Bonefish-- a marine game fish of the family Albulidae (order elopiformes) that inhabits shallow coastal and island waters in tropical seas and is admired by anglers for its speed and strength.


A strong wind was blowing from the south as the morning sun peeked over the rim of the extinct volcano, bringing light to miles of shallow reef flats. The tide was low but rising fast as the angler moved slowly through the water, dropping a size 4 orange Crazy Charlie into areas he knew might hold what the locals call 'oio' and what others call bonefish.

As the sun rose higher he stopped casting when he spotted a disturbance on the water moving slowly left to right. As he quickly stripped more line off his reel he estimated that the target was at least 80 feet out. After two false casts and a double-haul, the line flew towards the horizon where it smoothly unrolled, dropping the fly gently onto the water with a tiny splash 15 feet from the rapidly closing fish.

Short strips. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. He concentrated on the approaching wake as it passed the spot where he estimated his fly hit the water. In mid-strip the line suddenly went tight in his hand. Suddenly ninety feet of WF-8-F line unspooled from his Lamson reel followed by the rapid clicking sound of the line-to-backing knot shooting through the rod guides as a 100 yards of backing followed his main fly line across the flats. Fish on!

How it really happened: Steve brought his new 8 weight rod out to the flats to test-cast it and after making a few casts he noticed that the line was puddling on the water in front of him and it looked like it was about to tangle. He stopped stripping in the fly and attended to the line. While doing this a bonefish rushed in and ate the fly, which was just laying on the reef. After a short fight he landed a nice four pound bonefish. Which at this point was the first one caught and landed by anyone, bait or fly, in the past two days of fishing!
I was in Hawaii on vacation with my family and fishing the flats on the South Shore of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Jin was also in the islands with his family so along with my brother Eric and my friends Steve L. and Steve T., we fished for big 'oio' (oh ee oh) or bonefish. However Hurricane Flossie threw a wrench into our plans. Flossie was a Category 3 storm and it was passing to the south-southwest of the island chain heading north, bringing rain and high winds. For the first week, casting was a challenge. Normally, the mornings are calm with little or no wind but the storm brought winds of 25-35 mph with gusts close to 35-40 mph. I watched Jin backcast with his 9 weight during a bad day and the line just piled up behind him.

The normal daily routine was picking Jin up in Waikiki at 5am and we'd be on the water by 5:20am and fish until 8:30am so I could get him back in time for both of us to do stuff with our families. We'd wade out to some of the good spots and begin casting. Because of surface chop you can't see the bonefish approach but in the areas we fish there are corridors that are zones that the bones use for feeding or transit so we'll stand in one spot and work the area. On some days it's normal to see fish tailing 10 feet or closer and on several occasions I watched as bonefish swam by right in front of me. But the high winds were murder on casting and the fish just didn't seem interested in biting. We had some strikes and short runs and we caught a few reef flats species but not the one we were after.
To get a break from the wind we fished a deep channel that was blasted out of the reef to create boating access for a community development in the 60's. My brother and I have caught numerous bonefish in this sand-bottomed channel and also a fair number of hammerhead sharks. Steve L. joined us that morning and we caught a variety of reef critters but not the money fish we were after. The best catch was a three pound jack (papio) that Steve L. caught while dunking live bait (oama) at the mouth of the channel.
Later in the week Steve T. joined us from California as we continued to fish several spots on the flats that are normally good fish-producing areas. However due to the storm, tide, moon phase or anger of the fish gods we had no luck. Even when Eric and his friend showed up to dunk bait for bonefish there were no bites at all. When we spoke to other fishermen all we got was the old "you should have been here last week" story. We also wanted to try flyfishing at Rat Island or the big flats on the Windward side of the island but you had to access these areas by kayak or small boat and with the hurricane blowing in, fishing these spots was out.

After a frustrating week of fighting the wind Jin and his family left the islands. I felt bad about not getting him a decent bonefish but I was determined to get one for him. Naturally, the day Jin was leaving the islands was the day the hurricane's effects was due to decline. For the next two days the winds diminished until conditions were back to normal.
I got up early to gear up. Steve T. was picking me up and we were heading to the flats but there was something missing that had always been there for the past week. The wind. There wasn't any.

