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I can think of no other saltwater species that requires an accurate cast more than a bonefish on a flat. As the grey ghosts search for food they are often highly concentrated on their quarry and aren't willing to move very far for a tiny little morsel. It’s even worse if they are tailing – you need to get your fly right in front of their face to have a chance of it being seen.
Accuracy is so crucial when sight fishing that I’d argue that the number of bonefish that you'll catch in a given day is directly correlated to how accurately you can present a fly. However, if you get your fly too close, you’ll also risk spooking these skittish fish. While they are willing to venture into the shallows for food on the rising tide, bones also become very wary, understanding that danger can come from any direction in 6 inches of water. With heightened senses, even a shadow of a fly line is enough to send them fleeing. So, you’ll not only need to get your fly in the right spot, but you’ll also need to be sure it lands softly.
Spend enough time searching the fly fishing forums and you're likely to run into posts that suggest that a 9-weight is the 'do-it-all' flats rod. And surely, while most people would agree that a 9 is the go-to permit rod, I'd argue that it's the *worst* bonefish rod.
9-weights are designed for larger fish and larger flies, but the real difference is that you’re casting a heavier line. And that heavier line means a worse presentation and more spooked fish. While the 9wt of yesteryear were casting 240gr heads, today’s 9-weight lines have heads that far exceed that, like Rio Flats Pro which weighs in at 350 grains – that was a 12wt in the 1980s.
But what if you see a permit? If you’re lucky enough to hook it, you’ll still be able to land it on your 8-weight (in fact permit expert Jonathan Olch prefers the 8-weight for his permit fishing). Ditto for baby tarpon.
Sure, most people grab an 8-weight for bones, but I'd argue that a 6-weight is actually the best rod for catching bones. A six just lands so much softer on the water than an eight that spooking fish becomes far less of a possibility. That means you can land your fly closer and catch more fish. Bonefish flies are actually smaller than most of your trout streamers so you’ll have no trouble casting a gotcha on your 6.
Captain ‘Bonefish’ Rick Lee of Bonefish Hawaii agrees:
We also spend a lot of time each year hosting anglers on Christmas Island where it’s a whole different ball game. At CXI accurate casts with small flies produces in a big way. It’s mostly close range wading so a fast-action 6 weight with one of the next generation lines like the RIO Flats Pro works out great. These lighter rods are super accurate and very comfortable to carry, making lots of casts over the course of the week a breeze. Most importantly, you can drop your fly on a dime allowing you get close, but not too close, over and over again.”
So, why doesn’t everyone fish a 6-weight? Well, weather. On Christmas Island, you’re always fishing down-wind. In most of the rest of the world, you’ve got to deal with varying conditions, which sometimes means a 20mph headwind. When it’s really blowing, it’s tough to present a fly accurately with a 6.
Let’s face it, before reading this, you were probably going to get an 8-weight anyway. And if you don’t have one, you probably should. 8’s are the most versatile saltwater rods out there. So much so that they are the second-best-selling line weight after the five. They are fantastic for any fish up to say, 15-20lbs. With a good double haul, you can cast heavy crab flies, big baitfish patterns, and even use them back home for your articulated streamers.
Here's what our friend Nick Denbow of the Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School has to say:
"I like to use flies that are heavier and bigger than most because I don't fish way back in the shallows with weightless flies. All my fishing is ocean side, surf or flats near deeper water, that's my choice. In these areas, I want to have on a size 4 fly with a lead head. This leaves the possibility of catching Permit, Jacks, Snook, Tarpon anything that swims by. For this reason, I carry an #8."
Not only does an 8-weight offer versatility in terms of flies and quarry, but it will give you the extra power needed to punch through the wind. Finally, because of their popularity, manufacturers put a lot more effort into making their 8wt taper one of the best in the lineup. You might cast a rod series with a dud of a 7wt only to find that the 8 is brilliant.
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