Rare Bonefish Catch off Crystal River, Florida

8-year old finds a bonefish that’s a long way from home

Crystal River bonefish

Crystal River bonefish

Annabelle Touchton, 8, with her 7-pound bonefish Crystal River bonefish.courtesy Clay Shidler

Buried in one of our regional fishing reports this week was a phenomenal catch — a 7-pound bonefish caught off Crystal River, Florida.

Crystal River, on the Big Bend portion of Florida’s west coast, mid-way between Tampa and the Panhandle, is an area renowned for its redfishing; for grouper and snapper offshore. and for tarpon at theright time of the year.

But not bonefish.

On September 1, one of Capt. Clay Shidler's clients for the day, 8-year-old Annabelle Touchton, made the unprecedented catch: a 7-pound bonefish, casting a live shrimp on a jig head to the Spoil Banks off Crystal River.

“We were actually targeting redfish and mangrove snapper,” said Shidler. “I was chumming with live shrimp in 2 1/2 feet of water.”

That’s when Touchton hooked her fish.

“I thought it was redfish at first,” said Shidler. “Then it took off 100 yards of line.” Annabelle fought and landed the fish by herself on 8-pound Power Pro, with a 20-pound fluoro leader on a jighead pinned to a live shrimp. She waylaid it for a photo and weighing, then released it.

Shidler said it was the first bonefish he — or anyone he has spoken with — has ever seen caught from the waters around Crystal River.

“I did see one years ago in a school of mullet off Chassahowitzka, south of here, “ he said. “And I’ve heard of some of the old timers catching them in gill nets in the same area, back in the day, but no one has ever caught one on a rod and reel.”

Speculation is the bonefish displaced and ended up off Crystal River when Hurricane Isaac passed by the last week in August.

The Spoil Banks where Touchton made her remarkable catch have a history of producing odd catches, said Shidler. “I’ve caught permit there that went 30 pounds. I’ve caught two 15-pounders this year, but never any bonefish.”

Shidler, an experienced Keys bonefishermen, says he’ll be keeping an eye on the Spoil Banks for bonefish. “I might find another one tailing up there,” he says. “I’ll be looking.”