Bonefish - a great Florida game fish
As I See It
Friday, May 28, 2010
Being a lifelong resident of the Sunshine State and
the current chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission, one of the things that make me the proudest is that
Florida is acknowledged as the "Fishing Capital of the World."
A big reason for this recognition is that our
coastal waters teem with so many popular game fishes, including
snook, tarpon, marlin, redfish, and one of my special favorites:
South Florida is one of the few places in the
country where anglers can enjoy fishing for bonefish. The
shallow, saltwater flats of Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys are
famous for trophy-sized bonefish catches, and some people call
bonefish the "gray ghosts of the flats," because they are quick and
crafty and a challenge to catch.
The University of Miami recently studied the
economic impact of bonefish and found that a single fish in the
Florida Keys is valued to be worth $3,500 each year. Since
bonefish can live more than 20 years, that fish can be worth about
$75,000 to Florida's economy over its lifespan.
Fortunately, most bonefish anglers understand the
importance and value of this species as a game fish in
Florida. That's why they usually release the bonefish they
catch so that others can enjoy catching it again and again, year
That's also why bonefish have been protected in
Florida since 1988, when its commercial harvest and sale was
prohibited and a daily recreational bag limit per angler of one
bonefish 18 inches or greater in fork length was established.
And, it's why my commission colleagues and I recently agreed to
implement new rules that will provide more protection for bonefish
to help preserve Florida's valuable bonefish resource.
The newly approved regulations go a step further to
protect bonefish by including all species of bonefish in our
management rules to help ensure they are all protected in Florida
waters, extending our bonefish regulations into adjacent federal
waters to aid enforcement and enhance bonefish protection, and
requiring bonefish to be landed in whole condition to help officers
in the field identify bonefish and aid in enforcement of bag and
This action was our way of emphasizing how
important the bonefish fishery is to Florida anglers, visitors and
South Florida's recreational fishing industry. These
regulations also help us maintain a healthy and sustainable
population of bonefish in Florida for everyone to enjoy.
Several kinds of bonefish can be found in Florida
waters, but anglers mostly catch the common bonefish. Not
much is known about other species of bonefish, but bigeye bonefish
have been seen in Florida waters as juveniles and leave before they
become fully grown. Our research staff is now working in
partnership with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust to identify and
assess juvenile bonefish habitats in South Florida.
Bonefish become adults by the age of 3-4 years,
when they are about a foot and a half in length and they can grow
up to 3 feet long and weigh 15 pounds. Peak bonefish season
usually runs from March through October, but they can be caught
pretty much anytime in the Keys. Bonefish are thought to
spawn in deep water or offshore from November through May.
Anglers often spot bonefish "tailing" on the flats,
which means they have their head down looking on the bottom for
food to eat, leaving their tail out of the water. Anglers
often like to use a pole to quietly push their boat or carefully
wade through shallow sand flats where bonefish are usually found,
and they prefer to use live crabs and shrimp or artificial lures
and flies to attract bonefish.
It's also important to cast your line just right,
because you can spook a bonefish if you cast too close to it, but
if you cast too far from the fish, it might not see your bait or
lure. And if you're skillful enough to capture your prey,
always remember to carefully handle and release the fish if you
decide not to keep it to help ensure its survival upon release.
So the next chance you get, grab your line and
gear, head to the flats, and see if you can track down a "gray
ghost," truly one of Florida's wonderful treasures.
Visit the FWC's Bonefish page.