Onshore, Flats, Backcountry
4 - 16 pounds
16" - 41"
Bonefish have an elongated, torpedo-shaped body with silvery scales. The snout is pointed in appearance. The dorsal fin (top) has a triangular shape similar to that of a shark. The tail has a uniquely deep fork. Bonefish have blue-greenish backs with dark streaks that blend extremely well with the grass that covers the bottom of many flats. The sleek body and bottom have bright silvery scales that reflect the bottom like a mirror. The Bonefish natural camouflage allows the fish to remain largely undetected by anglers and their natural predators.
Bonefish are known for a couple of unique traits. First, bonefish tail in the water while they are feeding in shallow water commonly referred to as tailing. Second, they will take a fly/lure 100 yards or more once hooked in a dramatic run.
Adult bonefish typically measure between 16 inches and 40 inches. Most weigh about 6 - 8 pounds on average, but some reach weights up to 16 pounds. As adults, females grow larger than males. Bonefish live up to 20 years.
Like the tarpon, bonefish are quite popular game fish. Bonefishing, as it is called, is an art. Learn what else makes this fish so unique.
Relatives – Not only does this fish share a “popular” status in the fishing world with tarpons, but it also shares a bloodline. The closest relatives of the Albulidae family include the tarpons and ladyfishes.
Speed – Bonefish are strong and fast. A bonefish can reach speeds of 30 mph and reach top speed quickly. You will see a spooked bonefish travel a 100 yards before you even finish your cast.
Unique Snout - Bonefish have a unique snout. The bonefish’s inferior mouth and conical nose extend a third of its length beyond the mandible and is used to dig through the seabed to root up its prey. Bonefish have granular teeth, forming specialized dental plates, cover the upper jaw, tongue and throat. Bonefish use these modified teeth to grind mollusks and crustaceans.
Migration – When you picture a migration, you might imagine a sea turtle crossing the ocean. Bonefish make short daily migrations. A bonefish follows the tide from coastal waters to the shallow mudflats to hunt for food.
People enjoy fishing for bonefish so much that they have given the sport its own name, Bonefishing! Bonefishing is done stalking the fish, either by wading or poling a shallow draft boat, and sight-casting at schools or individual fish spotted cruising or tailing in skinny water.
Bonefish spook easy! Anglers need a stealthy approach and accurate casts delivered just far enough ahead to keep from spooking an incoming school or individual bonefish. When fishing for mudding fish in water waist-high or deeper, natural or artificial offerings must be cast on the outskirts of the mud and worked very slowly across it to not alarm the feeding fish.
Bonefishing techniques range from fly fishing to light tackle and everything in between. Baits, like live shrimp and small crabs, or cut conch (in the Bahamas) are popular choices. A variety of lures, from skimmer jigs to small soft-plastic shrimp and crab imitations, ranging in weight from 1/16- to ¼-ounce, work well also. And there’s a wide range of proven flies, from old standards like the Clouser Minnow and Crazy Charlie to more innovative patterns like the Borski Bonefish Slider, Dorsey Kwan and many more.
During different times of day, bonefish occupy different types of habitats. When they are not hunting for food, bonefish live in deeper waters, down to about 300 ft. or so. As the tide comes in, the fish swim up into the shallow mudflats to search for food. You can find them in waters as shallow as 4 in. deep!
Bonefish live throughout portions of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Its range extends from southern Florida through the Bahamas, Cuba, and the surrounding islands. From there, it extends to northern South America and along the coasts to Central America and southern Mexico.
Bonefish are carnivores, which means that they eat other animals. They hunt primarily in the shallow mudflats, feeding on crabs, shrimp, small fish, and various invertebrates like worms and snails. When bonefish are hunting, they break off on their own, in pairs, or in small groups to search for prey.