When we hit the flats it was like a sheet of glass was on the water. And there were tailing fish. Lots of tailing fish. Steve T. had several hookups and several break-offs and caught a couple of jacks. I had a strong take that was on for a moment then pulled off. The wind was gone and the fish were back.
Over the next week I caught a fish a day and missed numerous others. Not bad when you consider I only fished from 5:30am to 9:00am (had family stuff to do). All the spots that were unproductive the previous week were coughing up nice bonefish in the 5 to 7 pound range. And one morning I had a huge hit that bent the 8 weight like no other fish had. This one had all the line off the reel and a good part of my backing when it pulled off. I checked the hook. The bend of the hook had been straightened (see photo below). You won't see lots of bonefish like in the Caribbean or Christmas Island, but you will see, and hopefully catch, a really big one like Steve L did earlier this year.
Tips: The fish loved orange, red and pink. For bonefish I tied a bunch of flies from size 2 to 6 using orange as the main body color as per the suggestion from Steve T. The bonefish especially loved the size 6, which was a Charlie tied sparse. Other sizes produced, but not as good as this one particular size and type. If I were doing it again I'd use a heavier (stronger) size 6 hook, something in the stainless steel. I was using nickel plated hooks on the assumption that if the fish broke off, the hook would rust out quickly.
Leaders: Use short leaders when the wind is high. Lengthen out for normal conditions but for these particular flats the fish are not leader shy and you can go down to five feet. I've caught fish here using five feet of straight 30 lb. flourocarbon while the bait fisherguys are using 40 to 60 pound leaders and 3/0 to 5/0 circle hooks baited with half a squid. Yeah, the bones get that big.

Eating: You need a good meal after a hard day of fishing. Try Zippy's or L&L Hawaiian BBQ Drive-In or Gina's BBQ.

Equipment: We used eight and nine weight rods with floating line for the flats and full sink line for fishing the channel. Reels must hold at least 100 yards of backing. More is better. Flourocarbon leaders and an assortment of flies in size 2 to 6. Long-nosed pliers to remove deep-set hooks (debarb all hooks). A pair of good wading shoes is a must. A waterproof hip sack is useful to keep your stuff organized. Don't forget a hat and sunscreen. If you forget something you can go to Nervous Waters Hawaii for fly fishing stuff or McCully Bike or Hanapa'a Fishing Supply for everything from light spinning supplies to heavy offshore rigs.

October 7, 2007

A report from Steve L.
Went out at the crack dawn to try my “luck” out on the flats. It was a nasty morning, overcast and very windy with sporadic showers, but I had that “feeling” that only a fisherman could understand and I had to be out there.
I packed my fly rod too but decided to go to bait when I got there because the coconut trees were bending in the wind.
After catching one eel and numerous nibbles on some long distance casts, I decided to flip my bait just 20 yards in front of me. The bite came about five minutes later and the fish went on this long long run. I could see it splashing the water over 180 yards out. This was no small fish. It had my 14 foot rod bending to the max. I didn’t think it was going to stop and I kept looking at my spinning spool to see if there was enough line left.

I started to follow the fish when it slowed a bit, I cranked the drag down, started reel and pump the rod to turn it.

I fought it within 30 yards and decided not to net it to minimize the trauma. I walked it several hundred yards to shore. Earlier that morning, I bumped into a friend who lives along the beach and hoped he might be still around to take my picture. As it was, I took some self portraits and then found a lady walking her dogs and had her shoot a couple of shots. And then I walked the fish back out and we watched it tailing off in the distance and disappear.

Some dream of catching bonefish this big, I dream of catching one bigger.

September 30, 2007
A report from Steve L.
Yesterday I took Alan and his friend Conner out to the flats to dunk for oio (bonefish) at sunset. It started to rain when we picked Conner up and didn’t let up until we got to the fishing spot. Because of the weather, not a soul was out there, no fishermen or surfers.

Conner cast in his line and it couldn’t have been more than three minutes when he felt a tap and then it was off to the races! We never saw Conners fish but it was huge. I don’t think he had more than 10 yards of line left when the fish finally stopped his run. I could see the bottom of the spool. Conner fought the fish for a few minutes and then in it was gone. The main line cut on the reef.
I hooked into one about ten minutes later and had a great fight using light tackle. It was about five pounds. I told Conner to hold the fish for a picture. As I took the photo the fish jump out of his hands and was gone into the night (that’s why the fish looks a little distorted in the photo).

This was Conners first oio strike. We always are amused watching people hook up to an oio for the first time. They always have this surprised smile on their faces and then bewilderment on what to do. I always tell them to leave their drag loose and just let it run.

