Onshore, Muddy Flats
4 - 16 pounds
16" - 41"
Bonefish have an elongated, torpedo-shaped body with silvery scales. 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 exceptionally well with the grass covering many flats' bottom. The sleek body and bottom have bright silvery scales that reflect the ocean bottom like a mirror. This 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 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.
Bonefish live throughout portions of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea. Its range extends from Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay, Bahamas, Caribbean, Cuba, and Florida coasts.
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. As the tide comes in, the fish swim up into the shallow mudflats to search for food. You can find them in water as shallow as 4 inches deep.
Adult bonefish typically measure between 16 - 40 inches. Most weigh 6 - 8 pounds on average, but some reach up to 16 pounds. As adults, females grow larger than males and live up to 20 years.
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 (skiff), 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 mud's outskirts and worked very slowly across it, so you don't alarm the feeding fish.
Tailing is one of those exciting events that should be on top of every angler's bucket list. Tailing occurs when a single or group of bonefish are in shallow water, usually the flats, and digging the ocean bottom looking for food. They use their tails for leverage to dig and search the bottom for crustaceans, their tails slapping the water for power and balance.
When fishing for tailing Bonefish, sight fishing for the specific fish will provide more success. Be careful of casting to the middle of a large school that will spook easy. If you see a large group tailing, assume there are more fish around the edges. Try and track the direction and speed of those fish.
On approach, start placing your fly, live bait, or jig on the edges targeting specific fish. The cast needs to be delicate and precise. If you question your skill at that distance, give a few feet not to spook the fish. Work patterns from the outer edges in, from side to side, and always sight-target a specific fish—the more precise the approach, the more likely the catch.
There is some variation on tidal impact, but typically Bonefish are feeding/tailing around low tides. You can also find them at high tides, but they will be around the edges where it is more shallow. You will find these fish will be feeding across the current and moving fast in alternating patterns.
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, also work well.
The top 8 flies include the Gotcha (shrimp pattern), Crazy Charlie (shrimp), Peterson's Spawning Shrimp, Bonefish Slider Fly, Vervaka Mantis Shrimp, Pillow Talk, Christmas Island Special, and the Alphlexo Crab.
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.
Bonefish are carnivores. They hunt primarily in the shallow mudflats, feeding on crabs, shrimp, small fish, and various invertebrates like worms and snails. When hunting, they break off on their own, in pairs, or in small groups to search for prey.