Boning Up by Capt. Mark Krowka

Tournament Tails // May 21, 2019

Welcomed increases in populations of the premier flats species, especially bonefish and tarpon, have produced excellent action throughout the Keys.  The silver kings are punctual and right on the expected calendar schedule, and bonefish numbers are continuing to increase annually, encouraging indications that the silver bullet fishery is indeed rallying and bouncing back strong!

Ed Patricoff from Islamorada jumped a 100 pound tarpon while watching the rare spectacle of a full moon touching down in the West, and the sun rising in the East.  After dawn, he went 1 for 2 on bonefish, capturing a 3 pounder on 10 pound spin and a live shrimp in the Tea Table Key area.  Patricoff then removed a 10 pound permit from a large flashing and waking school near Twin Key bank by mid-morning, taken on a quarter-size frisky live crab.

Ed Patricoff with permit

Rick Kaye from Riverwoods IL, and Les Block from Northbrook, IL fished 2 days in windy conditions.  On day one, they used live shrimp and 8 pound spin to land 4 speedy bones up to 4 pounds near Upper Matecumbe Key.  Kaye and Block followed up the next day with 3 bonefish up to 5 pounds on the same tackle and shrimp, taken from the West Key area.

Rick Kaye and bone

Dick Paulson, also from IL, used a 12 weight with a clear tip floating line and threw a red, bunny tail worm imitation to fool a 75 pound tarpon that remained with a school of 50 helpful others for the entire battle.  He also landed a smaller poon, both taken near Lower Matecumbe Key.
Jim Holland from Vancouver, WA, drifted a live crab during strong outgoing water in the Fiesta Key area in the dark of the morning to land a spectacularly acrobatic 110 pound tarpon on 15 pound spinning tackle.  Holland switched over to the long wand after sunup and threw a purple worm pattern tied on a 1/0 hook with an 11 weight and clear floating line to take an athletic 85 pound greyhound jumping tarpon out of a large school.  After a several mile spot adjustment during the tide change, he threw to another group, and got a vicious bite from an even larger 105 pounder that he wore down and put away in 30 minutes.  The very next day, Holland was 2 for 3 in the dark with energetic live crabs with wild fish of 85 and 120 pounds.  Again moving to fly after first light, he took silver kings of 60 and 90 pounds.  During the passage of a dark cloud bank that shut down visibility, the 60 pounder ate the worm fly quite close to the silent 18 Mirage, with Jim’s leader inside the rodtip!
Alan Routman from Fort Lauderdale fished a sluggish neap tide phase and found only scattered opportunities.  But while running in a 7 foot deep basin near Panhandle Key, stumbled onto a 3 acre area of dirty water that was worthy of some extra attention.  There were no mullet flipping, which made the event even more suspicious.  Using shrimp, and small jigs tipped with shrimp, Routman pulled out 11 bonefish from the “house mud,”  (as it has long been called by veteran bonefishermen of the Keys).
Ted Kurland from Newton Mass, and Adam Shipley of New Orleans, LA, took 5 bonefish on shrimp, including Adam’s very first one.  The next day, Kurland and Shipley used fresh dead mullet on bottom with 20 pound spin to land tough jack crevalles of 8 and 17 pounds.  Adam got a heavy bite and slugged it out with a nasty bull shark of 250 plus pounds.  Switching to live shrimp, and carefully working points near the Peterson Keys, the pair added an astonishing 14 bonefish up to 5 pounds!

Ted Kurland’s bone

Kevin Luo from New York, NY, and Steve Wong from Brooklyn, NY, accidentally caught a 50 pound lemon shark on a shrimp while bonefishing with 10 pound spin and amazingly, no wire leader.  Steve used 8 pound spin to land a bonefish, his very first, a 5 pounder.  While dropping down butterflied fresh mullets to the bottom, Kevin was able to get a solid bite and wear down a girthy and long 145 pound tarpon.  They also took a 15 pound barracuda, and then an epic, one mile long war with a massive and ornery 400 plus pound bull shark.  Kevin later drifted back a 2 inch live crab into a tideline near Lignum Vitae channel and was rewarded with his very first permit, an 18 pounder, which put him into position for his very first slam, needing only a bone.  Just one mile away, his 8 pound spinner doubled over and he cranked up the final leg, a 2 pound bonefish!!!

Kevin Luo’s first permit!

Steve Wong’s first bone!

Maverick Blogservation:  The “reel” state of bonefishing?
There is no doubt that bonefishing in South Florida has changed.  Large fish have become less frequent, and for 2 or 3 years finding any bones, was tough.  So many theories from recreational anglers, guides and scientists have been offered up as possible explanations.  Some captains in Islamorada believe that porpoises eating bonefish contributed to the decline.  Climate changes and water quality/management are also frequently cited as is the terrible South Florida freeze of nearly a decade ago.  Some have speculated the food source in the shallows has dwindled.
Porpoises are indeed efficient hunters, but listening to pioneer guides of yesteryear, particularly the following late captains, Jimmy Albright, Jack Brothers, Dick Williams and Bob Reineman, all great bonefishermen, they all agreed that porpoise have been eating some bones for years, but that’s not their only food source.  To address climate change and water, the aforementioned group, and others have seen much colder winters and warm periods and horrible algae blooms over lengthy periods of time going well back into the 50’s.  Bonefishing would spike, waiver and decline, but it always came back.
Many hang their hats on the freeze as the single most likely event that hurt the population.  However, the decline was already firmly in place well before the prolonged cold spell.  And, the Spring and Summer immediately after the freeze was the best the bonefishing had been for that past several years.
One reason that can be totally eliminated, is food source.  Recent information from Pete Freeza (Audubon Society) reveals the amount of food on the flats is thriving.  Freeza has been regularly collecting samples from the flats in several areas over decades.  The result: there are MORE food items now than ever.
The encouraging news is that the “new” stock of bonefish in the Keys, made up primarily of 2-3 pound fish, is plentiful and spreading out.  It just takes flexibility to adjust to the fact that these smaller gamesters are cautious and spend most of their time in 2 or more feet of water.  In these new deeper hunting grounds, they are nearly impossible to see if it’s windy or cloudy.  Blindfishing areas with shrimp during unfavorable conditions has become a must.  Overall, catches are continuing to escalate and the future of bonefishing certainly looks bright once again.