June 16, 2007
Eric caught a three pound bonefish while spin fishing on the flats on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii. He had the line rigged with a toughbubble adjustable float to keep the hook above the reef surface to get a good drift and cover a lot of ground.

This float allows you to adjust the weight by adding water. This gives it enough heft to throw a pretty fair distance without adding lead. I also allows you to adjust how high the float will ride in the water. Eric used a clear float on a short leader.

March 2007
Ascension Bay, Mexico
A fishing report by Jin
I fished for three days at Pesca Maya which is located on the southern end of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere (nature preserve). It's one of three lodges in the region that give anglers access to the southern Yucatan peninsula flats.

The weather was cloudy and windy on all three days, which made it tough to spot fish and make accurate casts. We fished the Photobucketmangroves the first day looking for bones and found many small schools early in the morning but the fish disappeared by late morning. A typical school had about a dozen fish, mostly under a foot long. The larger fish, three pounds plus, generally swam in pairs. I got one the first day but missed many strikes as I tried to set the hook by lifting my rod versus strip setting.

We took a long boat ride over to the Tres Maria Islands on the second day and got caught in a storm. We saw less than a dozen fish and a couple that were tailing. Made some poor casts that spooked fish.

We started the third day up in the mangroves looking for tarpon and I hooked a baby one--about 10 pounds but he was gone after one jump. We went back out to the flats, chased some schools of bones but couldn't cast to more than one of them. Amazing how a school of one hundred fish just disappear. But I got two bones stripping a clouser minnow through the deeper water. In fact, we had a big problem the whole trip with fish that were well educated and not interested in eating flies.

Highlight of the trip was having five opportunities to cast to tailing permit. Imagine looking down the beach and seeing a black fin moving in the wind slowly making its way along the edge of the flats. You quickly change to a crab, while keeping your eye on the permit. Start your back cast with the permit 60 feet away. Throw the fly five feet in front of the fish, let it sink, and slowly strip the fly off the floor. Fish looks, chases the fly, but in all five cases refuses the offering.

Out of twenty anglers in three days, only one caught a permit. The 10 pound fish took him to his last feet of backing. They had to get in the boat and chase the fish down.

Final tally was 12 takes, five hookups, with three bones landed, the biggest around three pounds.

March 2007
A report from Steve T
I did five mornings of fly fishing for oio (bonefish). I was fishing the xxxxx and xxxx flats. I only caught two fish. The largest fish running about 5 lbs. I hooked one fish that took me way into my backing. I just couldn't stop it from running over the reef and breaking my 16 lb test leader on the coral. In hind sight I should have just held the line to stop it from running into the reef. The size 6 hook and 15 lb test line might have stopped it.

Overall it was pretty tough fishing. Steve L. thinks it's because it was a full moon. The two mornings I fished xxxx flats I had two shots at tailing oio; both times I was able to make perfect casts right on the oio's head. Of course they didn't like that very much. I met Steve L. out there one morning. He caught a trumpet fish with the orange fly I gave him.

February 16, 2007
A report from SteveL
After a few days of bad weather cleared Steve planned to hit the flats to try for an early morning bonefish. His original plan was to fish at a specific spot but he met fly fisher Steve T, who was planning to hit the same area, so he let him fish that area (which is really good for fly fishing) and walked further down the beach and began casting.

Steve had a new Shimano rod and was hoping for a nice fish to break it in but after an hour without a bite he decided to call it a day. Suddenly he had something big on the line.

Steve said the fish made multiple long runs and as he brought it close to net, the fish would see him then speed off again. He finally walked the fish to Steve T (who had caught a few bonefish too) who helped him land the fish to measure, weigh and release. This turned out to be a nice 10 pound bonefish (scale weighed), which was a great way to break in a new rod.

August 3-28, 2006
After landing lots of bones while spin fishing on the flats due to high winds, I finally had the chance to break out the fly rod when the weather changed and managed to catch a nice six pound (scale weighed) bonefish (oio) on the flats one morning.

I always get up early so I can be on the water by 5:30am. This not only allows me to beat the rush hour traffic but the bite tends to be the best early or late in the day and is especially good if you can catch the tide as its rising or falling.

I used a 9-weight rod spooled with 200 yards of backing and a Monic clear floating weight forward line. Tippet was five feet of 15 pound test flurocarbon tied onto the fly line. I used a tan and gold Christmas Island Crazy Charlie slow stripped over the bottom.