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Life List: Catch a Bonefish in the Florida Keys

Bonefishing in the Florida Keys

As bonefishing trips go, things were running as expected: quietly. Fernand Braun, a guide for the Little Palm Island Resort & Spa off Little Torch Key, was ferrying clients as they made unsuccessful casts that scattered schools of the elusive fish. They were close to their self-imposed noon turn-around time when one client hooked a bonefish on its dorsal fin. Braun expected the typical 20-minute war of attrition, so he asked the man struggling with the spry, nine-pound fish why he had to return by noon. The client said he was getting married. Braun asked if he should cut the line so they could return on time. Absolutely not, the groom-to-be said. Such is the allure of this premier gamefish, a species that calls the shallow sandy flats of the Keys their home.

About the Florida Bonefish

Called the “Grey Ghost” or “Silver Bullet” of the flats, bonefish account for about 95 percent of the recreational fishery in the Keys (BTT’s Annual Bonefish Census estimates a total population of 320,000), but they are almost transparent to the naked eye. Bonefish mature at three to four years of age, may live longer than 23 years, and can grow to be three feet long and 15 pounds.

The Allure of the Lure

They remain elusive because of their legendary skittishness, a result of a life on the run from lemon sharks, osprey, and other predators. Sure, there are bigger species to catch in the Keys, like the tarpon, which can weigh more than 100 pounds, but few are harder to catch. Therein lies their appeal, according to Dr. Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation for the Key Largo–based Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) and an avid bonefisherman: “If it’s too easy, it’s not worth it.”

What You’ll Need

“If you want to do it yourself, you can be here for months before you see anything,” says Braun, who insists that enlisting the help of a guide is key, since the flats are always changing depths with the tides. Couple that with unwavering patience and a cast refined over months in your backyard, and you just might have a chance. Keep in mind, though, that true bonefishermen employ a strict catch-and-release policy for the horrible-tasting fish. No matter; the real trophy here will be the most epic of fish tales for years to come.

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