Bonefishing in Florida is one of the most exciting ways of experiencing the flats. Bonefish are skittish and famously hard to see, which makes them a challenging fish to hook. Their main habitats are clear waters often less than a foot deep. Living there allows them to easily notice any kind of threat early and quickly vanish. And with an average speed of 40 mph, they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.
Bonefish can use their air bladder to help them breathe in the shallows, allowing them to survive in only 6 inches of water. Younger Bonefish can be found in shoals, while mature specimens are more commonly solitary or in pairs. But even in groups, the blue-green color of their back makes them hard to see, thus earning them the nickname “grey ghost.”
In this article, we’ll tell you all about the best places to find Bonefish, when to go fishing and how to catch them. Let’s dive right in!
Where and When Can You Go Bonefishing in Florida
Bonefish are found in the southern parts of Florida, coming only as far north as Tampa. But the habitat most famous for its Bonefish are the Florida Keys. But since there are great fishing spots in other places too, we compiled a handy list for you. Here are the best places to go bonefishing in Florida:
- Key West: This island has been getting better and better for bonefishing. Specimens caught here are larger on average than the Bonefish along the coast of the mainland, but they’re also more careful and will evade you more easily. So they’re a bit of a challenge to catch. You’ll find Bonefish here year-round but the high season is between August and October.
- Miami: When you’re heading out from Miami, you’ll be spending your time looking for Bonefish in the southern half of Biscayne Bay. The fish here can still reach average sizes of 7 pounds. So no need to drive out to the Keys if you’re not already there. The best time to make a great catch is in spring from April to March, as well as from September to November.
- Tampa: In recent years, Bonefish have made their way up north along the coast and you can find them in Tampa Bay. While the fish you catch here may be smaller on average, if you’re looking to go for a well-rounded fishing trip, you’re in the right place. Alongside Bonefish, you will be able to find Permit, Grouper, Snook, and the legendary Tarpon.
- Islamorada: No other place in Florida is as popular and well suited for bonefishing as Islamorada. On top of that, the Bonefish here get as large as they can be. In fact, we counted a grand total of 18 IGFA world record specimens being caught here. And the Florida state record Bonefish of over 16 pounds got hooked here as well. If you want to reel in a big one, this is the right place for the job. Peak season runs from March to October.
How to Go Bonefishing in Florida
Now that you know where to go to find Bonefish you’ll probably want to know more about how to catch them. Bonefish are not the biggest fish out there, with usual catch sizes between 2–10 pounds. But once you hook one, you’ll be surprised by how fast they can run, taking your entire line with them in the process.
Whichever bonefishing technique you use, it can be helpful to distract the fish by chumming with shrimp, crab, or cut conch. Then you can sneak up on them, either on foot or by poling the boat forward. Be careful, since any kind of motor noise is likely to spook them. Look for their tails sticking out of the water or plumes of mud. Cast your line at a distance of 6–10 feet away from them, being careful not to cast over the fish. With that being said, here are the most common techniques for a successful bonefishing trip:
Spin fishing is the most common way you can get a Bonefish on your hook in Florida. This technique makes things simple and accessible for almost everybody. Your tackle should match the size of the fish. A 7 ft spinning rod with 8 to 12 lb test monofilament should do the trick. Make sure you have at least 200 yards of line on your reel, so you have enough for the fish to run.
When it comes to baits and lures, natural or even live bait is the better choice, though jigs can work as well. If you’re going with natural or live bait, shrimp is the way to go. Either dead or alive they’re sure to catch the eye (and nose) of the Bonefish of your choice. If you can’t get your hand on fresh shrimp, crab or conch are the next best thing to try.
If you’re up for a special challenge, then bonefishing with a fly rod might be for you. You’re good to go with an 8 to 9 wt fly rod as well as size 2 and larger hooks. Your choice of line is going to depend on the conditions you’re fishing in, your flies, and also your personal preference. Just make sure you bring enough of it, and that all your gear is suited for saltwater.
We already mentioned the size 2 hooks, which means the flies are big. Since Bonefish like to eat shrimp, plenty of the flies used for bonefishing imitate shrimp and crabs in color and size. The Borski Slider, Gotcha, or Enrico Puglisi’s Spawning Shrimp, and similar flies are all great choices.
Catch and Release
No matter what technique you’re using to catch Bonefish in Florida, you will have to release them back into the water. The University of Miami estimated the value of one single Bonefish over its lifespan at around $75,000. This makes them an incredibly important fish for the local economy. And since anglers prize Bonefish for their fighting qualities rather than their food value, releasing them benefits everyone involved.
But there are a few things to remember if you want to safely catch and release Bonefish:
- Use the right hooks. Make sure you’re using barbless hooks and opt for circle hooks to make releasing your catch as easy as possible for both you and the fish.
- Time the fight correctly. If you reel in your catch too quickly, the Bonefish may still be too strong and struggle, which will increase the chances of injury. If you take too much time, your fish may be too exhausted and vulnerable to sharks and other predators in the area.
- Keep an eye on the water temperature. Bonefish are sensitive to high water temperatures, with the upper limit being around 85°F. Reduce fights and handling times if the water temperature is around that limit.
- Handle the fish properly. Use your clean wet hands and avoid any mechanical devices. If you have to take the fish out of the water do so gently by supporting it from underneath. Don’t keep your catch out of the water for longer than 15 seconds.
- Release. Make sure there are no predators in the immediate vicinity when you release your fish. Use a live well to hold your catch while you move the boat if your current location is not safe for release.
If you want to read up on Bonefish conservation or download a handy guide on how to properly catch and release Bonefish, check out the website of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.
Bonefishing in Florida – A True Test of Skill
The “grey ghosts” of the flats are nothing short of spectacular. And Florida is the perfect place to catch them. The local Bonefish grow to astonishing sizes and are available all year round. What more could you ask for? So if you’re ready to test your skills as a sneaky and precise angler try bonefishing in Florida!
Have you fished for Bonefish in Florida before? Which technique do you prefer? Do you have some tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!