Fishing The Grey Ghosts of Roatan

Posted on Posted in Caribbean Fishing

Bone Fishing in Roatan Honduras

Chasing bonefish holds all the excitement of dry line fly fishing a mountain river in the Rockies or swinging a streamer for steelhead in a coastal river of British Columbia. Which is why every winter I make a pilgrimage to the Caribbean for some of the most exciting fishing I do all year.

For those of you who have only heard about fishing the “grey ghosts” it is nothing short of amazing how much power these fish generate.  It’s a quick strip set, and hold on!   Every fish fights in their own way, bonefish run hard and fast!

Fishing for Roatan's Grey Ghosts
Fishing for Roatan’s Grey Ghosts

The Hunt for Bonefish

Unless you find bonefish “heaven” like fishing Roatan Honduras or Ambergris Caye Belize, the bulk of your trip will be filled with long and quiet moments searching the flats.  Minutes and hours pass filled with quiet concentration and anticipation.  These are those peaceful moments that for me, are half of the reason I fish.  I prefer it to sitting on the beach at a 5 star resort any day! I’d much rather spend the day creeping across large flats of shallow water scanning constantly for flashes of silver.  The sun heats you from above; the water cools you from below.  Looking back at the shore from the water offers a whole new perspective of the geography not witnessed from the beach.

Cast to Schools of One Hundred Bonefish

Suddenly it happens. Bonefish appear in schools of 20-100 fish grouped in a protective circle or as singles and doubles moving slowly across the flats.  The schools are largely made up of smaller fish that require the group for protection.  As bonefish mature, they leave the pack and make their way solo or maybe with 1 or 2 other mature fish, so if you see a solitary fish, or a double, they are generally the monsters you hear stories about.

There are different strategies when casting to these different situations.  When bonefish are in a school, they tend to be very skittish. When one  fish in that pod senses something wrong, it is guaranteed to startle. The result is a cascading effect of the entire population freaking out. You watch as the surface EXPLODES in white water and every bone within 100 miles heading to the deep. Oh the shame the fly fisherman feels!

A successful cast!
A successful cast!

Rules To Fish By

It was my first time bone fishing in Roatan where I got acquainted with the dos and don’ts of flats fishing etiquette. I blew it a number of times before really listening to my guide who’s instruction was the ultimate key to my final success. I can honestly say that our fishing guide in Roatan was one of the best I’ve ever fished with.

Rule number one,  DON’T drop a fly into the middle of the pack, you will feel shame.  Rule number two, DON’T cast a fly within 3 feet of the side of the school, you will feel shame.

When fishing to a school, you have 2 options.  As a group, the pod will move slowly across the flat, some tailing, some on guard duty.  Your best chance in hooking up is to cast 10-20 feet in front of the group in hopes that it will move “over” your fly, at which time you just need to give it a couple of twitches and bingo.  The other way is to cast 10 feet to the outside of the group, strip slowly and try and pull a fish out of the pack. This tends to be the best way to not spook the pack.  That said, 80 percent of the time, if you do indeed hook up, the pack will explode in nervous fear.

It’s a One Shot Deal

When casting to bones its the solitary or small groupings of fish is the most challenging and rewarding.

Fishing the crystal clear Caribbean waters of Roatan you will see bones approaching from a good distance off. As the fish slowly cruise towards you, you get one shot to put the fly within 20 inches of its head.

If you miss cast and put the fly behind, or slightly to the rear of the fish, it’s gone ( and you feel shame).  If you put the fly too far ahead of the fish, it won’t see your offering and by the time you slowly strip it back in, the fish will be past you showing only its tail. You can’t cast over a bone fish, they will spook if they even sense a line.  If you see the fish coming from a fair distance, and you are capable of casting a long 50- 80 foot cast into “the bucket”, your chances improve dramatically.  The fish won’t see your silhouette, and if you miss cast, you likely will have a chance to reload and re-fire.

Good Technique and  A Good Fly Fishing Guide in Roatan

Stephen takes instruction from our guide.
Stephen takes instruction from our guide.

All of the techniques described above are of course a generalization from my own experience with bones.  A good guide will improve your chances of success dramatically. Obviously the right fly makes all the difference.  Whether weighted or non-weighted, tan, yellow, olive, with rubber legs etc etc etc.

A good guide always knows his or her waters.  The guide also knows when to head to a flat where the fish are feeding, knows when to head to the channels as the fish are exiting the flats… or when all else fails where to find them mudding.

It always amazes me how the guide’s eye can see a fish coming from seemingly miles away. 

More often than I care to admit, I’m at a loss when they are whispering to you “Fish coming,… fifty yards at 10 o’clock”, and I strain to see what they are seeing… it’s almost enough to send you to the optician immediately following you trip.

TOnce you are lucky or talented enough to set the hook then be prepared to reel 100 miles per hour as they come screaming back at you, then lift the tip as they do a 90 degree turn into the coral.

Now you have an idea as to the challenges of fishing for bonefish, so, let’s talk about the rewards. In a nutshell, a 2 pound bonefish will rip off 100 yards of line in about 5 seconds.  A 10 pound bonefish,.. well,… I hope you have a lot of backing and even more good luck.

Find out more about fishing in Roatan Honduras or Ambergris Caye