Fishing for Bonefish in the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park

bonefish - Capt. Geoff W ColmesThe Florida Keys are synomonmis with big bonefish; the average size of bonefish in South Florida and the Florida Keys range from six to nine pounds and ten to twelve pound bonefish are common. Large bonefish, weighing in from thirteen to fourteen pounds rarely raise an eyebrow and are here year round, conditions permitting.

Ranging from Biscayne Bay to the Lower Keys including the Marquesas, we stalk bonefish on the bayside and oceanside flats including flats and banks that extend deep into Florida Bay. Bonefish can also be found on the deeper edges of these flats and banks during lower tide phases. Most folks don't associate bonefish with the Everglades National Park but the fact is that a large portion of our prime bonefish habitat lies within the Parks boundaries.

Bonefish live throughout our region year round but can be weather dependent in the fall and winter. The Upper Keys however are a much better bet in the fall and winter than the middle and lower Keys. When the water temperature drops below 70 degrees during or after a cold front, bonefish can be hard to find and anglers should be flexible targeting a different species such as redfish. Fall and early spring are generally best for larger bonefish, late spring through the summer months are great for big numbers of "school" fish and it's still possible to find that BIG bonefish.

Bonefish on Fly and Light Tackle

Aside from the aforementioned challenges and rewards, sight fishing for bonefish is a great way to hone your casting skills for any species of fish on fly or spin tackle. In most cases there is a fine line between a perfect presentation and one that either spooks the fish or one that the fish doesn’t ever see. Most of the time the perfect presentation will be rewarded with a bite when using live bait… not always on fly, when a follow or some kind of positive reaction short of a bite is considered a moral victory. They can be selective when it comes to flies. The most important factors to consider aside form presentation is type – crab, shrimp, toad, minnow, size - #1, #2, #4… color and last but very important - weight.

Notes on Bonefishing

Bonefish are found in most shallow tropical and subtropical waters, where they inhabit tidal flats and coastal passes. Bonefish are essentially schooling fish: smaller bonefish can be seen in large schools on the flats; while, larger ones tend to be more solitary and form smaller schools or groups.

Our South Florida bonefish stock supports an economically important recreational fishery, renowned worldwide for its excellent bonefishing opportunities. In terms of outstanding catches, 16 of the 23 standing world records in the saltwater flyrod and saltwater line class categories were taken from the waters of the Florida Keys.In the Florida Keys.

Until recently it was thought that there was only one species of shallow water bonefish, Albula Vulpes. In 2001, however, genetics were used to identify a second species, called Albula species B or Albula Garcia. So far research shows that most bonefish caught by recreational anglers are now Albula Garcia, furthermore some tagged Albula Garcia from the Keys have been caught in the Bahamas. Research is ongoing to make sure this is true. This is important research to oganizations such as TarBone - it is important to know which species is/are in our fishery in order to have effective management.

Best Time

Ask any Keys fishing guide or seasoned angler and you will get lots of opinions... most are probably correct. Bonefish are available throughout the Florida Keys literally year round... but can be weather dependent in the late Fall and Winter during and after "extreme" drops in water temperature. Fall is notorious for BIG fish with Spring and Summer known for numbers of smaller fish but you can't count out that double-digit bonefish any time of the year.

Fishing Gear For Bonefish

Fly Fishing Gear

Level of difficulity on fly - intermediate to expert.

  • 8 to 9 weight fly outfits using a floating or clear floating line are best for the Florida Keys. Quality reels with smooth drags are essential for bonefishing.

Leaders for Bonefish

  • Leaders ranging from 9 to 14 feet tapering to 10 to 15 test pound Seaguar fluorocarbon.

Bonefish Flies

  • Flies for bonefish are as numerous as fishing guides opinions. A variety of toads, shrimp and crabs patterns are at the top on my list along with Clouser and small baitfish variations. Having a broad range of weighted flies is also important as fish may be found in varying water depth. Being able to match the bottom color is just as important.

Spining Gear

Level of difficulity on spin - novice to expert.

  • Seven foot med-light action spinning rods are perfect for casting live bait or artificials to bonefish. Quality spinning reels rigged with 10# mono or #2 or #4 diamiter braid (12 to 15lb. test) with superior drags are essential.