This blog is not a bonefishing record nor an advisory centre, let alone a place where my own fishing incompetencies are revealed more than absolutely necessary. You will find all you need about Abaco bonefishing on HQ’s website DELPHI BONEFISHING. However, because in many respects the fishing goes with the other natural history of Abaco, from time to time I post about it or incorporate it into a post.
For anyone wanting to get direct to these items, I have made the index below to take you direct to the relevant page.
BONE CATCHER? Abaco Challenge: the Mark 2 Bonefish Fly Design
BONE ALONE’S SUGGESTIONS FOR A BONEFISH HANDLING STANDARD
A Practical and Ethical Approach to the Catch & Release of Bonefish written by Bone Alone, Inspired by his Love of Bonefishing, Bonefish and their Environment. Edited, added to and generally “mucked about with” by ‘Bonefish Graham’
The advice that follows is primarily intended for D.I.Y anglers fishing on foot and may be less relevant to anglers fishing from boats with competent and ethical guides, but we hope you will read it anyway and find some of it useful…
Before Setting Off
1. De-barb or crush the barbs on the flies that you will be taking with you – that way you can be sure that if you need to change flies in a hurry the fly you put on will be barbless.
2. Choose strong tackle so that you can land fish quickly. Use at least 12lb tippet if using a #8 outfit. If conditions demand lighter tippet (8lb or 10lb), avoid breakages by matching to a lighter outfit (#6 or #7).
3. Check all knots.
4. Make sure you have forceps and/or a suitable disgorger on your person.
5. A tape measure is also useful so that you can measure a fish without removing it from the water.
1. Don’t fish in places where you have little or no chance of landing the fish, such as in the mangroves – you don’t want to leave fish caught up. A tethered fish will almost certainly die a slow death or be taken by a predator.
Also, avoid areas known to be barracuda or shark hotspots, even if a big school of bones is sat there. It isn’t nice or sporting to reel in half a bonefish.
2. Before your first cast, and after changing flies, check your fly is barbless and check your knots.
Playing the Fish
1. Play the fish to land it as quickly as possible. The longer you play the fish, the more exhausted it will be when you eventually land it, and the greater danger of attracting predators during the fight.
2. If a shark or barracuda chases your bonefish, you should pull for a break immediately. Simply slackening your drag to give the bonefish a chance of outrunning a predator seldom works – it only delays the inevitable. Bonefish are fast but ‘cudas and sharks will outrun a bonefish over a short distance, particularly one that’s dragging 100ft of fly-line behind it!
Landing the Fish
1. Be deliberate and methodical, try not to let the fish go round your legs and thrash about. If you have a buddy with you, don’t be afraid to ask him to catch hold of the fish.
2. Avoid “beaching” a fish and never, ever beach or lay a fish on a dry or stony beach for any reason.
Handling the Fish
Bonefish fight as hard as they do on the flats because they are trying to escape to the safety of deep water. They are tired and traumatised when you land them so treat them with the respect they deserve…
1. Try not to remove them from the water, they are fragile when out of their natural element.
2. When in the water you only need to support the fish under its belly with its mouth and gills submerged, it will sit there while it regains its breath. Lightly stroking the top of the fish’s head seems to calm it down.
3. If you take the fish out of the water, use both hands. Support the fish under its belly with one hand, and hold the fish at the “wrist” of its tail with your other hand. Hold your own breath whilst you have it out of the water, this will remind you of what the fish is feeling whilst out of its natural environment. Remember the fish has just run the equivalent of a marathon just before you lifted it out of the water!
4. Be very careful with the fish’s gill area, don’t ever put your fingers under its gill covers, or flare the gills with your fingers or hands. Gills are very sensitive and damage to this area is usually fatal for the fish after you have returned them.
5. Never clamp your hand over the fish’s gill plates. They can’t breath if they can’t open their gills.
6. Any lip-gripping devices such as Boga Grips used to lift or restrain a bonefish will kill a high percentage of fish they are used on. Lifting a bonefish by its lip will cause the “tongue” to separate from the mouth, rendering it unable to feed properly and therefore condemning it to a slow death. It’s a fact. Lip-gripping devices were not designed to be used on bonefish, or any fish lacking a rigid jaw structure. Don’t perpetuate the myth that “if guides use them they must be OK”. The evils of these devices have been kept secret for far too long. Spread the word!
Unhooking the Fish
1. If possible do not take the fish out of the water. To avoid this, assuming you are right handed, support the fish under its belly with your left hand, your rod can be clamped between your upper right arm and your body, leaving your right hand free to remove the fly, using a disgorger or forceps if necessary.
2. If this fails because the fish is deep-hooked or struggling, turn the fish onto its back (this has a calming effect and also allows you to see further into its mouth). If you still can’t remove the fly within a few seconds, cut the line as near to the fly as you can. Hopefully the bonefish will eject the barbless hook.
Photographing the Fish
1. If you need to take a photo, only remove the fish from the water after you or your buddy have the camera ready, and everything is properly arranged.
