Skinny water anglers cherish that acute sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully stalking a bonefish, executing a perfect cast, setting the hook and then carefully working the fish to hand. Bonefish are notoriously wary and easily spooked. Some people call them “phantoms” or “gray ghosts.” The Latin name for the most common species, Albula Vulpes, translates to white fox.
We once believed that all bonefish worldwide were the same, but research over the years has shown subtle differences between different populations that qualifies them as uniquely different species. Today, the International Gamefish Association (IGFA) recognizes records across six species, scattered mostly by geography. All possess a sleek, silvery body, a hard, rounded mouth and a deeply forked tail that helps them rocket through the shallows, delivering that reel-sizzling zing as they strip line after hook-up.
Here is a quick look at some of the top bonefish ever caught, as recorded by the IGFA.
The Largest Atlantic Bonefish Ever Caught
Found throughout the East and West Atlantic, from Florida to the Caribbean and Brazil, the Atlantic bonefish (Albula goreensis) is a large species that is reef-associated and likes soft or gravelly bottoms where it can forage and hunt.
Jerry Lavenstein, a Virginia Beach, Virginia, resident, set two iconic world records with his 16-pound bonefish caught Feb. 25, 1971, off Bimini in the Bahamas. The 33.50-inch-long bonefish had a 19-inch girth. His catch is the IGFA’s official All-Tackle World Record Atlantic Bonefish.
Lavenstein was fishing with legendary Bahamian guide Ansil Saunders when he caught the fish, just 300 yards from Big Game Club in Bimini’s Alice Town. Lavenstein was pitching a shrimp with a Spinmaster rod and Compac Chevron 94 reel. The line size listed on the record application noted it was rated at 8-pound break strength. However, IGFA collects line samples for testing. The lines, when tested, showed a “wet break” strength of 9.9 pounds, according to IGFA’s Zack Bellapigna, who works with the IGFA’s records program. This made the catch ineligible for the 8-pound line class record but did allow it to secure both the 12-pound and all-tackle records.
Lavenstein’s catch topped the 12-pound line-class record that had been held by professional golfer Sam Snead, who caught a 15-pounder in 1953. Snead’s record was subsequently tied four times.
Bellapigna says, after talking with Florida Keys guides, that the next potential record-breaker will not come from the Keys. If there is a record-breaker out there, it will likely be another Bahamas fish.
The Longest Atlantic Bonefish Record
Angler Jason Foss holds the IGFA’s All-Tackle Length World Record Atlantic Bonefish with his 26.38-inch fish, caught June 18, 2021 in Biscayne Bay, Florida. Foss was wielding an MHX rod equipped with a Shimano Stradic 2500, spooled with Cortland line. He was casting a flats jig.
The Longest Fly-Caught Atlantic Bonefish Record
One of the newest bonefish records was set on Dec. 6, 2021 by angler Max Hamlin, who got this 25.98-inch fish to slurp a fly off Miami, Florida. Hamlin used a Sage fly rod, a Nautilus Reel, and a Rio Flats line. IGFA recognizes his catch as the All Tackle Length Fly World Record Atlantic Bonefish.
Young Angler Catches Giant Bonefish
Alexandra Beuckman, at the time aged 10, was just a half-pound away from tying the world record when she caught her 15-pound, 8-ounce bonefish near Islamorada, Florida on May 10, 1997. Alexandra was fishing with a Sportfisher rod and a Shimano 3500 reel spooled with 15-pound Ande line. The 34-inch bonefish took a live shrimp. Her catch set the IGFA Junior/Smallfry World Record for Atlantic Bonefish.
The Longest Fly-Caught Pacific Bonefish Record
When it comes to Pacific bonefish (Albula argentea), the all-tackle world record for gear other than fly fishing is listed as vacant, although several line class records are recorded. Pacific bonefish are widely distributed throughout the Western Pacific and the South Pacific, around much of Southeast Asia and northern Australia eastward to the Society Islands of French Polynesia and the Marquesas.
