BTT Bonefish Panel

Tournament Tails // November 20, 2017

Recently, in Weston, Florida, at the Bonaventure Resort and Country Club, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust 6th International Science Symposium was held. Eight panelists gathered to discuss the current state of South Florida’s bonefishery. All were in alignment on the obvious decline that seemed to bottom out between 5 and 6 years ago. The location of the vast numbers of larger fish, which the lower latitudes were famous for, remains a mystery. However, it was nearly unanimous that the bonefish, (particularly the influx of smaller 1-4 pound fish, called recruits) are thankfully on the increase, if only by a few percentage points a year, since the lowest perceived point of their population in the U.S. Anglers, guides, and scientists alike, are all hopeful that these adolescent silver bullets will remain and grow into the future double digit trophy fish that once tailed, mudded, and presented tantalizing and unforgettable targets in Biscayne Bay and the Keys.

Preliminary questions from the audience clearly revealed that interest was not so much leaned toward the science of bonefish, but the better understanding of where, and mostly how to catch more bonefish. Moderator Russ Fisher picked up on this immediately, and, pleasing the crowd, geared more of his questions toward technique, and temporarily away from science. Fisher brought up favorite baits, flies and lures, and the most important keys to bonefish success, and asked each of the very qualified panelists to weigh in.

Brooke Black, M.S., lifetime and tournament angler, was adamant about aggressive casting. Brooke said, “yes, I will spook some for sure, but it is important to KNOW that they have seen what I am throwing, shrimp, jig or fly.”

Diana Rudolph, tournament angler (winner of the Don Hawley Tarpon Fly Tournament and bonefish flyrod World Record Holder) emphasized quick and accurate casting. Diana stated, “there’s no time for thinking, only reacting to what is in front of you.”

Capt. Richard Black, Islamorada guide and multi tournament winner, was partial to jigs. Black stated, “we catch the majority of our bonefish every year on jigs, untipped without any scent whatsoever. The bonefish is the most aggressive fish on the flats.” He also believes in very few patterns and colors when it comes to the jig, or fly. “With the fly, I essentially use a crab/shrimp tie in only 2 colors, but with various sizes of small dumbell weights for different depths.”

Capt. Dave Denkert, longtime Keys guide, and multi tournament winner, also keeps things simple with just a few patterns, but will vary lead on the fly for different depths and conditions. Denkert believes the manipulation of the fly is more important than the fly itself. Denkert stressed, “When a bear is chasing you, you are prey and flee accordingly. The bonefish will recognize your fly as food, IF it acts like prey.”

Capt. Joe Gonzalez, Biscayne Bay master, and tournament winner, is all about barred patterns on flies. He noted, “the main food items of bonefish have some type of barring on them, and that could be why flies with bars consistently produce for me in the Bay.”

Capt. Paul Tejera, longtime Islamorada, and all of South Florida guide, multi tournament winner, and the guide to the largest bonefish, a 15 pound 12 ouncer, (caught by Jim Bokor) ever officially weighed in a tournament, ties his own shrimp/crab combo fly, trying to appeal to ALL bonefish that favor these two crustaceans. “My fly looks like a shrimp, with a small claw protruding out of the rear end, ” Paul said. He also has different weights of this fly always available for any situation that arises.

I tried to stress the importance of flexibility, doing the highest percentage thing relative to the situation dealt by that day’s weather, tides, and conditions. My go-to fly is a small, dime sized merkin, tan or olive, with very little tail dressing, making it compact, easy to eat in totality,and softly landing.

Bob Branham, considered the dean of Biscayne Bay, and also multi tournament winner, has narrowed down to one, and one fly only, a shrimp imitation, in one color, and also in slightly varying weights. He believes strongly in stripping the fly appropriately to the attitude of the fish. slower to slow fish, and faster to plowing feeders.

Seated left to right are: Brooke Black, Diana Rudolph, Richard Black, Dave Denkert, Joe Gonzalez, Russ Fisher (standing) Paul Tejera, Mark Krowka, and Bob Branham.

– By Capt. Mark Krowka