Hawaiian Bonefish caught with fly rod

Preparing Yourself for Hawaiian Bonefish

Although Hawaii is known for harboring trophy sized bonefish, the flats remain surprisingly empty considering many of them sit right outside a city as large as Honolulu. On most days you’ll be one of the only fisherman walking with a fly rod and the only crowds you’ll be concerned with will be from kayaks and paddleboarders.

Though that does not mean these fish will come easily, many people walk back to the parking lot after a long day with their head hanging in defeat with nothing to show but a new sunburn, it’s a feeling I’ve been familiar with on many occasions.

Hawaiian Bonefish next to fly rod in the water

Before moving to Oahu I had never targeted bonefish, or fished in the salt for that matter. To be truthful I didn’t have a clue what to expect outside of the pictures I’ve seen in magazine and on the internet. The first day stepping onto a flat I was greeted with trade winds howling in my face at 27mph. By some miracle I did manage to spot fish that day, I made my best effort to cut my fly through the cross wind ahead of the fish but my line quickly carried downwind landing directly onto the fish and I watched it swim off towards the horizon at Mach speed. That was the first of many beatings Hawaii handed me. But through plenty of trial, error and a little (a lot) of aloha and wisdom from my friends Brett and Sean. I am now on the right side of things and hooking fish with some consistency.

Whether you’re a die hard fly fisherman or just on a tropical getaway and snuck a fly rod in your luggage, Hawaiian bonefish can be very challenging. Hiring a guide will ultimately give you the best chances for success, but if you’re like me and prefer a good DIY trip, there are a number of things you can do that will increase your odds of coming tight to a fish.

Fly fisherman holding Hawaiian Bonefish

While I consider myself a saltwater rookie, these are all tactics I have either learned or have been passed on to me from much wiser individuals. They are also some of the most common issues I see others having while visiting these flats.

Practice Casting – I can’t stress this enough. You will spot fish coming from all different directions, so being able to cast quickly and accurately off both shoulders in different wind directions is vital to your success. Don’t worry about throwing 75ft lasers, 95% of my fish are caught inside of 30 feet, and as close as 10-12 feet at times.

Delivering the fly – Bonefish are spooky, everyone knows that. Hawaiian bones are no different, if not worse. Don’t be surprised if a fish spooks from your fly going through the air, it happens. One thing you can do to minimize the amount of fish you spook is to concentrate on putting the fly where you think the fish will be in 5 to 10 seconds. It’s not uncommon I lead a fish by 10 to 15 feet or more. You want your fly settled on the bottom before the fish is ever able to see or hear it.

Less is more – After you make the cast you are going to move the fly far less than what you think is needed. Be patient, let the fish get close to your fly before moving it. Then just one slow strip to get the fish to notice your fly, let it sit and wait for the fish to eat, then a strong strip set.

Filling your flybox – As with all bonefishing, the fly weight must match the situation. In Hawaii you will spend much more time fishing in 1-3 feet of water rather than bead chain eyes in ankle deep water. Depending on the tide and the location, many spots also have strong currents and small waves. You need to have a properly weighted fly to stay upright on the bottom and not getting tossed around and snagged up.

Hawaiian Bonefish caught by fly fisherman

Don’t be scared to go heavy – What strength tippet you use is mostly personal preference. I have caught fish on 10lb, 20lb and everywhere in between. But I prefer the heavier stuff to try and put the brakes on these big bones (don’t get lazy with your knots!) They will run you through the coral or anything else given the chance, and my fly line (rest in pieces) has the scars to show for it.

Staying calm – It’s easier said than done when you see a bonefish as long as your leg swimming towards you, I know. But the adrenaline rush usually causes you to make some mistakes. Don’t forget to breathe! No matter what you do you’re going to blow some shots, spook some fish and get a lot of refusals. Only a small percentage of the fish will be willing to eat your fly, stay confident!

If you have any questions about fly fishing or just want some extra wisdom while you’re here, I strongly suggest going to talk to Sean at Nervous Water Fly Fishers in Honolulu. Remember to have good shop etiquette, if you’re gonna milk someone for information buy a couple flies or a leader. A little goes a long way. To the future vacationers to Hawaii, good luck and tight lines!