2. The best pictures are taken with fish lifted just a few inches above the water. They look good in these close-to-the-water shots due to the perspective, and the water dripping off the fish proves that the fish has only been out of the water for a second or two, also that you care about its welfare. Photos of fish on beaches never look as good as these!
3. Only hold the fish above water for the photo, and never above coral or rocks (in case you drop it).
4. If you’re on your own and want a photo or two, keep the fish in the water, get your camera out of your pocket or bag one- handed (practice doing this at home) then, assuming you’re right handed, clamp your rod between your upper right arm and your body (or simply dump it in the water), hold the camera in your right hand and switch it on. Partially lift the fish’s head and shoulders out of the water with your left hand, take one photo and lower the fish back into the water. You can do this two or three times with the fish out of the water for just a few seconds.
5. If you’re on shore and alone and want to photograph a really special bonefish, place the fish in shallow water or, as a last resort, on wet sand/seaweed for a very quick snapshot.
Weighing the Fish
1. We do not generally weigh our fish because weighing necessitates carrying scales and a suitable sling or large bag to contain the fish. It also involves unnecessary handling and the fish being out of the water.
2. Never, ever use a Boga Grips or similar lip-gripping device to lift or weigh a bonefish. It is now believed that every bonefish weighed or lifted by these devices will be fatally injured!
3. Far better to measure the fish, return it straight away, and refer to a weight-for-length table later.
Releasing the Fish
1. Be alert to the presence of predators whilst releasing your fish. Some people believe that bonefish give off a scent trail to predators when their protective slime has been disturbed by handling… another good reason for not removing them from the water. Don’t release a fish until you’re sure it’s strong enough. Releasing a fish too soon can be a death sentence. Studies at the Cape Eleuthera Institute have shown that a high percentage of bonefish that have been released before full recovery will be taken by predators.
2. You should be in the water with the fish, preferably kneeling down next to it.
3. Hold the fish in the water by clasping the “wrist” area just above the tail with one hand while supporting its body (well behind the gill area) with your other hand until the fish starts to “kick”. At this point it no longer needs supporting so you can remove your hand from its body but continue to hold the wrist gently until it pulls away strongly.
4. Enjoy your time in the water with the fish before the moment you release it. If you have a waterproof camera, this could be a good time to use it! Watch it go away until it melts back into its environment. It’s one of the best bonefishing experiences!
Before the Next Cast
1. Check your leader for damage.
2. Check the hook for damage.
3. Check all knots.
4. Check again for the presence of predators.
Please treat the fragile flats environment with the respect it deserves. Don’t leave litter, especially line. Discarded nylon takes years to degrade and it’s believed that fluorocarbon will last 1,000 years! How many creatures would it kill in that time? Why not take a plastic carrier bag folded up in your pocket, then pick up litter on your way back to the car? Drinks cans, plastic bottles & food wrappers etc don’t weigh much, and if all you have done during a days fishing is pick up litter, your day won’t have been wasted!
Enjoy your fishing, but try to remember that you are a visitor in this environment. If we all respect and look after the fish and the flats, hopefully they will still be there for future generations to enjoy.
Thank you for reading this. If you would like to suggest any way we can improve this page for the benefit of bonefish (apart from not going bonefishing at all) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
THE ROLLING HARBOUR GUIDE TO 5 ‘EARLY CATCH & RELEASE’ METHODS
- ‘THE PHANTOM CATCH’ As the fish follows the fly, and the instant before it commits to a lunge for it, abruptly whisk the fly away from under its nose with a sharp reflex ‘trout-strike’. This will ensure that both the fish and your fly remain untroubled by actual contact. This is the most advanced form of Early C&R.
- ‘THE BIG MISSED TAKE’ As the fish takes your fly firmly in its mouth, become preoccupied by the fact that your left foot is planted firmly on a horrid tangle of line around your feet. You will feel the solid take, but instantly realise that your retrieve is hopelessly compromised. With some relief, you feel the line go slack as the fish shakes itself free…
- ‘THE REEL THING’ Hook the fish. Feel the weight on the end of the line. It’s heavy. Nice one! Turn in muted triumph to your boat partner to shout excitedly “Got One”. As you do so, allow the line somehow to snag round the rod handle and the reel simultaneously. Before you have even begun to figure how to sort this out, the fish will have released itself and be heading for the horizon.
- ‘THE STICKY SITUATION’ Hook the fish. Reel in confidently, keeping the line taut and the fish under your masterful control. Allow it to run if it wishes. Proceed with the same efficiency until you notice a single mangrove stem sticking out of the water 30 feet away. Using your skill, ensure that the fish suddenly has the chance to move to the other side of the stick, winding the leader or line (either will do) round it. Prepare for the ‘twang’ when the inevitable break occurs. Your fish is away.
- ‘THE MANGROVE SWAMP’ Hook a fish. Play it competently until the moment your boat partner or guide gives you some word of encouragement or (worse) praise. Immediately, permit the fish to make a fast break for the nearest clump of mangroves even if it is over 100 feet away. The consequent entanglement round the myriad stems will be sure to lose you the fish and your fly. NOTE: all third party encouragement will diminish after this form of EC&R. Praise will not be repeated.
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