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October 25, 2001

Wandering Bones

Is it possible for bonefish for live as reef fish

Q: While discussing my favorite sport fish, the bonefish, with a friend who fishes and dives in the Florida Keys, I learned that divers sometimes spot bonefish on offshore reefs in 60 feet of water or more. I only know about casting for bonefish on the shoreline flats in very shallow water where bonefish tail. Is this the same species of bonefish found in both places? Is it possible to catch bonefish on the reef?
- Ralph Murchison
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

A: In the Florida Keys there is only one species of bonefish, Albula vulpes. A second species, A. nemoptera, the shafted bonefish, lives farther south from Panama to Brazil, and may have migrated over to the Atlantic from the Eastern Pacific and be expanding its range. As a point of interest, the shafted bonefish is easily distinguished from the common bonefish by an extended ray on the back of its dorsal fin, similar to the ray on the dorsal fin of the tarpon.
Bonefish are considered coastal fishes. In the Keys, bonefish school on grass and sand flats and in tidal lagoons, feeding mainly on shrimp. The largest individuals, which frequently grow to more than 10 pounds and can reach as much as 15 pounds or more, tend to be solitary. They may travel farther offshore, to the reefs and beyond, even as far as the edge of the continental shelf.
As far as I can determine, bonefish are caught only in a few areas (such as Hawaii) in deep water on hook and line. Reports indicate, however, that netters occasionally encounter bonefish offshore. Since bonefish do not live on reefs, it's possible that the individuals occasionally spotted around reefs are spawning or are on some type of migration and not interested in feeding at that time.