Bonefish: A Florida Favorite

By: Terry Tomalin

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They are known as the grey ghosts of the flats. Some say that bonefish can outrun any fish in the ocean.

These torpedo-shaped masses of muscle can cover 100 yards in the blink of an eye, leaving even the most experienced anglers asking what went wrong.

That’s why the world’s top sportsmen fishing in the Keys put this species at the top of their must-do list.

But lately, bonefish have been found in other parts of the state, even as far north as Tampa Bay.

Florida has its share of hard-to-catch species, including tarpon, permit and snook. But even masters of these species can be humbled by the mighty bonefish. First, consider the habitat.

Bonefish are typically found in clear water less than one foot deep, which means that they can see an angler from 100 feet away.

Bonefish have only one means of defense – speed. They are a favorite prey of both sharks and barracuda, which makes this inshore species exceptionally skittish, especially in shallow water.

The bonefish has a deeply forked tail which provides the power it needs to chase prey across the grass flats and open patches of sand. While this species will travel in schools, most guides typically hunt one fish at a time.

The preferred method is to pole a flats skiff across a flat with the angler stationed on the bow. Bonefish like to root around for food, kicking their tails up out of the water, hence the term “tailing bonefish.”

When the guide spots a bonefish, the order to fire is given – one o’clock at 50 feet. Hopefully the bait, which can be everything from a live crab to an artificial fly, will land in the path of the fish.

The average size of the bonefish caught in the Keys is 3 to 5 pounds but fish weighing 10 pounds or more have been caught in local waters. In fact, a 16-pound 3-ounce monster was once landed near Islamorada, setting a new state record.

Peak bonefish season in the Florida Keys runs March through October. Many anglers who want to catch a bonefish try to tie their trip into snook season, which varies from coast to coast.

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