by Doug Kelly
It’s agonizing, it’s tantalizing — but in an oh-so-thrilling way. That’s because you’re a bonefish angler, and it matters not if you’ve just caught your first one or your hundredth.
Bonefishing is addictive because it’s a skill that resembles art: a saltwater flat becomes the canvas, a rod the brush, a cast a stroke of paint and the catch and release an ideal frame.
Although it is special to fish in water so shallow you can see a wading bird’s knees, the beauty of it is that one doesn’t have to be a Rembrandt to enjoy toe-to-fin tussles with the fish known as the grey ghost of the flats. Even if you can’t draw a stick figure, it’s simple enough to stand motionless on the bow of a skiff and remain alert.
Knowing that a bonefish tilts diagonally to root the sediment for munchables, keep your peepers peeled for any sign of a telltale tail waving above the surface like a stiletto.
While one can successfully sit in an anchored boat and fish blindly, sight casting is the ultimate buzz. Just stay primed and ready to present a shrimp, crab or other offering in Mr. Bone’s path. If fishing with a guide — highly recommended for newbies — he or she will likely spot the fish first and put you in an ideal casting position.
Bonefishing is 50 percent hunting, 50 percent fishing and 100 percent exciting. The learning curve might entail missed casts or pulled hooks, but the payoff is frantic fantasy as a bonefish strikes, jets off and the line rooster-tails in its wake.
You’re now literally off to the races, and that’s the magical moment when you’re hooked as firmly as the bonefish. Every bonefish encounter offers the blitzing speed of an aquatic bullet that could outsprint Olympic runner Usain Bolt. It’s at once electric, cataclysmic and utterly contagious.
Just fishing in any shallow water won’t do. What Italy’s Florence is to art, the Florida Keys are to bonefishing. The flats from Key Largo to Key West boast 22 world records for bonefish, with Islamorada alone accounting for 18 — more than all other destinations in the world combined.
Bonefish, the Florida Keys and you — it’s the perfect painting.
(Doug Kelly, author of books including “Florida’s Fishing Legends and Pioneers,” is a veteran journalist who writes travel and outdoors articles for a variety of publications.)