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I’ll probably get shot for this in the fly fishing section but.. let me explain. I’d rather hunt bonefish and actually have better luck hunting(poling) instead of staking out. But some of my friends can’t really cast a fly rod that well but they really want to catch a Bonefish. So what’s the best strategy for chumming? Frozen shrimp ok? Better on outgoing or incoming? Flat or deeper water? Dunking fly in shrimp goo still considered fly fishing? I’m assuming current is important. Sorry for all the questions I’ve just haven’t had luck with live shrimp so never tried chumming. I just want to get them a fish. And with the little time they have, kids/family/work it’s hard to make it happen in two trips in the past year.
 

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never done it for bones but Ill admit Ive dumped a can of tuna on the flats before out of curiosity and it seemed to work pretty well. though it does draw as much, if not more, undesirable fish as it does the targeted species
 

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Sight Fishing South Florida
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Handfuls of live shrimp crushed or finely chopped thrown overboard in areas where bonefish live. Need current to spread scent. We’ve caught many bones this way on spinning gear when weather is miserable. Certainly, a very boring and cheap way of catching them....

If you can see them coming, Fish em just like any other time. Lead em with fly and fish it! No need to scent fly, that would just be wrong...
 

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Handfuls of live shrimp crushed or finely chopped thrown overboard in areas where bonefish live. Need current to spread scent. We’ve caught many bones this way on spinning gear when weather is miserable. Certainly, a very boring and cheap way of catching them....

If you can see them coming, Fish em just like any other time. Lead em with fly and fish it! No need to scent fly, that would just be wrong...
Capt Eli, do you guide Biscayne Bay? Please PM me your bonefish charter rates and phone number.

Thanks,
Jim
 

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I have friends that dont throw a fly rod but we still pole and they throw small feather jigs I tie and are very successful on bonefish and permit. Hell you could rig a live shrimp on a hook with a split shot and cast at them just like you would a fly. Plenty of options before I would just anchor and chum.
 

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When I first got interested in bonefishing it took a few years until I picked up a fly rod and went after them that way (there were so many bones on the Stiltsville flats back then that you could drift across them with the tide halfway in and actually not only get bites on jigs tossed blindly out in front of you in three or four feet of water -but actually get doubles hooked up -and some of them were big enough to spool you...)....

In 1976 I joined the Tropical Angler's Club which was very competitive. They had a fly division so I built my first fly rod before I knew how to use one properly (and back then fiberglass was all there was so my first rod was on a Lamiglas blank - S glass if I remember correctly..). It wasn't a very good rod (I quickly learned that building from a formula didn't cut it - there's a degree of art in building fly rods) - Abe Gaspar, working at Uslan Rods, taught me a lot about that... all those years ago. For those who never heard of Uslan -the founder Nat Uslan, many years before made a name for himself building five sided split bamboo fly rods (you heard right - five sided - not the usual six sided bamboo...). Uslan is long gone now - for many years...

Back then Capt Bill Curtis (who never had a captain's license until years and years later...) had been successfully guiding for bonefish for many years when I came on the scene. He was also the guy who invented the poling platform back in 1968 from what I've read... At any rate he'd long perfected the art of chumming bonefish and he stayed booked for days at a time doing it. In short you take a handful of live shrimp, broke them up into small pieces, and tossed them onto a bare sand spot in a place where the current would carry the scent out into deeper waters (edges of flats, places where the flat got deeper, etc.). All of this was very tide dependent so you fished different spots on different tides. A low incoming spot would be in a completely different spot than a high outgoing spot, etc.

The trouble with chumming is that you also draw a lot of other species to your chum - so you kept the chum to a minimum... The best part was that when bones moved onto bare sand - you could see them clearly - something hardly possible when they were moving over grass...

All of this was ideal for a beginning saltwater angler since the guide could carefully control the distance to the chummed spot and stake out his (or her) skiff at the best angle for a cast (considering wind, visibility, current direction,etc.). The last thing you did was make a cast to the desired location to make sure you had enough line out (then pick up any extra line back onto the reel..). Once you're set up it's a waiting game (but not longer than about 30 - 40 minutes - then set up somewhere else...). The fish will come into the chummed area aggressively -but they won't stay long as they try to pick up a bit of shrimp here or there. The angler makes the cast then allows the fly to sink to the bottom before moving it.. Here it's critical to be able to see the fish (and if you can't, the guide or your partner has to be able to see where the fish is in relation to where your fly landed -and be able to tell you when to start stripping..). Short little strips in a chummed area usually result in a quick bite - and a long run...

