Tips for Spotting Bonefish

This week Gink and Gasoline wrote a short entry on their blog with tips for spotting bonefish. With all due respect to Louis Cahill (who was writing about fishing in the Bahamas and not Hawaii), a bunch of the stuff in that blog was straight up wrong for spotting fish in Hawaii. So with that in mind, here are a few of my own tips Iíve learned over the years for spotting Hawaii bonefish:

1.  Color, contrast, movement- these are the 3 things I look for when scanning the flats for bones. The order of importance will vary. Sometimes itís something moving in the corner of your eye that gets your attention, sometimes itís the contrast of a dark blue-green spot on a sandy bottom or a lighter blotch on a dark patch of seaweed. Sometimes itís just the bright green thing where there wasnít one a second ago. If you stare at it for a second and it doesnít move, itís probably not a fish. If it starts moving towards you, hurry up and cast!

2.  Green means different things to different people. Bonefish are green. Not gray, not silver, green. You canít see their shadows because they swim right on the bottom. Their sides reflect their surroundings and can make them seem to disappear. What you can see of them is the light bouncing off their backs. Because our fish usually move rapidly onto the flats from deep water, their backs are often brilliant shades of deep green. But not everyone sees green the same way. So whether itís as dark as a ripe watermelon or a pale, dusty olive, figure out what bonefish green means to you and try to remember it. Thatís what youíll be looking for on your next trip to the flats.

3.  Donít be afraid to spook a fish. I often spook the first fish I come across on a day of fishing. I donít mind that at all. I use that opportunity to take careful notice of what the fishís shade of color is on that particular day. I do my best to remember that, and now whenever I see another something that color I cast to it. The fish arrive on a flat in a group and spread out, so whatever shade of green the first fish was, his buddies will all be the same color.

4.  Windows and hallways- when the light isnít optimal there still is usually a direction you can see in without harsh glare. Itís often where the dark clouds have piled up along the mountains, or the gap in the clouds out to sea. If you look into these windows, you can still spot fish even in relatively poor sight fishing conditions. You should only walk in the direction you can see (the hallway). If you walk forward but are looking sideways hoping to spot a fish, youíll spook a lot more than youíll cast to.

5.  Donít look too far ahead. Often beginning anglers are expecting to see fish 50 feet, 80, or even further out ahead of them. Thatís not where you should be concentrating. Unless you have really great light, the majority of fish youíll spot will be within 50 feet. You should concentrate your focus there, as most of the shots youíll make and the fish youíll hook will be well within 50 feet. ET shared with me his technique for helping guided clients when the water gets deep and off color. "I tell them to walk slowly as if there is a fish only 10 feet in front of them, concentrate on that zone, and be ready to flip the fly as soon you spot the fish." Thatís how you get bit even when the conditions are working against you.

6.  Scan for tails, and focus once you see one. I relate looking for fish to looking at a pane of glass. You need to concentrate to see detail in whatís behind the glass (looking through the water to see the fish), but you can quickly scan the reflection to pick up on imperfections (tails breaking the surface). Itís nearly impossible to do both at the same time. If you donít have great light but the water is shallow, you can quickly scan 360 degrees until you spot a tail, then try to laser focus on the blurry greenish blob thatís slowly moving away from where the tail was just waving.

7.  The final and most important thing: fish often and in all conditions. Thereís just no shortcut for this one. Even I have a hard time getting back in the groove if I donít go bonefishing for a while. You need time on the water to spot fish quickly and effectively. And if you want to be a better than average sight fisherman you need to keep looking even if the light is poor. It can be done, you just have to commit to it. The good news is that often if you canít see the fish well, they also canít see you so well either.

Thatís about it for this time. I hope youíre getting out there in search of your own fall fatties too! Aloha


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