Flats Hunter 101: Finding Bonefish
The most important ingredient when searching for bonefish on the flats, whether you are wading or in a boat, is polarized sunglasses. A good pair of polarized sunglasses will pay for themselves ten times over. Without this vital accessory, spotting bonefish that aren’t tailing is nearly impossible. The preferred shade is a yellowish amber hue that works as well on sunny days as it does on overcast ones. The amber hue builds contrast and appears to sharpen your vision. Some people find the amber hue uncomforting on sunny days so you should experiment until you find the combination that works best for your specific needs.
There are three crucial ingredients to finding a productive flat for bonefish.
The first and most important is temperature. Nothing makes a bonefish happier than warm water. When the temperature of a flat drops below 70 degrees or exceeds 90 degrees, the bonefish seem to disappear.
The second vital factor of a productive flat is moving water. A strong current helps the bonefish easily find his food through sight and smell. Healthy flats that have a strong water flow and deep channels nearby are the most likely to hold bones. Deep channels assist the flat in the flooding and draining of water while also offering the fish a safe escape route from predators.
The third element of a productive flat is life. Flats that are teeming with all types of critters are nine times out of ten holding bones. An effective technique to optimize your search for a successful flat is to scan the waters for rays, sharks, crabs and other signs of life. If you are on a flat for half an hour and see no movement or life, your best bet is to head to another spot.
The depth of the water is the determining factor for your spotting technique for bonefish. When the water is less than a foot deep you should scan the surface for tailers. When the water is shallow the bonefish’s tail can be seen above the water line as he buries his head in the sand looking for food. Another common sight when bonefish are in shallow water is a visible wake or “v” on the surface as they skim along the flats You can also spot this wake when they are in deeper water as a school moves along.
On a flat that is deeper than a foot, you should be scanning the bottom, not the surface. As their namesake suggests, bonefish underwater resemble grey shadows or ghosts that move erratically. They often appear as cigar-shaped shadows or torpedoes that are just barely noticeable from the surroundings.
Finding bonefish in varying conditions is an artform that is acquired through experience and time. The nuances that reflect in the looking glass of the flats can take a lifetime to learn so don’t get discouraged. Even the most veteran guides are humbled occasionally by an explosion of unseen bones as they craftily remind you just who owns the flats!
Casting to Bonefish