This routine was ideal for early "bonefish skiffs" - that weren't exactly microskiffs, didn't float very shallow, and certainly weren't easy to maneuver with a push pole... It was also ideal for times when there were lots of bonefish - with very little fishing pressure (the way it was back when I came on the scene)... but all of that would change....

I caught my first bonefish on fly that way - and got a dirty look from Bill since we'd beaten him to one of his spots and were just poling off of it when he showed up with his anglers.... We soon learned to pole after tailers and mudders - or just fish working up into very shallow places on an incoming tide -but chumming for them was always our fallback... It was an ordinary day, back then, to have taken a half dozen bones on fly out of Key Biscayne - and they averaged big back then, around eight pounds... You could double that number with a spinning rod and live shrimp - any day you tried...

Lots more to say about this - but I'll save it for another day. As more and more folks got interested in flats fishing things began to change - the boats improved, the number of guides increased (there were only three full time flats guides for all of Biscayne Bay when I started.....), and of course the fishing got tougher...
 

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Chumming with shrimp drew pinfish, cowfish, trunkfish and small snapper.
The solution I copied from the local guides
was a pvc chum tube with 1/4 inch holes in it.
2 or 3 live shrimp and 2 or 3 broken up ones in the tube.
Screw the end cap in place, 2 ounce pyramid sinker to anchor it.
Pitch it out behind the boat so the smell carried off the flat.
Bones would travel up current and circle the tube.
They knew food was there, actively looking for it.
Easy to see and cast to with flies, tipped jigs or freelined shrimp.
The unwanted fish were still there but couldn't get to the chum.

 

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Fly Fishing Shaman
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I can't say I know what works best in Biscayne. But going to the Keys, back when I was younger, sure you could throw out a handful of shrimp cut into 3 to 4 pieces and wait on them. Years later, with all the guides moving in and the fishing pressure getting more and more, things started to change. Sure you could call up some smaller bones and of course, all the pinfish and trash fish in the area, not to mention multiple small sharks, but the bigger more smarter bones will avoid you. Of course, you could chalk it up to the fact that there are not any decent bones in that area, but that is not always true.

Look, my goal here is to help you avoid the need for having to chum. But if you must, for the reasons you have or the ones I described below, then here is a stealthier approach than just chuckin bait out behind the boat.

Now mind you that with all the years of fly fishing I've done and many more than that spin fishing, if by myself, I just don't chum for anything. But sometimes If I have someone with me that is a novice fisherman, kid, family member, friend, etc and they want to target them... and with me, not being down there to the Keys for a while and not being on top of the fish movement for a while and want to see if any are around and not necessarily entice them by regular chumming, but want to do something more effective (for me anyway) I'll do the following;

The first thing I'll do when coming onto a spot that holds bones, is to start off trying not to chum in the 1st place, even tho I have those other anglers with me. Of course, approach the spot as dead stealthy as possible. That means cutting that motor way before you go onto the flat. Then if you have a TM, then TM to a point and then get on the pole and ease up to the area and the spot you want to target.

I'll set up, uptide of the area I know that they should be there. I basically sit and wait, scoping out the area for any signs. During this time, if you have any shrimp in the live well, cut it off. I'm saying "turn off your livewell!" As much pressure that they have these days, livewell pumps will turn them off and push them out and away from you, especially in shallow and skinny water. That can be different if you are spin fishing cause with 10lb braid, you can get many times the distance than with a fly line and with that, they are less prone to be turned off by a livewell pump at that distance. But nevertheless, I'll still turn any and all pumps off. ~laughs~ Imagine a fish of a lifetime bone or perm come within casting distance only only to have then automatic bilge pump switch kick on and blow your chances of that fish of a lifetime. Ask me how I know learned that fact! :confused:

So the key is to be stealthy and compare it to bow hunting vs rifle hunting. So the trick is to be as quite as possible so you drawl them in closer. So turn the pumps off and believe it or not, if you only have a couple dozen shrimp, they will last quite a while with the pump off, especially if the water temps are still cool and less than 80 degrees.

