By: Randy Morrow
For many decades, one of the most sought-after shallow water fish in the Florida Keys has been the gray ghost of the flats, a/k/a bonefish. Known for their spookiness and long, drag peeling runs, most of my anglers are stunned by the speed and endurance of these fish.
Recently, the number of bonefish, particularly the large ones, has spiked upward and made for some explosive, exciting sight-fishing in the shallows. With water temps cooling down from the blistering summer levels, the bones have had a strong presence on the Gulfside flats, and even stronger on the Atlantic side. Traditionally considered a spring/summer/fall (warm water) target, I’ve noticed them being more tolerant of cooler water in recent years, almost becoming a year-round possibility.
Winter cool fronts, especially the stronger ones, can push water temps down to 70 degrees or lower, and generally the bones will move off to deeper Atlantic water for more warmth and temperature stability. But if the flats water is in the mid 70s or above, you should be able to find targets. Now let’s talk a little about how to fool one with a lure or fly.
My workhorse fly for bonefish is a medium-weight, tan shrimp pattern with orange accents. I would say this gets the job done about 80 percent of the time. But on certain days, the fish seem to be more keyed-in on crabs, so I always have some small, weighted crab flies in my box. Generally I’ll throw the shrimp fly first and if I get 2 blunt refusals, I’ll immediately switch to the crab pattern. Presenting the fly about 2 feet in front of the fish with a short, medium speed strip usually makes the connection. But if you’re having trouble getting an eat, definitely mix up your stripping cadence, trying slower, longer strips, or faster strips and try to find what they are liking that day.
I find most of my bones in about 2 feet of water, but they will sometimes come in even more shallow, showing wakes and tails as they feed. In this scenario, I’ll switch a lighter, bead-chain fly. It’s the same shrimp pattern, just lighter weight. Conversely, there are days when you’ll find the fish in deeper water – 3 feet or more. For this you’ll want the same shrimp fly with a heavy barbell to get down to the fish quickly. So to really be ready, you’ll have 3 weights of shrimp flies in your box.
To target them with spinning tackle, I prefer a 1/4oz buck tail jig in tan or white. Add to that a thumbnail-sized piece of fresh (not frozen) shrimp, and you have a terrific rig for bones. Similar to the weight/depth issue in the last paragraph, you’ll want a lighter jig head (1/8oz) for skinny water and a heavier one (3/8oz) for deeper water.
As always, call, text or email if I can help you with your kayak fishing pursuits!
— Randy Morrow, Kayak Fishing Guide | LowerKeysKayakFishing.com
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