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Easy bonefishing for kids

Bonefish are one of the most common and highly revered sports fish on the flats in South Florida. Known to be finicky and nearly impossible to see, how can we level the playing field so that our kids can take part in catching these silver bullets? Let's break it down into right place, right time and right equipment.

Right Place

The bonefish of south Florida, specifically the lower Keys, make their home on a multitude of flats with their bottoms ranging from limestone, mud or sand. Bonefish can be caught year round here as long as the water temps don’t drastically drop below 74 degrees or heat up above 88 degrees. April through December are prime months to fish for bonefish. They are the most practical of targets when you and the family decide to beach it at one of the sandbars at low tide. They like to stay in and around their home range, ranging from 500 yards as they move up into the sand or mud flats and back out to the channels when the tide ebbs. If you’re fishing the actual flats for bonefish, you want to be in a skiff, using a push pole or trolling motor. Staking out with a Power Pole is my preferred method because it enables me to spend more time on the bow of the skiff with my kids. You will find out eventually that any hands free device on a boat is a must if you want to be as efficient as possible when taking your kids fishing. Large points that funnel water across a flat are a great place to stake out, along with poling the transition line of grass to sand or mud. When you start to see haze or puffs of mud from fish sifting the bottom you’re hot on the trail. Another great indicator that bonefish are nearby is medium to large lemon sharks swimming the flat. Bottom line is bonefish need to have food and safety. If those small crabs and shrimp are not there along with a safe entry and exit route to deep water you will not find bonefish.

Right Time

Time is always a factor, especially when kids are aboard. Not only are you fishing with ticking time bombs, you’re trying to stay in a spot for a certain window of opportunity. Too early or too late you will miss that window or risk blowing the fish off the flat. It might take you a couple of flats or tides to figure out where these fish enter and exit, but once you figure it out the spots are easy to re-create else where. Each of my bonefish spots has a “favorable tide”. As long as you have moving water at a level around 1.2 ft, you will start to see bonefish. Obviously, like any fish that relies on tides to fill in their favorite places to eat, they will follow that water level until the tide tops out or bottoms out. What this means is try to plan your bonefishing spot around your kids. I try to front load it because it’s boring for kids. Young kids are very impatient, so keeping them concentrated and scanning for bonefish is near impossible. Getting to your spot right when the fish come up on the flat gives you constant action and doesn’t become this long drawn out search.

Right Rig and Bait/Lure

If you’re taking small kids sight fishing, chances are they don’t have the discipline to keep a pair of polarized sun glasses on the entire time, not to mention scanning the flats for these ghostly transparent fish. The knocker rigged dead or live shrimp is the most effective "kid friendly" presentation for the lower keys bonefish. Bonefish use their nose just as much as their eyes when it comes to finding a snack. What it comes down to is using a technique and bait that suits kids. The knocker rig is composed of a 3ft piece of 15-20lb flurocarbon leader with a 1/4 oz barrel sinker (easy to cast) connected with a clinch knot to a 1/0 circle hook (easy to hook up and safe for the fish). It yields a 100% hook up as long as you don’t cast right on top of the fish while giving you the ability to set the rod down so you can devote attention to your kids. The other method we use if your kid can tolerate it is casting hand tied bonefish jigs. A 3/16s oz to 1/4 oz white and tan or pink and tan jig are easy to cast and easy to hook set. They require no technical manipulation and if properly presented, usually yields a high percentage hook up. Tipping it with a tiny piece of shrimp only increases these odds but is not necessary in my opinion. Just insure that you or your kid doesn’t bomb the entire school straight on and you cast 2 to 3 feet ahead of the fish, swimming the jig away from school naturally. The other option which is my favorite is the fly rod. Grayton and Chandler sometimes can tolerate Lindsay and I getting on the bow and throwing our 8wt. The 8wt rod, reel, weight forward floating line with a tapered 20lb fluorocarbon leader is what we catch all of our bonefish on. We use tan and brown shrimp patterns with a little bit of orange on a number two hook. You want medium to large lead eyes to get the fly on the bottom quick. There is a lot of current on most of the lower keys flats and you don’t want your fly to drift over the fish. Stripping it along the bottom gives the most natural presentation and yields good results. Just be sure you take into consideration where your kid is in relation to your cast and try to get them to wear glasses to protect them.

Proper handling of bonefish

As tough as bonefish seem, they are a very fragile fish when out of the water. Proper fish handling is important with these fish. What you want to do is keep a landed bonefish boat side as long as possible. Do not bring these fish into the boat, you will accidently drop them. These fish are very slimy and require that slime coat to be kept in tack so they can survive in their subsurface environment. Prolonged exposure out of the water causes these fish to weaken and die. We like to get in the water with these fish to give them the best chance. Once the hook is removed, get your quick picture and revive the fish by letting fresh oxygenated water run over its gills. Ensure there are no sharks in the immediate area and let that silver bullet get back to its life on the flats.

Hopefully this information was helpful to some of you that travel down to the lower keys. Fishing with kids can be very difficult at times, with some patience and knowledge implemented correctly you can still yield high results on the flats. The lower keys bonefish in my opinion is the most forgiving of fish on our flats, with that being said respect them and practice safe handling by keeping them in the water as long as you can and release them safely to be caught another day. If you want more information on the lower keys bonefish click on any of the links in this article which will redirect you to our YouTube channel. We have a lot of videos on the lower keys bonefish along with every other species in the lower keys.

Thanks for reading and watching

Stay hooked fam

Scott Brown

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