That being said, those larger Keys bones (and I'm sure very similar to Biscayne bones) are getting very educated these days. Stealth! No boat noise! Be set and ready. No fumbling around the boat getting ready. Probably the best way to get as close as possible to them to fly cast to them is to quietly wade out to that area if possible and then just wait for them. But if not, then set the boat up tide from where they will come onto a fly and in an area where it looks good or you think they will be. It really doesn't matter the tide, as long as there are moving water. If, in the beginning incoming tide, then be more to the edge so you can see them when they come on to the flat and then slide across the flat cross current. For me, that's the best time to get them to eat, especially early in the a.m. Later on during an outgoing, be closer in towards the back country side of the flat and catch them coming out from the interior holes of the flat and running towards the edges, again working their way across the current to catch any smells they may have missed.

So don't set up directly uptide from that spot you want to target them, but off to the side, so they are not directly feeling the movements of the boat and don't see you straight up ahead of them. Instead, you need to set up off to one side or the other from your targeted spot, depending on currents, where the sun is and where the winds are coming from. In other words, scope it out, use your head and pick the best spot to be the most stealthy and be able to make the best cast in.

IF YOU HAVE A POWER POLE..... resist using it! Why? Once down, yer wide ass end of the stern of the boat will be facing into the current and causing a ton of water to push around the boat, as well as water turbulence and water noise against the boat. All those things will turn those spooky bones off. Why? Cause they'll just feel it! Sure, you may fool the little guys, but not the bigger, more sharper fish. And if there is a perm around, then for get it! Also, forget about using a trolling motor of any kind, ESPECIALLY with a spot lock! That'll turn them off quicker than anything and they'll disappear before you see them. So instead, streamline the boat into the current and use a stick pin at the bow with a little release rope, or use a small backup anchor (even a small mushroom anchor) with a small diameter rope, just to hold the nose of the boat into the current (less water drag and noise). Or you can use someone on the PP sitting down on the PP and holding the boat in the current, holding it steady and still and just waiting on those fish.

If you still feel the need to call them up with chum, then you may be counter-productive throwing handfuls of chopped up shrimp at them cause the spookier ones will know something's up. And if you call them in that way, they will be jumpy/edgy and will blow up if they see something out of place. Also, by broadcasting handfuls of shrimp or shrimp pieces, you create a wide fan of scent that broatcast all over that flat, drawling in every pinfish on the flat and other trash fish, there in a big ball waiting for more handouts. So the scent will come and go in waves, as you throw it and every piece gets immediately eaten and then nothing until the next handful. You may actually miss bones swimming crosscurrent (as they do) in-between scent waves. If you happen to drawl in 1 or a few bones this way, they'll be going all over the place looking for it and you'll have a much harder time targeting them with a precise cast, jig or fly presentation.

Wait!!! Did someone in this thread just say he opened a can of tuna and then.... o_O Lol

Instead, if you must chum (for those reason above), then yes, use fresh live shrimp only! (nothing dead or frozen). Cut them up into small 1/2" pieces (3-4 pieces per shrimp, depending on shrimp size), give each piece a light squeeze and throw it up tide towards the spot. So the idea is to throw it, one piece at a time, where the pieces will drift and land basically in the uptide side of the spot, sand spot or hole where you want them to come into. This is the point where you need to be patient but have your angler ready to cast when a fish comes into sight. So one piece at a time, you are flicking it out in the very exact same spot every time. Then each piece is drifting down into that very same location, every time. One at a time, long pauses between each piece you pinch/crush and throw into that exact same spot. Are you getting this?? The pauses can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute apart, to as much as 2 mins between pieces. This can depend on water depth and volume of current flow. What you basically want is between 30secs to 1 min of time (1 minute on avg) at the bottom of where you want the piece of bait to sit before the next bait is thrown. Even if something crushes and eats it, that scent will still be disperse in that same thin ribbon of scent. The main thing is, once you figure out your timing, stick to it, even if you think you see something coming, tell your caster to get ready and then when to cast, all the while you are not breaking your rhythm with the pieces of bait. Once you break that rhythm, you have to start it back up or wait a bit and move to another spot. So you are giving your spot a good 15-20 mins with about 4-6 shrimp total usage of fresh live bait at each location/spot. With about 2 dozen shrimp, that can give you about 4 to 6 solid areas to set up and chum, if need be. That, my friend, should be plenty.

