Analyses of the contents of the stomach of a Bonefish has shown that they feed on a variety of shrimp that live in grass, sand and coral habitats. Shrimp crawl slowly across the ocean bottom in search of its food.
EPOXY SHRIMP SALTWATER FLY PATTERN. Hook size 8 6 4 - $US each
TSaltwater Shrimp only move quickly in a darting fashion if they are startled by a predator. Using a suggestive shrimp fly pattern is usually good enough to produce a quick strike from a bonefish. I fish it using slow strips and a little jerk to make the legs wiggle and help suggest to the fish movement. It makes this fly look alive and edible. It is an inverted hook pattern. The eye tied to the top of the of the hook shank and wing that covers the hook all help flip the hook so it fishes hook up and reduces snags on the sea floor. I have used them all with great success in the Bahamas, Cuba and Belize. I choose the fly that matches the colour of the sea bottom. In nature if you can be seen your dead. Most prey species of the bonefish are very well camouflaged. Your fly must not mimic nature to well for if it cannot be seen you will not catch fish. I use the the pink wiggler as this reminds them of natural shrimps in deeper water that are coming into breeding colours and near coral reefs. The Epoxy Shrimp will bounce up and down on the retrieve and makes puffy little clouds on the bottom that sends out visible signals to nearby fish who interpret it as, ‘there is something moving down there that maybe good to eat.
Bonefish know that if they reach the crest of a flat on an incoming tide they will find the best food waiting for them. Look at your tide tables and find the crest. Sometimes schools of Bonefish will rush towards there as the tide turns and starts to flood. Getting a take is all about placement and delivery in front of your target. Sometimes it does not matter if your fly is tan or orange. On my last trip my guide spotted a single Bonefish grubbing in the mud about 50 feet from the boat in perhaps 18 inches of water. I managed to get a perfect cast to it, started retrieving and felt the line tighten as the the fish took. The normal advice at this point is to keep retrieving, not strike, as the the fish will generally hook itself, it worked. For a couple of seconds the fish just shook it's head, not knowing what had happened to it. Then it took of in a flash. These fish are really fast. In seconds all the fly line and half the backing had gone from the reel. I eventually landed a nice 6lb bonefish.
With a slow moving fish I have been able to get a a bite by casting behind the tail (admittedly the first time I did this was by mistake and a short cast). I noticed the fish visible change directions as it heard the plop of the fly. It must have thought that some thing was alive behind it and trying to escape. It wheeled around and went to investigate. It saw the puffs of sand as I retrieved and it attacked. It does not always work but is a good last resort option that has claimed a number of bonefish.
Bonefish very rarely take with a 'bang'. They catch up with the fly and suck it in. All you normally feel is a change in tension on the line as you strip. That is the only indication you get that the bonefish has taken your fly. Beginners tend to strike with the rod, lifting it as you might lift into a trout taking a dry fly. What you should do is the moment you feel the fly being sucked in by the fish, you keep stripping hard. You will find that the line will tighten, at which point strip/strike the line with the rod tip still pointing at the fish, only lifting the rod when your sure the hook is home. That is when the Bonefish will take off. You better be ready for the fight and hold on tight to your rod. These fish pack a punch.. On my first Bonefish trip I made the mistake of using a fly rod that reflected the sun. It spooked the fish again and again. I now use a dark matt carbon rod with no shiny parts. Fish that are very prone to aerial predator attack get very spooky.
Recent studies have found that although bonefish and permit come to the flats to feed and appear to swim to deeper water when spooked by anglers the main reason they prefer the flats is safety. Barracudas and sharks are their main predators. The water over the flats is just too shallow for these larger hungry water dwellers. Bonefish and permit can therefore feed in relative safety on shrimp and crabs.