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December 02, 2011

9 Offbeat Bonefish Tricks

Crazy-like-a-fox bonefishing techniques that really work

6. Silence Is Golden

Bonefish often spook at obvious noise, such as footfall on the boat deck or the slamming of hatches. But Valverde goes several steps further to eliminate noise.

The plotter/depth finder on his console has the GPS, temperature gauge and plotter functions hooked up. Valverde disabled the depth-finder feature because it makes a clicking noise in the water when it’s on. That clicking has cost him fish.

That’s not the only noise he ­eliminates. Valverde keeps live shrimp in an aerated livewell. When he spots bonefish from his poling tower, he turns off the aerator with a switch he installed on the platform. He turns it back on when a bonefish is hooked or the fish depart.

7. Too Close to Cast

Sometimes bonefish schools show up unexpectedly, or the angler on the front of his boat is unable to see the fish until they’re so close to the boat that making a cast would spook them. When that happens, Valverde does nothing.

Instead, he lets the school swim past the boat. After all, he says, bonefish are used to seeing trees and logs, so the boat won’t necessarily spook them. Once the fish have passed, Valverde repositions his boat so his angler can cast to the fish.

8. Braid Means More Fish

Most bonefish guides don’t use braided line, preferring monofilament, because they think the braid spooks fish. As Valverde learned when his angler caught a bonefish using a wire leader, bonefish really don’t care what you use for your line or leader, because they can’t see it when it’s on the bottom.

Valverde uses 7½-foot extra fast-action graphite rods with Pflueger Supreme spinning reels spooled with 10-pound Sufix braided line. He likes the braid, because it holds up better than monofilament when it comes in contact with rocks, vegetation and coral. “I don’t care about world records,” he says. “I care about my customers getting fish to the boat.”

He ties 18 inches of 20-pound ­fluorocarbon leader to the braid to protect the bonefish from the skin-cutting braid when the fish heads for the horizon.

9. Expose the Hook

Many bonefish guides bury the hook in a live shrimp, hooking it Texas-style like a bass angler hooks a plastic worm by inserting the hook point at the tail end, pulling it out and down, then turning the hook and inserting the point into the body of the shrimp. That makes the shrimp weedless.

“But fish still miss the hook,” Valverde says. “So I leave it exposed.”

He pinches off the shrimp’s tail, which provides a little scent, inserts the hook point and threads the shrimp on the hook, bringing the point out the side of the shrimp’s body.

Because he has his anglers keep the shrimp on the bottom instead of hopping or jigging it along, snagging something on the exposed hook is not a concern.

“I like to leave the shrimp on the bottom and let a fish pick it out of the grass,” he says. Sometimes a tiny bump is required by the angler — and then it’s usually game on!

About the Author Steve Waters is the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando, Florida. A frequently frustrated bonefish angler, his stories are at

Bonus Tips

Looking Good
Tailing bonefish on a shallow flat are easy to see, but ­spotting bonefish as they swim in deeper water takes practice and a good pair of polarized sunglasses, which cut glare and let you see into the water.

“People spend $1,200 on a fly outfit, but they will not spend $150 on sunglasses,” says Capt. Jorge Valverde, who keeps several pairs of glasses with different-colored lenses in his boat.

When fishing the flats, Valverde likes sunglasses with amber or vermilion lenses. In low-light situations — like when the sun is obscured by clouds — Valverde uses glasses with yellow lenses.

Let Needlefish Eat
Many bonefish guides and anglers get ­frustrated when a bonefish is near and a needlefish picks up the bait. Typically, the angler rips the shrimp out of the needlefish’s mouth as it swims away.

Valverde instructs his anglers to let the needlefish take the bait, because that gets the attention of the bonefish.

“When the needlefish starts to run, the bonefish figures, ‘Ah, he’s got something,’ and goes after the needlefish,” Valverde says. “The needlefish freaks and drops the bait, and the bonefish gets it.”

Make Your Move
Unless you’re a really good bonefish angler, don’t try to move your live shrimp as a bonefish approaches the bait.

“I would rather you leave it and not screw things up,” says Capt. Greg Poland of Islamorada. “If the fish is looking at the shrimp and you move it, it’s going to spook.”

If you must move the shrimp to get a bonefish to notice it, Poland says to reel your rod tip down to the water, then very slowly lift the rod tip and let it drop. That’s all it takes for a bonefish to find the shrimp.

Not Rhodes Scholars
Capt. Carl Ball of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, uses 10-pound braided line when he fishes for bonefish and says he feels people give bonefish too much credit.

“You hear people say that you have to use 12-pound ­fluorocarbon to catch a bonefish. One day on Biscayne Bay, I saw some girls holding up an 8-pound bonefish. I know they didn’t know what they were doing; they weren’t in a flats boat — they just had a dead shrimp on the bottom. I use a 20-pound leader, and I don’t think they even see the braid,” Ball says.

Booking Your Bonefish Trip

Some Florida bonefish guides have a reputation for being a little highstrung, but that’s not necessarily a sign of expertise. Here are three easygoing guides who also excel at putting their customers on bonefish:

Capt. Carl Ball
Fort Lauderdale

Capt. Greg Poland

Capt. Jorge Valverde
Cooper City