Best Spinning Setup for Bonefish: Leave the Fly Rod at Home

November 6, 2020

Best Spinning Setup for Bonefish: Leave the Fly Rod at Home

When most fishermen talk about fishing for bonefish, they almost always are talking about fly fishing for them. It’s become so popular, that many people think it’s the only way to catch bonefish. But we’re here to disprove that! Spinning for bonefish is a great option for those who don’t know how to fly fish, and in some conditions, it actually works better! So what’s the best spinning setup for bonefish?

The best spinning setup for bonefish is a light spinning rod paired with an ultra-light saltwater spinning reel and 6 to 8 lb monofilament line. We like to use either a small white bucktail jig with a piece of raw shrimp on it or a sinking saltwater fly.

But that’s just the beginning! In this article, we’ll go over our best spinning setup for bonefish and explain exactly how to use it. As you probably already know, bonefish are a very skittish species of fish that require a lot of patience to catch. They also have incredible eyesight – which is why fly equipment is the first thing people try to use. 

But as you’ll soon learn, there are many great options for spinning setups as well. Let’s get started!

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Bonefish Overview

Before going into detail about the best spinning setups for bonefish we thought it first made sense to cover exactly what bonefish are. Bonefish are a schooling fish that lives predominantly near the equator in tropical climates. Bonefish usually grow to between 4 and 6 lbs, with the record weighing 19 lbs. 

If you hook into a bonefish over 5 lbs, however, you’ll be in for the fight of your life!

Bonefish are silvery grey in color and have very subtle darker lines running down their sides. Bonefish feed on crustaceans and plankton and inhabit shallow sand flats near underwater grass or rocks. They are extremely skittish fish that will dart away at the slightest sign of danger – which is why fishermen tend to lean towards fly fishing to hunt them. 

Bonefish also have a relatively long lifespan, with some specimens living over 20 years old. This is partly due to their elusiveness but also because in many areas they are protected from commercial fishing. They’ve become so popular for sports fishing in recent years, that almost all regions have protected them.

As we mentioned earlier, bonefish are a very popular species of sports fish due to their spirited fighting. They can be caught off the coast of southern Florida and throughout the tropics. 

They’re one of the most popular fish to fly fish for, with thousands of anglers traveling south in late summer and fall for peak season. They also are common around the Hawaiin islands, especially on the less inhabited smaller islands.

But this article is all about how to catch bonefish without a fly rod! So let’s go over it.

Choosing the Best Spinning Setup for Bonefish

Since bonefish rarely grow larger than 5 lbs, we like to use a very light spinning rod setup when fishing for them. This will make the fight even more fun – which is the whole point of fishing, right?

We like to use an ultralight saltwater spinning reel paired with a 7 foot long light saltwater spinning rod. As far as the fishing line goes, we recommend using monofilament. Since bonefish have extremely good eyesight, you’ll want to use monofilament to prevent them from getting spooked from your fishing line.

If you try using a fluorocarbon or braided fishing line, the bonefish will be able to see it moving through the water and will scatter. Monofilament is see-through enough to pass by unnoticed. Monofilament also has more stretch than fluorocarbon or braided line, which works to your advantage when fighting a frantic bonefish.

Once you’ve picked out your reel, rod, and fishing line, it’s time to choose a lure and bait. The two techniques that we’ve seen the most success with are soaking bait and flipping a bucktail jig. Let’s go over how to do each below.

Using a Spinning Setup to Soak Bait

The easiest (and most productive in our opinions) way to fish for bonefish without a fly rod is to soak bait where the bonefish like to hang out. We use a small version of a fish finder rig – use a 1 to 2 oz pyramid weight with a size 4 hook and a three-foot-long leader. You can make the leader out of the same test monofilament line you spooled onto your reel

Both frozen raw squid and frozen raw shrimp work great with bonefish. Cut the shrimp up into one-inch cubes and the squid into one-inch strips. You should try both out to see what the bonefish like more. You should also always use fresh or frozen bait. If it has spent a day out on the water on your boat, throw it away and pick up some new bait.

We recommend scouting locations out the day before to find areas where the sand flats have access to deeper water and cover for the bonefish to feel comfortable. If you have access to an inshore kayak, use that. Otherwise, you can walk out onto the flats to scout. We recommend wearing water shoes or being extra careful where you step

Another great place to fish for bonefish is from dead coral reefs or rocky ledges that face the sand flats. This can be a great option if you don’t want to walk out onto the flats and don’t have access to a kayak.

The morning you want to fish, get out on the water right before sunrise. Be especially cautious with your approach to where the bonefish are hiding. Bonefish are notoriously skittish and will get spooked if you splash the water or make unnecessary noise. We also recommend fishing alone to prevent unnecessary noise.

Cast your bait close to where you think they are, or next to them if you can see them. Then you just need to wait. If you feel a bite do not set the hook! Just begin reeling in and the fish will hook itself. Bonefish have tough mouths but will easily spit a hook out if you jerk your rod when they first bite. You also don’t want to scare them away before they’ve fully bitten on your bait.

Using a Spinning Setup to Jig

The other method that has worked really well for us when spinning for bonefish is to flip a small bucktail jig. As we mentioned earlier, we recommend getting a small red and white bucktail jig and adding a small piece of raw shrimp to the hook. 

Bonefish (as with most fish) have a very acute sense of smell, so adding a piece of bait will help mask any foreign smells you may have imparted when rigging your spinning setup. Much like anise oil, the shrimp will impart a natural smell to the fish. 

Once you’ve spotted a school of bonefish (we recommend using a pair of green polarized sunglasses for optimum visibility), cast your jig right in front of them. They’ll most likely flinch when the lure first hits the water, so give them a second to settle back in before you do anything.

After your jig sinks to the bottom and the bonefish return (usually in a few seconds), give the jig three quick pops. Each pop should be an inch or so of action. Wait a second for the jig to flutter back down to the bottom, and repeat.

As with soaking bait, if you get a bite simply start reeling in. Do not jerk the rod! All you’ll do is pull the lure out of the bonefish’s mouth. Once they realize they are hooked they’ll hook themselves by frantically swimming away (and a great fight will ensue).

How to Release a Bonefish

Once you’ve had the fight of a lifetime (or at least some fun), you’ll eventually tire the bonefish out and you can unhook it. Since bonefish don’t have sharp teeth (their teeth are built for crushing crustaceans), you can safely pick them up and unhook them with your hands.

Just be sure to not fully take them out of the water. Removing them from the water can cause them unnecessary harm. You should also be careful not to hurt yourself on the hook inside your mouth. Do not use a net or gaff hook as these will hurt the bonefish and are completely unnecessary. 

Bonefish are extremely energetic and will most likely flip out of your hand several times while you try and unhook them. If in doubt, use a pair of saltwater pliers to be safe. If the bonefish is completely exhausted by the time you reel it in, give it a few seconds to recoup before setting it free. We like to gently push a tired bonefish through the water to ensure it gets water over its gills and recovers successfully. It usually only takes a few seconds of this before they swim away.

Conclusion

Fishing for bonefish with a spinning setup can be just as much fun (or even more fun) than fly fishing. For experienced spinning fishermen, it won’t be nearly as hard to target and catch a bonefish. It’s also a great way to include your friends on a trip even if they don’t know how to fly fish.

We hope you found this article on the best spinning setup for bonefish informative and useful. If you have additional thoughts or your own spinning bonefish setup you would like to share with us, please shoot us a note in the comments below.

Happy Hunting!

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