Crabby failure

Crabby failure

Tracy&James | Sunday, 11 December 2022

Before Tracy and I head out on a saltwater flats fishing trip I tend to re-read one of the bonefishing books I have in the run up to the departure date. This isn’t really to learn anything new (I’ve read the books many times), it’s more about building excitement in anticipation of the trip and to motivate me to do some fly tying if I need to do so. This time I chose to read ‘Fly Fishing for Bonefish’ by Chico Fernandez.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book, well to me anyway, is that it contains a chapter on the results of a study conducted (by the bonefish and tarpon trust I think) on what exactly bonefish eat and where.  Obviously a bonefish’s diet is greatly influenced by the prey species available in the terrain upon which it is feeding, however there are some common themes that appear irrespective of the type of bottom.  Perhaps unsurprisingly bonefish love crabs, and these crustaceans make up a good proportion of the stomach contents examined across the entire study and are particularly prolific in bonefish caught over rocky areas.  Reading this, athought struck me that I haven’t been very successful with crab flies over the years so I decided I’d do something about this on our upcoming trip.

In fact, the only incidence I remember of catching bonefish on a crab pattern happened a number of years back on Abaco in the Bahamas.  I remember it well as it was one of the most spectacular few hours of bonefishing I’ve had.  It was chucking it down with rain as the tail end of a cold front moved across the island.  The previous day’s strong wind had subsided but this had ripped up a load of seaweed which was being deposited on the sandy shore near our accommodation.  Being as poor light was a certainty for that day, we decided it wasn’t worth driving anywhere and so Tracy and I set about wandering up and down the weedy shoreline, more in hope than expectation.  With the sea flattened by the tropical rain bonefish could be seen, almost glowing green, just the other side of the weed – no more than 3ft out from the beach.  We didn’t have to observe these fish for long to realise they were grazing on something in the weed itself.  A quick inspection of a chunk of it that was washed further up the beach revealed it to be full of small orange crabs about 1cm in size.  After a hunt in one of my seldom used fly boxes I found an epoxy pattern of exactly the right size and colour.  To say this was a crab pattern is perhaps stretching things a bit – it didn’t have rubber legs that seem to be the standard these days, however it was as close a match as I was going to find.  To say the fishing was great is an understatement and my fun was only halted when the hook actually snapped – probably due to fatigue!  Anyway, that was the last time I caught a bonefish on a vaguely crabby pattern.

With my lack of confidence of fishing crab patterns for bonefish I chose the opportunity very carefully on our recent trip.  By far the majority of shots we had at fish were at decent sized singles or doubles, but towards the end of our stay we found a rare shoal of smallish fish – and they were stationed over perfect ground for crabs – rough rocks, stones and marl.  Although some way out, the fish were betraying their position by ‘flashing’ – a sure sign that there’s probably a sizeable shoal and, in all honesty, an easy prospect for a catch.  As such, I thought this was the perfect chance to select a proper crab pattern, one that matched the size and colour of the numerous crabs we’d seen earlier along that very shoreline.  

I was fully expecting an instant take as I pitched my fly just short of the meandering shoal – what I actually got was an instant spook as the shoal became agitated, moving away fast before settling down to their previous behaviour (what makes such shoals a great bet is that often you get multiple shots).  Tracy, who was no more than 15 metres to the side of me, then tried her generic ‘gotcha’ type fly – this was met with instant success as a number of fish chased the fly, almost barging each other out of the way, before one grabbed it.  A couple of minutes later, when the shoal had calmed down from seeing one of their number captured (and returned), I tried the crab again.  This was met with exactly the same reaction as the first time, the fish really did not like this pattern at all.  Just to confirm I wasn’t approaching the fish all wrong I borrowed Tracy’s outfit and caught a fish instantly.  This whole process was then repeated right up to the point when the shoal disappeared right after the arrival of a shark on the scene.  By this point we’d landed four bonefish but had experienced nothing but spooks with the crab fly.

Interestingly, further along this shoreline we encountered some triggerfish.  These were more than willing to eat the crab fly – literally eating it as, after one particular fish, the felt carapace of the fly was cut and three quarters of it was now missing.

So there you have it, my plan to increase my confidence with fishing crab flies for bonefish, as strongly recommended by Chico, completely backfired.  I don’t know why, but going by the book such a tactic on the day should have been a slam dunk, however the bonefish had other ideas.  Perhaps I’ll try again, probably in about five years’ time.

Have a great week,