Jan Forszpaniak, a physician, holds the All-Tackle Length Fly World Record Pacific Bonefish with a 28.74-inch bonefish caught Oct. 9, 2018, off Flats, New Caledonia. The doctor was using a Chris Reilly Rod Crafters rod with a 3-Tand reel and 20-pound Rio line. The fish ate a custom fly.
The South-African Bonefish Record
Peter Mason was fishing off Mabibi, Zululand, South Africa, on May 24, 1976, when a 17-pound bonefish slurped in a prawn he was casting. The fish measured 38.18 inches long with a 17-inch girth. Mason was using a Purglas 129H rod with a Penn 500 reel. Mason was able to set IGFA’s 20-Pound Line Class World Record Pacific Bonefish with his catch.
The 30-Pound Line Class World Record Pacific Bonefish
In the use-heavier-line, land-heavier-fish category, Brian Batchelor’s hefty 30-pound line, spooled on a Penn 49A reel, did the trick on his big 19-pounder on May 26, 1962. The rod was a Sealey Heavy Surf model. This humungous Pacific bonefish was just a fraction under 40 inches long and had a 17-inch girth. Batchelor was also casting a prawn and fishing off Zululand in South Africa. He officially holds the IGFA 30-Pound Line Class World Record for Pacific Bonefish.
Interestingly, the IGFA doesn’t list on its world records page an all-tackle record for the Pacific bonefish category, but Batchelor’s record 19-pounder in the 30-pound line class is also listed as the all-tackle record holder in the Smallscale Bonefish (Albula oligolepis). According to IGFA, there was a period when the distinction wasn’t noted between Pacific and Atlantic species. Batchelor’s record in two different places is likely a carryover from that era.
The smallscale species is a large bonefish found in the Indian Ocean and along the coasts and estuaries of South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Yemen, Oman, India, western Thailand and northeastern Australia.
World Record Cortez Bonefish
The Cortez species of bonefish (Albula gilberti) is diminutive compared to its Atlantic and Pacific cousins. It can be found in both the United States and Mexico, from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, throughout the Gulf of California and the outer coast of the Baja California peninsula.
Steven M. Wozniak and Ronald D. Dare Jr., share the All-Tackle World Record Cortez Bonefish record, even though Dare’s fish is an ounce heavier. A two-ounce difference is needed.
Wozniak’s bonefish was caught June 21, 2015, in San Diego Bay in California. It was 14.50 inches long with an 8-inch girth. He used a G. Loomis rod and and Accurate reel with 50-pound Izor line. He was bait fishing with a sardine.
Dare’s Feb. 16, 2018, bonefish (the 1-pound, 9-ounce fish) was 15.75 inches long with an 8-inch girth. He, too, caught the fish in San Diego Bay. Dare was using a Mitchell rod and a Pflueger reel, spooled with 12-pound Stren line. He was throwing an artificial lure.
World Record Roundjaw Bonefish
Roundjaw bonefish range across the Indo-Pacific region, from the Red Sea to the Hawaiian and Tuamoto Islands, north to southern Japan, south to Lord Howe Island, Australia, and throughout Micronesia. Jamie Hamamoto holds the All-Tackle World Record Roundjaw Bonefish record (Albula glossodonta), with a 10-pound, 4-ounce fish she caught on July 16, 2013, while fishing off Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii. Her bonefish was 28.35 inches long with a 16-inch girth.
World Record Sharpjaw Bonefish
The Sharpjaw Bonefish species is found in the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean, around Hawaii. It is also known to inhabit reef systems. The All-Tackle World Record Sharpjaw Bonefish (Albula virgata) is held by Matthew Ehnes with a 10-pound, 12-ounce fish that measured 27.25 inches long and had a girth of 16 inches. Ehnes caught the fish off Honolulu on July 29, 2016. He was fishing with a Penn rod and reel with Berkeley 40-pound line. He was casting an octopus.
Editor’s Note: Anglers interested in supporting sport fishing worldwide should consider buying a membership to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). Salt Water Sportsman is a strong supporter of the IGFA and their mission. IGFA members receive access to the IGFA World Record database, historical videos, a monthly International Angler digital publication, and discounts on tackle and charters from IGFA partners.