Getting to Know Bonefish

This may come as a surprise, but becoming familiar with this popular fly fishing species is more challenging than one might expect. Researchers and flat anglers alike have wondered for years about bonefish behavior. Finally, after all this time there are some answers.

There are three species of bonefish Albula vulpes, A. nemoptera, and Pterothrissus belloci, all of which belong to the very large “bony” fish class called Osteichthyes. The species fly anglers pursue, Albula vulpes inhabits warm, shallow, coastal waters worldwide. A. nemoptera, commonly known as the longfin bonefish, resides in thin water near outlets around high islands in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific. Pterothrissus belloci lives in only deep water and humans rarely ever encounter it.

Though it is not a highly esteemed food species, the Bonefish, Albula vulpes, is one of the most important game fishes in the world, and it is also occasionally used for bait. Its weight and length may reach 10 kg and 104 cm respectively, though a more representative size would be about a third of that. Bonefish appear blue-greenish above, with bright silver scales on the sides and below. Dark streaks run in between the rows of scales, predominantly on the dorsal side. The body is long, thin, and cigar shaped, with a bluntly cone-like snout. The bonefish has a unique adaptation for tolerating oxygen-poor water; it inhales air into a lung-like airbladder to supplement oxygen from the water. It is sometimes mistaken for the ladyfish, a similar species. Linnaeus first described the bonefish in 1758. Its scientific name can be translated as “white fox.”
These animals are well-disguised predators. They ride rising tides to wander warm, inshore saltwater flats in search of bottom-dwelling prey. They feed on these tides at all hours, filling their oversized stomachs. Insatiable grazing machines, they are uniquely equipped to harvest their meals. Bonefish mouths operate with shell-shattering jaws, a tongue as hard as ceramic and powerful grinding plates. Acute color vision, sharp hearing, mirrored camouflage, and lightning speed protect them from capture by enemies. Certainly, they are the best inshore flats hunter.

The Bonefish prefers reefs, shallows, estuaries, bays, grass flats, and other brackish areas at a depth from 0 to 84 meters. It is found worldwide in subtropical warm seas. In the Eastern Pacific, its range includes waters off California to Peru; the Western Atlantic range stretches from North Carolina to Florida, the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico, the Antilles and the rest of the Caribbean to Brazil.
Ask an angler, he or she will probably tell you they find no other game fish more challenging to stalk, hook, play, and release than Albula vulpes. The species has an interesting mixture of traits that have escaped 125 million years of predation, making it the all time ultimate survivor and most sought after fly-fishing game fish around today.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun

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