Ah, bonefish: one of the most unique and elusive species that anglers will ever face.
For the most part, you won’t ever glimpse a bonefish out of Florida’s waters – a fact that is reason enough to pay a visit or two to the Sunshine State for fishing purposes in the near future.
However, beyond the challenge that they present to anglers, surprisingly little is known about the bonefish. In honor of all the things we don’t know about the species, we’ve compiled a list of eight interesting bonefish facts that we do know.
View the slideshow to read the facts, and add any more you may know in the comments below.
1. They have the best nickname ever
If you’ve ever gone fishing for bonefish in South Florida, you probably know about the mysterious nickname that anglers have given to the bonefish species as a whole. Anglers often refer to bonefish as “the Gray Ghosts of the Flats,” due to their swift speeds, their smoky silver color, and their ability to seemingly slip right past an angler in stealthy fashion.
The nickname is commonly heard around South Florida, where the saltwater flats of both the Florida Keys and the Biscayne Bay play host to some of the biggest bonefish in the world.
2. They are arguably the most enigmatic fish on the water
Unlike most of the species that anglers go after on a regular basis – such as bass, salmon, and trout, all of which have been studied and observed ad nauseam – bonefish are still an enigma in many ways.
For instance, the spawning and reproductive cycles of bonefish are nowhere near as well documented as, say, the spawning cycles of salmon. In fact, scientists say that bonefish spawning can occur any time between November and May. This lack of regularity in reproduction – as well as equally intriguing questions about bonefish migration patterns and population densities – contributes to the elusive nature of the bonefish and befits the mysterious, ghostly nickname by which they are known.
3. There are actually nine different bonefish species types
Look up bonefish in the encyclopedia and you will see reference to the scientific name of Albula vulpes. The fish defined under this biological species name are the bonefish type most well known and frequently recognized among anglers – as well as the type of fish that are pursued in and around Florida’s flats – but studies have shown that there are actually eight other species of bonefish around the world.
4. Bonefish are some of the toughest to catch
Looking for a fish that will test your abilities as an angler? Chances are the saltwater fishing locales in and around Florida will offer you plenty of potential challenges, including the massive offshore marlin and tuna specimens. However, the bonefish can pack quite a punch in terms of challenge as well.
Not only are bonefish incredibly quick and agile, but they also have sharp eyesight that makes them more skittish than the average gamefish species. On top of all of this, they are also quite strong – meaning that even if you manage to hook one, you can expect quite a fight to reel the bugger in.
5. Bonefish are now “catch and release only” in Florida
Florida may be one of the only places in the nation where anglers can catch bonefish, but since September of last year, the state and its Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have only allowed for catch and release fishing of these beautiful and elusive species.
Once upon a time, anglers were given bag limits and size restrictions for catching and keeping bonefish – just as they are with many other species types. Then, the FWC changed the rules, allowing tournament participants to catch and transport bonefish with a special exemption permit. Now, all anglers must release any bonefish they catch back into the water.
6. Bonefish are incredibly valuable to the Florida economy
So why does the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission want anglers to stop taking bonefish out of their waters? It’s simple, really. As one of the most popular, coveted, and challenging gamefish on the planet, bonefish are a species that a large number of anglers are interested in trying to catch. Since populations of the Albula vulpes bonefish are almost exclusive to the Florida flats, this means that anglers are drawn to the state to try their hand in the pursuit of bonefish.
In other words, bonefish are a huge boon to the Florida fishing and tourism economies. In fact, the University of Miami claimed in a study that each bonefish in Florida’s waters is worth approximately $3,500 annually. Since bonefish are generally known for their long lifespans – usually over 20 years – the University of Miami found that each bonefish could represent about $75,000 in value to the Florida economy in its lifetime. Needless to say, that state is none too eager to let that money go by allowing anglers to harvest its bonefish populations.
7. Their teeth are on their tongue, palate, and jaw
Who needs conventional rows of teeth? Not bonefish, apparently. In a twist that only adds to the mysterious nature of bonefish, these ghostly creatures don’t have traditional teeth. Instead, they eat using what are called crushing teeth, which are situated on the tongue, palate, and jaw of the bonefish, as well as in its throat.
Our advice? Avoid sticking your fingers in a bonefish’s mouth.
8. They can survive in brackish waters
Though known mostly for their home habitat of Florida’s saltwater flats, bonefish can also survive in brackish waters – or where freshwater and saltwater meet and mix. Part of the reason for this adaptability is the swim bladder that bonefish possess, which allows them to store air for when they cannot derive oxygen from the water in which they are residing.