly patterns well.
- Gamakatsu SL11-3H – A long shank hook, perfect for longer shrimp flies.
- Gamakatsu SL45 – This is a black hook and offers an understated look. You get them down to size 10.
- TMC 811S – For me, the best of the best.
When Do I Change a Fly?
So, you’ve got your fly box loaded with 12 different patterns, each in 2 different weights. How do you know when to switch? Or did you waste your money buying all these flies? Here are a couple of things to consider when you’re out on the water.
Well, the first rule of thumb is always to match the color of the fly to the bottom color. If you’re fishing on the white sand, use a tan-colored fly. If the fish are on turtle grass, go darker (olive and brown).
Water Depth, Current, and Spooky Bonefish
These three factors play a big role when selecting the correct fly. There is a fine line between getting the fly down to the fish (as they are predominantly bottom feeders) and spooking them.
If the water is deep or there’s a strong current, a heavy fly should be used. These flies will be weighted using tungsten beads or dumbbell eyes. However, if the water is shallow, opt for a lightweight fly using only two sections of a bathroom chain.
Heavy flies tend to land hard. Large, free-swimming bonefish are very aware of their surroundings. Especially when the water is shallow. When fishing to these single cruisers or to bonefish in skinny water, make use of a light fly.
You’re on a perfect flat and an 8 bonefish pod comes cruising towards you. Judging by their body language, they’re feeding. You make a shot landing the fly 2 rod-lengths in front of the lead fish. Two slow long strips and the fish are in the zone. But they just refuse the fly.
I’ve seen this happen countless times. There’s no angler mistake. If I were fishing myself, I would give the fly one more shot. If it gets refused again, go down one leader size or change the fly.
Albulidae, or the bonefishes, is a family of fish comprising 10 species. All of them are bottom dwellers and occur in tropical regions throughout the world. Similar to tarpon, bonefish can inhale air which allows them to survive in oxygen-poor water systems.
The most popular and prevalent species, by far, is Albula Vulpes. This is the common bonefish that so many of us love. To me, this fish epitomizes saltwater fly fishing. They are found in incredibly beautiful places, eat flies readily, and give a good account of themselves during the fight.
They attain weights over 16lb and grow to a length in excess of 100cm. A fish of this size is considered a unicorn, rather than the norm. In general, you are targeting fish in the 3 to 5-pound range.
Fishing for bonefish is a truly unique and wonderful experience. Every person who has ever cast at these magnificent fish love them. I hope that this article has given you some insight into selecting the best bonefish flies.
Furthermore, always pay attention to the body language of these fish. Through this, you’ll learn what flies work and which ones don’t.
Please share this post with your fishing buddies and fly tying friends. If you have any questions regarding preparing for bonefish trips or tying the flies mentioned, please leave the comments at the bottom of the page.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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