Recently, I fished Hawaii again, chasing bones the size of the ships pulling into Pearl Harbor. I fished a tan Ververka’s Mantis Shrimp the whole time, and contrary to popular practice there, I fished in close to the shore on the incoming and high tides. All the other fishermen fished midway or out on the edge of the flats while I remained in close. What made me think I could go against the popular techniques: respect the fish and get into their head. Over five days, I took shots at numerous large bonefish. I finished the trip hooking up to five and landing three, the small one went about eight and a half pounds. You’ve got to think like a fish.
Critical to success on the flats is a basic understanding your target species behavior. Armed with this knowledge, the fisherman knows where to fish, when to fish and how to “match the hatch”. Even though bones seem a superior intellect operating against the fisherman, bonefish are, in fact, still fish. That means they are really focused on a few things; eating, staying alive and making more bonefish. A basic understanding of their needs and behaviors increases your chances of success. While there are not large volumes on bonefish behavior, we do know quite a bit and there are many good references describing bonefish behavior on the flat. In Chico Fernandez’s Fly Fishing for Bonefish Dr. Aaron Adams provides one of the best and easiest to understand overviews of bonefish biology and behavior.
When you understand what a bonefish is doing on the flat, you begin to look at a flat differently, and look a broad range of things. Instead of looking just for bonefish, you look for other clues. You begin to pick up on things you might not have noticed before, the color of the two inch deeper channel, the height of the algae on the mangrove roots, plovers and sandpipers stalking the shallows looking for crabs, the crab or mantis shrimp burrowing in the flat. Each of these clues add more to the puzzle of locating and catching bonefish. Learning to read the flat, much like reading a river, but with a bonefish’s eye not only enhances your fishing skills but also makes the day more enjoyable. Locating channels, noticing the currents, studying the bottom type and the Bonefish prey living there forces you to see things you might not have noticed before.
In the end, understanding the Bonefish and putting that knowledge into practice makes you realize the intricacy and complexity of life on the flats and how fragile the balance is. To learn more a whole lot more, check out A Fly Fisherman’s Guide to Saltwater Prey and The Fisherman’s Coast both by Aaron Adams, or check out his websites The Fisherman’s Coast and Tribal Bonefish.