Bonefish Everywhere… Right?

Beautiful Bar Jack on a Bonefish Fly

June 28, 2000

It has been a continual source of surprise for me how many different species one can mistake for bonefish. To the neophyte any nervous water, splashes, wakes, or tails that appear on a flat are automatically “bones”. Man, nothing could be further from the truth. So far I’ve mistaken grunts, shads, mullets, jacks, barracuda, and even baby sharks for the coveted gray fox [1] , the “ghost of the flats”. I’ve come to realize that bonefish are seldom seen splashing or waking. Even in very shallow water they only present the subtlest of signs to the alert angler – perhaps an almost imperceptible disturbance and the occasional flicker of a tail or dorsal glinting in the setting sun – a sign easily missed by an ill-timed glance over your shoulder at jacks busting bait on the flat’s edge.

Of course, looking over your shoulder every once and a while can be a pretty good idea, especially on flats that border deeper water. These areas hold many young stingrays, a favorite food of sharks. Now, I’ve never heard of a fly fisherman getting attacked by a shark while wading the shallow grass flats, but they do wander into the shallows on high tides and can occasionally be seen cruising the edges. Hooked bonefish and snook that run off flats for open water can sometimes return to the angler as portions of their former selves – bleeding, severed heads ringing the dinner bell for all large predators in the area. About that time you want to find dry land pretty quick, but realize that the only way to shore is through the bog of the mangroves at your back or a few hundred yards around them.

The same thought process takes place when you look up from stalking a fish to see a tail and dorsal – both large, about four feet apart, and unmistakably shaped – slipping along the edge of your flat, barely a hundred feet away. You do some swift mental calculations and conclude that, one, the distance from tail to dorsal is only half the shark and, two, a hundred feet is not nearly enough distance between you and any fish that size.

That happened to me twice this weekend.

1 Albula Vulpes (lit. gray fox) is the scientific designation for the Atlantic bonefish. Derived from ablula, a word of indeterminate origin meaning gray and the Latin noun, vulpes or fox, this is one of the most aptly named fish I’ve ever encountered. To my mind foxes conjure vague notions of cunning and stealth. What’s more, they possess a natural shyness, an ability to make themselves scarce at the least sign of an unwelcome presence. Though solitary, at times they seem strangely playful, which makes sense in this context: foxes being more like cats than dogs and bonefish possessing the natural curiosity of the former. [back]

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  • Reply

    Dude, I do remember that day and what I can only describe as our “death-march”. Walked forEVER and saw nothing but a huge redfish lying in a pothole on the edge. I was like “what the hell is that?!!!”
    “What the hell is what?”
    “See that boil, see that blowout? That was huge redfish!… just sitting there!”
    “A redfish?”
    “Yes, r-e-d-fish; I swear!”

    Still swear on that, and for the record, I TOLD you to wear socks, buddy. Scarred for life, ha! That dude in his birthday suit was what was scarring!

  • natew

    D, remember our nude kayak friend reading his novel all by his lonesome on Long key point! Worse than a shark! ” I see lots of fish over there in the shallows.. all day” who knows where the hell he was pointing! Couldn’t bare the sight even if he knew the difference between mullet and bonefish. Hope he had sunscreen on those nuts?
    We saw nothing on that jaunt. Surprised sharks didn’t tract the blood oozing from under the straps of my Tevas. Scarred for life from that trip!

  • Reply

    […] and Seeing Things By bonefishbjorn New post from about seeing things on the flats… bonefish sometimes and the many other things you see out […]

  • Reply

    Gotta love wading in salt water. I have had a few encounters with our toothy friends. luckily it always turned out ok.
    Tight lines

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