Bonefish Body Language 

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Owen Plair

Being able to read the body language of any fish is by far one of the best ways to anticipate the bite, especially when it comes to feeding a bonefish.

Recently I had the opportunity to experience bonefishing on South Andros, Bahamas, and learned a lot during the week about how the body language of a bonefish can visually tell you what’s happening when you can’t see the bite.

From skating flies for Atlantic Salmon in Russia to targeting migrating Tarpon in Islamorada, and countless species in between, watching a fish open their mouth, and eat the fly was something I had always been accustomed to when sight fishing. I had never thought about sight fishing Bonefish and the fact that you can never really see that little white mouth open up and swallow the fly. There was only one fish during the entire week I could see open her mouth and swallow the fly because by chance it was 10ft off the bow on a cloudy day.

The first 4 or 5 fish of the trip I hooked simply by listening for the guide telling me, “Set mon, set!” It’s amazing how fast your brain and muscles work together when pulling the fly line tight to a bonefish’s bottom lip. Hooking those first few fish of the trip was amazing but the feeling I had, as an angler, not being able to anticipate the bite drove me absolutely nuts! I simply just couldn’t figure out what the guide was seeing that I wasn’t and I soon started to ask questions after every fish, learning through experience on the water with my guide.

One of the most important things I learned about reading a bonefish bite was looking for the sudden stop. 

Most times in fishing when the fish stops behind your fly they’re stopping for a reason. Either they’re eating your fly or changing their mind and turning off. I found that with bonefish, it was that the best way to anticipate the bite. Every time a fish would stop I was ready for the long strip set. The bite was still invisible to me but I learned the “stop” which helped me anticipate the fish eating and prepare myself for the set. It also took some time to get used to stopping the fly for the fish to eat. Most other species I’ve targeted always like a constant moving fly.

Another key body language these fish taught me was the “Orgasm”; and yes, I never thought I’d use the word orgasm when talking about a bonefish. What’s great about targeting bonefish is the shallow sand bottom flats covered by gin clear water that make the body of the fish so much more defined than other flats species. After learning about the stop, I soon learned about the “orgasm” after the stop.

This was something I’d never seen a fish do. You’ll see a horny tarpon, or redfish for example, swimming hard on your fly knowing you’re about to get a bite, their gills flare, mouth opens, and boom, you see the bite! With a bonefish you don’t see bite as much as the fish doing a slight wiggle or shake of his body. When the fish rushes on the fly it’s fast and swift, with a short stop. During the stop you look for that defined wiggle or orgasm. When the fish sucks down the fly, he gets a mouth full of sand, and then shakes the sand out through his gils. Once I got an eye for this type of body language I found myself hooking more fish because I knew the prime second to strip set even when I couldn’t see the actual bite. These fish also show a slight flash of body color with an almost blue tint when they do this magic wiggle that’s absolutely beautiful in the right lighting situation.

A “tall tail” is a sign of the bonefish bite. When they go nose down, and tail up, just like many other shallow species in the salt. This was by far the easiest way to know you got the bite when you can see the bonefish shove his nose into the bottom crushing the fly with a small cloud of sand coming from the bottom. There were a few fish I hooked on the lower part of their jaw, not even inside of their mouth because they nosed down on the fly so hard. Watching that silver flag pierce the water’s surface is one of my favorite ways to know you got a bite. Seeing that bonefish tail on your fly is one of the most natural eats around.

Learning the body language of a bonefish was not very hard. A few simple movements to look for go a long way towards knowing you got the bite. It makes me laugh looking back before the trip, assuming you can see a bonefish open their mouth like a redfish. Little life lessons like that are things you learn from first hand experience on the water. It makes you realize when fly fishing, there is always something new to learn.

Owen Plair
Gink & Gasoline
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