What Do Bonefish Eat? Know the Facts

December 6, 2020

What Do Bonefish Eat? Know the Facts

If you have ever caught a bonefish before, you have probably noticed that they have a strange-looking mouth. It’s pointed downwards and almost looks like a suction cup. So what do bonefish eat?

Bonefish eat various types of mollusks and crustaceans, including small shrimp, crabs, clams, and sea worms. In order to find their food, they have to sift through the sand on the bottom which is why their mouths are shaped the way they are.

But there are many other reasons why bonefish eat these creatures and have developed unique features for bonefish. In this article, we’ll dive into detail as to why bonefish eat what they eat as well how it has changed their living habits. We’ll also go into exactly what bonefish are as well as why they are so popular.

Let’s get to it!

Bonefish Are Bottom Feeders

As we mentioned above, bonefish are bottom feeders. This means they eat small creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean. Bonefish tend to live in water that isn’t much deeper than 20 feet, as this is where their prey like to live

Bonefish spend hours sifting and nudging through the top six inches of sand on the bottom trying to find hiding creatures. These creatures include small crabs, shrimp, sea worms, and even clams. 

Bonefish are schooling fish which means that they congregate in large groups while they feeding. They do this for protection against larger predatory fish that might try and eat them. You’ll frequently see a group of bonefish fan out and all dig through the sand in unison looking for food.

If the water is really shallow, you can often see large bonefish ‘finning’ while they dig through the sand. This will appear as a small fin coming out of the water that moves back and forth.

What Exactly Are Bonefish?

Now that you know what bonefish eat, we thought it first made sense to cover exactly what bonefish are. Bonefish are small fish that live predominantly near the equator in warm tropical climates. They usually grow to between 4 and 6 lbs, with the record weighing almost 20 lbs. It’s worth noting that anything over 5 lbs is considered a once in a lifetime bonefish.

Bonefish are grey in color and have very subtle darker lines running down their sides. These lines help the fish sense what’s around it in the water and hunt for food. 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. Since bonefish are small fish that have a lot of natural predators, this is their only form of defense.

Bonefish have relatively long lifespans, with some specimens living 15 to 20 years old. This is due to their elusiveness but also because many areas have laws protecting them from commercial fishing.

As we mentioned in our article on why bonefish are popular, bonefish are a very popular species of sports fish due to their speed and energy after being hooked. 

Bonefish are one of the most popular fish to fly fish for, with thousands of anglers traveling to Florida, Mexico, and Belize in the summer and fall for peak season. They also are common in the Hawaiin islands, especially on the less inhabited islands.

How Do You Spot a Bonefish?

Now that we’ve covered what bonefish eat, let’s go into how you can spot them. Since bonefish are so popular to catch, many fishermen wonder how you can spot bonefish in the water. 

Bonefishing is a type of sight fishing – before you can catch a bonefish you need to actually figure out where they are! And because they live in crystal clear waters, if you don’t see any bonefish nearby you won’t be catching any.

Here are a few tips we follow when fishing for Bonefish.

  1. Look for slight flashes under the water. Bonefish have shiny silvery sides, and when they’re rooting through the sand looking for food you’ll sometimes get a glimpse of their scales in the sun. This is a telltale sign that bonefish are in the area. If you see a silvery flash underwater, try and get your fly or bonefish spinning lure to that area asap!
  2. Look for bonefish ‘finning’ on the surface. If you’re fishing in the sand flats or other areas with shallow water, sometimes you’ll be able to see larger bonefish ‘finning’. When bonefish dig through the sand, they tend to stick the back fins up at an angle. If they are bigger fish and are in shallow water you can sometimes see them stick out of the water! This is a really good sign, as it means two things: the bonefish are feeding, and that they are big fish.
  3. If you don’t see any fish, keep moving. Bonefish are very active fish that are almost always on the move. This means that one spot that had fish the other day could very well have nothing today. If you don’t see any bonefish where you are, go somewhere else. 
  4. Be extra, extra quiet. That’s right, bonefish are extremely skittish fish and will scatter at the slightest sign of danger. So if you come up to a lagoon or shallow area where bonefish may be feeding and aren’t very careful, you’ll scare all the fish away before you even get there! Pretend like you are playing hide and seek with the fish. Be as quiet as possible.

Why Are Bonefish Called Bonefish?

Bonefish are called bonefish because they have tons of small bones throughout their bodies. While most regions have laws against keeping bonefish, you should be deterred simply by the fact that they are difficult to clean and eat without eating a mouthful of bones. 

We recommend always letting bonefish go to. This helps keep their numbers high and gives other fishermen a higher chance of catching them. Focus on keeping larger deep-sea fish like grouper or mackerel. 

How Far Do I Need to Cast for Bonefish?

A really common question we get from our friends learning how to bonefish is how far do they need to cast for bonefish. The answer is that it depends on how close you get to the fish. The closer you get the easier it will be to cast in front of them, but the higher chance you’ll scare the fish away.

We recommend casting 20 to 30 feet in front of you for bonefish. This should be in your range of casting (either a fly or a jig) and won’t be so close that you scare the bonefish away. But this also depends on if you’re using a boat or walking from shore. 

The better you are at casting the further you’ll be able to get your fly or lure in front of the bonefish. We recommend practicing your casting before any bonefishing trip. Due to the nature of sight fishing, you do not want to choke when you get your shot with a big bonefish. Practice your casting so you’ll be in the best shape for your trip!

Where is the Best Bonefishing in the World?

There are several locations that are regarded as the best places to go bonefishing. We’ve fished in several of them and will share our experiences.

Mexico

Probably the most common place to go bonefishing, southern Mexico has one of the largest bonefishing regions in the world. Anywhere on the eastern coast can be great for bonefishing. We recommend figuring out where you want to go to Mexico then looking for guides in the nearest port town.

Belize

Belize has another large bonefishing community. The islands and towns around San Pedro have thousands and thousands of bonefish schools, along with tarpon and other tropical game fish. 

We stayed near San Pedro and fished several mornings our last time down there. It’s a great place to fish for almost all sports fish, as they have laws in place keeping most species.

Bahamas

The Bahamas are also a great location for bonefishing. The Bahamas tend to be a bit more expensive than Mexico and Belize, but are also closer to fishermen who live on the East Coast. We recommend checking out the Marls of Abaco for bonefishing.

Hawaii

Another less known fishery for bonefish is the Hawaiian Islands. While Hawaii is known for its world-class deep-sea fishing, there are also several large bonefish communities – especially on the smaller island. 

The less inhabited island of Molokai and Kaui are great for bonefishing. We recommend getting a guide for a day to learn where the local schools tend to feed, then renting an inshore kayak to fish for them the rest of your trip. It’s a great way to learn how to fish in the region while not polluting the environment with a powerboat (like you need to for deep-sea fishing).

Parting Thoughts

While bonefish are some of the most difficult fish to catch, they are guaranteed to give a great fight if you pull it off. Bonefish are widely regarded as one of the hardest fighting fish due to their speed and relative strength of their size.

And since many regions now have laws in place preventing anglers from keeping bonefish, their numbers continue to rise to higher levels. This makes finding and catching them easier and easier.

We hope you found this article on what bonefish eat helpful and informative. If you end up catching a trophy bonefish on your next trip, share it with our community! Shoot us a comment in the space below. 

Happy Hunting!

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