Bonefishing

by Capt. Mike Bartlett

Bonefishing

Fly fishing for bonefish on the flats is probably the most popular type of sportfishing sought after by saltwater fly anglers worldwide; more so than it is for the other flats species, such as tarpon and permit. I'm not citing any official survey or study--these findings are pure speculation, based on what I've seen, heard, and read on the subject over the years. It makes sense, however, as the bonefish are widely distributed throughout the shallows of the tropic and subtropic waters worldwide.

Just in the proximity of the U.S. alone, one can relatively easily travel to the Bahamas, Belize, islands of the Caribbean, and, of course, the Florida Keys to fish for bonefish.  For those willing to flip the bill and travel to hard to reach destinations, there are places like the Seychelles and the western Pacific Ocean to consider.

Bonefish are available year round, especially in the tropical regions of their distribution where the waters are warm all year long.  Their abundance is unlike tarpon in the Keys, for example, where the main season is only a few months long.  

Bonefish are more numerous and much easier to catch on fly than tarpon and, especially, permit.  Though they do present difficulties in varying situations, if you can manage to get a fly in front of a bonefish, it will more than likely eat your presentation, especially when schooled up.  With tarpon and permit, a perfect presentation doesn't ensure an eaten fly--many have simply turned away.  Also, bonefish are much quicker and easier to land than a tarpon or permit due to there lack of mass.  It would be interesting to tangle with a 30 pound bonefish; they just don't get that big.  Though, I imagine those bonefish weighing in the teens, like we get in the Upper Keys, put up one hell of a fight.

So, what about bonefishing around Key West?  Well, it's awesome!!!  

Historically, Islamorada, the Upper Keys, and the Bahamas were the go to places for bonefish. Key West was better known for its tarpon and permit fishing.  Even when I first started fishing here just over 17 years ago, we really didn't see that many bonefish, especially west of Key West.  But, man. has that changed; these things are everywhere now! 

What has caused this change over the years, I have no idea.  It could be a factor of many conditions such as weather patterns, water quality, and food availability.  Or, it could be the fact that in the last ten years I have spent way more time on the water than during my first several years living here.  One thing I am certain of, though,  is that in 2006, the year after Hurricane Wilma hit, bonefishing around Key West was incredible—the best that I had seen in my time in the Keys and has remained excellent to this day.  Not only can we find bonefish on just about any given flat near Key West to the Marquesas, they are available year round.  Yes, even during the winter months when the water can get quite chilly, we can still find bonefish at times.  Now I wouldn't plan a bonefishing trip in January, but I have had some spectacular days.

Bonefishing will be better during the warmer months of the year, typically March through November with the best times being roughly June through October.  When summer conditions begin to wane, September and October are the months when we typically find the biggest bonefish of the year.  

So, if you are looking for a fun fishing trip to somewhere warm and salty, Key West is only a couple flights away.  And with good fishing and fewer people around town and on the water, late summer and fall make Key West the place to be.




Capt. Mike Bartlett
Capt. Mike Bartlett

Author

Capt. Mike Bartlett runs shallow water sight fishing charters for tarpon, bonefish, permit, barracudas and sharks in Key West. Reach him at 305-797-2452 or on the web at www.keywestflats.net



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