Updated on May 9, 2022
Bonefish can be found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, but the best place to hook one is in the Keys. The Florida Keys are known for being an anglers paradise, with bonefish accounting for a majority of the trips that are run. Even though the Keys have an abundance of these elusive fish, tt doesn’t make catching one less challenging.
Bonefish are an elusive fish that are highly regarded by anglers in their difficulty to catch. They have silver sides, slightly darker blue or olive backs, stripes down their side, and a very streamlined body. This body shape allows them to reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, which helps them evade predators and anglers in a flash. Their speed can work against you by taking out all of your line in a matter of seconds.
Two unique characteristics of bonefish are their lung-like air bladders that help them tolerate shallower water with less oxygen, along with a strong aversion to noise. Bonefish vary in size depending on what area they are in. In Florida and the Bahamas, they will typically grow to four to six pounds. Regardless of where you find them, bonefish reach sexual maturity between three and four years, but can live up to 19 years.
Bonefish live in tropical and subtropical waters of the United States and much of the world. When it is low tide, bonefish will head to deeper waters, up to around 300 feet. When the tide comes back in, they will follow it to search shallow water to hunt for food by swimming in mudflats as little as four inches deep.
Bonefish can be fished for all year, however the bigger fish move to deeper water in the hotter months. The peak season for catching big bonefish usually runs from around mid May to September when the water temperatures are warmer. When they move to the flats during high tide, food is the only thing on their mind. This is the perfect time to target them. This makes checking the tide charts critical to a successful outing.
Fishing for bonefish can be done on the fly or with light tackle, but in order to reach them, a skiff is almost always required. These fish hang out in inches of water and are very skittish, but skiffs are made to barely sink into the water and prevent waves from slapping the hull. No matter what method you use, be sure to be especially careful when moving in on bonefish because they’re easily spooked, particularly when schooling.
Chumming the water with shrimp, crab, or cut conch to distract them is a great option if it’s permitted where you plan to fish. Natural baits such as shrimp or crabs are incredibly effective, but artificial lures such as flatheaded skimmer jigs, plugs, or flies can also seal the deal.
Sight-casting for schools, or stalking individual bonefish that are cruising or tailing is a great start. Tailing means a bonefish is digging up prey from the bottom, but the shallow water causes their tail to stick out above the surface. They use their tails for leverage to dig, by slapping the water for balance.
Once bonefish are located, cast your bait just in front of the fish. The more confident you are in your aim, and your ability to lay it down gracefully, the closer you can aim to the fish.
Bonefish, like their name suggests, are full of bones, making them difficult to clean. Also, bonefish over six inches long are toxic to humans because they contain high levels of clupeotoxin. For both these reasons, bonefish are better off being caught and released.
Taking on a new area is a difficult task on its own with different species, environments, and behavior all working against you. If you want the best shot at hooking up with a bonefish in the Keys, check out our guided trips. Guides have been targeting these fish for years and know where to find them and what they want to eat. If you want to check bonefish off your bucket list, the Keys are the best place to do it.