If you’ve ever gone fishing near the equator, you’ve probably heard of bonefish. At first glance, it might be confusing as to why this relatively small non-predatory fish gets so much attention. Why are fishermen spending $1,000s to fly south and fish for a fish that usually tops out at around 5 lbs? Why are bonefish so popular?
Bonefish are one of the most popular sports fish for several reasons. The biggest reason bonefish are so popular is because they fight like crazy for their size. Bonefish have evolved to be able to swim extremely fast – in fact, swimming fast is their only defense against predators. So when you hook into a bonefish it fights unlike any other kind of fish.
Another big reason why bonefish are super popular is that they are caught while sight fishing. Sight fishing is considered one of the most exciting forms of fishing because you get to watch the fish take your lure. It’s an advanced way to fish that requires years of practice and patience but provides a lot more action than typical deep-sea fishing (like for striped marlin). This makes bonefishing a true test of a fishermen’s skill.
Author Note: But there are many other reasons why bonefish are so popular. In this article, we’ll go over in detail why bonefish are one of the most popular species to fish for, as well as many other facts about the elusive grey ghost.
Let’s dive in!
What Are Bonefish?
Before going into detail about why are bonefish so popular, 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. They usually grow to between 4 and 6 lbs, with the record weighing 19 lbs.
Bonefish are silvery grey in color and have very subtle darker lines running down their sides. They feed on crustaceans and plankton and inhabit shallow sand flats near underwater grass or rocks. Bonefish also enjoy eating mollusks and sea worms. They are extremely skittish fish that will dart away at the slightest sign of danger.
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.
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. Bonefish are 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.
Why Are Bonefish Called Bonefish?
Bonefish are called bonefish for the high number of small bones they have running throughout their bodies. While most locales have laws against keeping bonefish, they are very difficult to clean and eat without eating a mouthful of bones.
We recommend always letting bonefish go to avoid the hassle. It also helps keep their numbers high and gives other fishermen a better chance of catching them. Focus on keeping larger deep-sea fish like tuna or Spanish mackerel.
Are Bonefish Good to Eat?
As we just mentioned, many locales have made keeping and eating bonefish illegal. The fish is so popular to fish for that it’s important we protect them and keep numbers high. If you are in a region where you can keep bonefish, however, they do make decent eating – besides the number of bones.
They’re called bonefish for a reason, and cleaning a bonefish can be extremely difficult. We recommend picking the bones out after cooking and being meticulous with what you eat. You can also try and clean the bonefish with a pair of needlenose pliers before cooking if you really don’t want to accidentally eat a bone or two.
If you were wondering why are bonefish so popular, it’s not because they’re good eating.
Where are Bonefish Found?
Bonefish can be found all over the tropics and near the equator. They enjoy living close to shore near grassy sand flats. This is because it provides shelter from predators and is the main habitat for their food – small crustaceans and plankton.
Some of the most popular places to go bonefishing are Belize and Hawaii. Bonefishing has become more and more popular in Belize due to recent legislation that protects them and the other members of the grand slam from being kept. Not only are bonefish catch and release in Belize, but so are tarpon and permit.
We recommend looking for bonefish close to shore early in the morning. Although they move fast and blend in with their surroundings well, a trained eye can spot them under the water. It also really helps to have polarized sunglasses meant for sight fishing. We recommend getting wrap-around sunglasses with green lenses to help penetrate the glare off the water.
Do Bonefish Have Teeth?
Another common question we get is whether bonefish have teeth. The short answer is yes, but very small teeth. Their teeth are used for helping them crush through the exoskeleton of the crustaceans they like to eat.
Author Note: Unlike most other tropical sports fish, it is very safe to grab a bonefish by the jaw or mouth. Their teeth are so small and blunt that they can’t really hurt you. You’re more likely to hurt yourself on the hook of your fly or lure than on the bonefish.
What’s Do I Need to Catch Bonefish?
You might be surprised to hear that you actually don’t need to know how to fly fish to catch bonefish. In fact, some of the most success we’ve seen with bonefish has been when we have simply used a spinning rod and bait. Let’s quickly go over the three most effective ways to catch bonefish and the setups needed.
Soaking Bait with a Spinning Rod
The easiest (and most productive in our opinions) is to soak bait where the bonefish like to hang out. We use a small version of a fish finder rig – use a 2 oz pyramid weight with a size 4 hook and a three-foot-long leader. We like to use a 15 lb test just in case you hook into a monster or a different species.
Both frozen raw squid and frozen raw shrimp work well 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.
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.
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.
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.
Fly Fishing for Bonefish
The most popular way to fish for bonefish is to fly fish for them. This requires you to learn how to fly fish – and more importantly, ahead of time. Between the skittishness of bonefish, windy conditions in the tropics, and the high stakes of vacation fishing we DO NOT recommend learning on bonefish.
Author Note: If you’re not very good at fly fishing, skip it and either soak bait or use a small bucktail jig (like we’ll discuss in the next section). If you are an experienced fly fisherman, then great – go for it.
As far as the different types of flies you should use, we recommend chatting with the local tackle shop to learn what the local fish like. Bonefish can be super picky and it’s worth gathering intel to make sure you’re presenting the right flies to them.
When casting your flies, try and land the fly behind where the bonefish are swimming. Wait for a second or two after your fly hits the water, then begin pulling the line in with several quick strips. If a bonefish bites your line, let it run with your fly until all slackline is out. Then you can begin reeling it normally.
Reeling in a hooked bonefish with a fly reel is an art. You’ll probably need to hook a few before getting the hang of it!
Jigging for Bonefish with a Bucktail Jig
The last technique we wanted to cover that works well for bonefish is using a small bucktail jig. This technique works great for fishermen who have experience fishing but aren’t comfortable fly fishing. Use 10 to 15 lb test line with a 6 lb leader, and a medium to small-sized white bucktail jig. We also like to add a small cube of raw shrimp to the hook to hide any foreign smells.
Cast the bucktail jig past where the bonefish are swimming and let it settle on the bottom. Once the bonefish have settled back in, pop the lure off the bottom with three quick jerks. You want the jig to jump off the bottom like a wounded shrimp.
Similarly to soaking bait, when you get a bite do not try and set the hook. Simply reel in your line and the fish will take off (and hook itself).
Bonefish are insanely fun to catch. They fight harder than almost all kinds of fish that are their size, and they live in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. We hope you found this article informative and now know why bonefish are so popular.
If you have a bonefishing story you would like to share with us or additional comments feel free to hit us up below.