Scott’s Species – bonefish, a dream target for saltwater fly anglers

Fresh off the plane after a trip to the Cocos Islands, Western Angler editor has Scott Coghlan is inspired to take an in-depth look at one of the species he caught on his holiday, bonefish, in the latest edition of Scott’s Species.

Species: Bonefish, Albula neoguinaica
Eating: 1 star
ID: Single large dorsal fin, underslung lower jaw.

An iconic sportfish around the world, but often caught accidentally in northern waters by bait anglers unaware of their identity, who mistake them for large whiting.

Scott Coghlan with a bonefish on his recent Cocos Islands adventure.

As the name suggests, bonefish are full of bones and poor eating as a result, and are best released.

Bonefish are a dream target for saltwater fly anglers, as they are famed for their speed and stamina on the end of the line, but have not been a target species in WA generally.

However, they are actually more common in our waters than many people would realise. In recent years, they have been caught quite regularly from Geraldton north.

Often they are caught by beach anglers soaking baits for other species, and they show up at Steep Point and Quobba for bait fishers. I once caught one on a 100g casting metal aimed for a Spanish mackerel, much to my surprise.

However, the only location where they have regularly been specifically chased by anglers is along the Ningaloo coast at Exmouth.

There small schools of fish can be found over the reef shallows and cast to. These are generally big fish by world standards and are usually caught in 2m to 3m of water, with some of the local fishing guides specialising in catching them.

The essence of catching bonefish though is finding them on skinny flats, where they can be stalked and cast to, usually on fly gear although they will take lures such as soft plastics.

In ankle-deep water they will charge across the shallows when hooked, using their large tail to power away at high speed. Spotting them and casting at them is great fun and they have the title of ‘ghosts of the flats’ for good reason.

For this style of fishing the only option for WA anglers really is remote Cocos Island, one of the Indian Ocean Territories and around four and a half hours from Perth by plane.

There are some world-class opportunities for chasing bonefish there on the flats of the lagoon. The average size is good and fish to 75cm are commonly caught, with fishing on the incoming tide generally most productive.

The gear used is normally 7-8 weight fly outfits and despite their reputation for being easily spooked, they will often take a fly quite aggressively.

A lightish spin outfit of 6-7kg is another option. Most areas of the Cocos lagoon fire at times, although the fish won’t come into the shallows when the water warms up markedly.

There are local guides at Home Island who specialise in chasing bones. Once you catch a bonefish in the shallows and experience the power, you’ll realise why they have such a great reputation across the globe.

Fly fishers flock to Exmouth in search of bonefish. Picture: Ningaloo Fly Fishing