In the mid-1990s, saltwater fly fishing saw massive growth in popularity among anglers here in the US. And the poster boy of saltwater fly fishing was the bonefish. Not outrageously large like a giant tarpon, far more user friendly than the permit, sexier than redfish, and available in rather plentiful numbers both in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. Bonefish were the darlings of the angling literature, the fly fishing TV shows, and the gear and lodge industry.
My first bonefishing trip was in the late 90s, and in the early 2000s I was absolutely mad for this type of fishing on the flats. My favorite was DIY fishing, on foot, with no guide. It was, and still is, about the purest, most fun type of fly fishing I’ve ever done. No boats, no teasers, no chum lines, and no bait and switch. Just walking miles in gin clear warm water, geared up with nothing but a pair of swim trunks, sun shirt, sun hat, polarized glasses and a fanny pack to hold the essential small fly box, spool of tippet, and water bottle. The kit couldn’t be cleaner either. About any rod from 6 to 10wt, a floating fly line, mono leader, and a single, simple fly would do the job. After that it was all about figuring out the spots and tides, walking, finding the bones, and feeding them. And when I hooked up, those silver bullets really showed themselves off. Long runs. Much longer than their modest size would suggest. And beautiful, silver, iridescent, blue, green, shining scales. And that huge eye, custom made for inspecting a crab or shrimp.
So what happened? By the end of the 2000s it seemed like the fly fishing world forgot about its love affair with the bonefish. The media, advertising, and destination travel industry moved on to locations and species that they felt were more glamorous. Permit. Roosterfish. GTs. Monster redfish. And big, bad freshwater predators like golden dorado and taimen. Aside from a bit of a boost in the popularity of bonefishing in Hawai’i, the bonefish, golden ghost and spooky speedster of the flats, just dropped right off the radar. And now, the drama in the Bahamas regarding unguided angling threatens to undermine the sport even further.
Maybe I am wrong? Maybe my perception is off. But if I am correct, let me state, unequivocally, that it is a crying shame. Even if you have chased the biggest fish in the sea and in freshwater on fly, you absolutely should experience bonefishing. Plain and simple – on foot. Not only for the quality of the fish, but the purity of the sport.
Take Care and Fish On,Matt
(filling in for Daniela today)