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September 21, 2007

California's Hidden Bones

Bona fide bonefish are turning up in the backwaters of Southern California, with some indication that they're here to stay.

Striking Silver

California's Hidden Bones
Grant Christianson admires the light-tackle challenge bonefish provide - and their size and population both seem to be on the upswing.

For the first hour, the three of us enjoyed a brisk bass bite as we drifted different spots around the bay; however, the mysterious bonefish was proving elusive. Christianson was just beginning to voice his concern when his rod tip dipped sharply and his drag began to sing. "Bonefish!" he shouted. Moments later, Ryan's ultralight rod doubled over as well.

As much as I wanted to catch my first bonefish, I was even more anxious just to see one. For the next few minutes, father and son seemed to be engaged in a dance of sorts as each attempted to follow his fish around the boat. Christianson's was the first to come to the surface, where its rusty-brown back and dusky vertical bars immediately identified it as a bona fide bonefish. Moments later, the foot-long specimen was lifted from the water, it's silver scales flashing in the sun.

Ryan's fish was a bit larger--as healthy a bonefish as you'd ever hope to see. It measured nearly 16 inches and weighed around two pounds. I was pumped, but reigned in my excitement just long enough to loosen my drag; it was easy to see how the fish's high-speed runs could easily snap the light line we were using.

My opportunity to catch one of these chrome-plated beauties was to come, but not before the wind picked up and we had to deploy a sea anchor to slow the drift. I also added more weight to my line and used an old bay-drifting trick by opening the bail of my spinning reel and hand-feeding line to further slow my presentation. That proved to be the ticket, as line suddenly ripped from my spool. I flipped the bail and lifted the rod. Nothing.

"Quick, start crankin'!" Christianson shouted. "He's runnin' at ya!"

I turned the reel handle furiously and the line came tight, then it made an immediate U-turn and sped away on a sizzling run. As I slowly fought the fish to the boat, I noticed its strong, determined pulls and its lack of bass-like headshakes. On light tackle, the fish proved an incredibly stubborn adversary. I could see why others have said that bonefish, for their size, are unmatched in terms of their speed and stamina.

We finished the day with five bonefish--a good catch, but not the numbers Christianson was hoping for. "In the last few trips we've taken up to six fish per person," he said, "and I know other guys who have caught and released a dozen each--some up to 20 inches and weighing three pounds."