Best Bets for the Keys

I have sought bonefish in many places and been mildly successful, except in the Florida Keys. Got any suggestions?

Q: I have sought bonefish in many places and been mildly successful - except in the Florida Keys. Got any suggestions?

Ray Anderson

A: This is a question many of our readers have pondered, so I am going to give a rather detailed answer.

The Florida Keys offers some of the biggest and smartest bonefish you'll find anywhere on the planet. A 10-pounder is big in many places - but not in the Keys. Fish several pounds larger are caught with some frequency. Unfortunately, these fish have been looking at flies for years, and they are difficult to fool.
Several things may give you an edge. These fish are superwary of the impact the fly line has on the water's surface. Unless it is windy, you increase your chances with a 6- or 7-weight line. For example a 6-weight line weighs 160 grains and an 8-weight, 210 grains. Some of the top fly-fishermen believe a clear-tip line adds another advantage, and they keep their cast low so the fish don't see the line in flight.

Use a leader at least 12 feet in length. On calm days, I prefer a 16-footer. If properly constructed, it will turn over well.

The fly you present is critical. While Keys bonefish are caught on a host of patterns, the most consistently effective one on these smarter fish is a crab fly - roughly the size of your thumbnail - with a weed guard.

The retrieve is important as well. Drop the fly as close as you can without spooking the target. Once the fly is spotted, let it fall to the bottom. Never strip the fly while the fish is examining it. If the fish doesn't pick it up, barely twitch the fly. With a normal strip, the educated giants are gone.