So what does this do differently than throwing handfuls of chopped up bait? This exact rhythm method of a precisely placed piece of bait, one piece at a time in a very uniform manner will create a thread or thin ribbon of scent and will go along way across the flat, not all over the flat. You'll notice that baitfish trash generally hold in an area and broadcasting smell all over the flat will attract lots of them. But with a thin ribbon of scent, maybe only a few pins will come to investigate, that happens to be in that thread, but the rest will not. So you may see a few, but not many. Also you'll notice that bonefish will swim crosscurrent while coming onto or going off a flat. This allows them to catch any scent trails/scent ribbons and then follow it back to the source.

The end results will be fish that can be called further away from your targeted spot and you can look up ahead and see them coming. Then you can forecast where they will end up and pre-plan your cast and give the fly time to settle there when the fish arrives. Once there, you can start working it.

big bahama bonefish 2.jpg


I hope my 2 cents of scents made sense to you! ;)

Ted Haas
 

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Sight Fishing South Florida
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Another option while chumming with shrimp or sight fishing is to use small live blue crabs. Pull the legs off and break off a small section of the carapace. Big bones are suckers for crabs...
 

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Lowcountry Degen
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@Backwater it sounds like your way has a similar approach to the guys that use a chum "tube". Putting out a line of scent rather than blanketing the whole flat with it. The advantage to your method being that it doesn't "run out" of scent like a chum tube might, I imagine.
 

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Fly Fishing Shaman
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@Backwater it sounds like your way has a similar approach to the guys that use a chum "tube". Putting out a line of scent rather than blanketing the whole flat with it. The advantage to your method being that it doesn't "run out" of scent like a chum tube might, I imagine.
Well the best reason I can think of is you are not casting to a chum tube, like sitting on a feeder and shooting game off of it. Just not my thing.
 

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Oof... I must have drank waay too much coffee last night writing that thing! :p:oops:

Well, I hope someone get's something out of it at least. ;)
Backwater, Should my target zone be sand patch on the grass flat so I can see them? Sorry for the novice questions. Never caught one and would like to teach myself. Thanks.
 

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Fly Fishing Shaman
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Backwater, Should my target zone be sand patch on the grass flat so I can see them? Sorry for the novice questions. Never caught one and would like to teach myself. Thanks.
The real problem with todays weary bigger size bonefish is they don't want to be lured into wide open sand patches. The bigger sand patches makes it easier to see them, as opposed to a grassy bottom, in which they feel more comfortable and relaxed in the grass to feed in and hang out. So you may find smaller, more dumb/naive juvenile bones coming into those larger wide open sand spots with no problems sometimes. But remember, those bones are also bait to something else and so they learned. So the larger fish are more weary and try to keep from to running in those large sandy areas. Instead, pick a small sand patch in more wide open grassy areas, if you are having a hard time seeing fish (water clarity, water depth, eyesight issues, etc.). So in that case, if you know that there is a larger sand hole that may see some bonefish traffic, then choose the edge of that sand hole. I'll usually pick the leading uptide side of that hole/spot where that edge is on my side of the hole. Your scent thread will run down the very edge of that sand spot. This is what you want to identify at first before you decide where to stage the boat up. You should be uptide of that exact spot and then over out to the side. The end results of where your boat needs to be pinned AND where you will be casting from, in the corner of the rear of the back deck, and all at a maximum casting distance and eye sight of where those fish will pull up to investigate. Does that make sense? You can also keep quiet and just quietly talk or whisper to your caster while he/she is next to you. Personally, I'd be standing on the back of the rear deck up against the poling platform and my caster will be to my side. In this situation, your caster (or you) needs to be able to cast without rocking the boat (boat movement or hull slap from rocking back and forth, swaying from front to back as you make your false casts = spooked fish). So try to have accurate side type of casting with as little arm movements as possible (casting arm down to your side, not waving up in the air) and us as little false casts as possible, without rocking the boat. you can practice that by standing on one foot. But the stance your fly caster should take is to be squared up to the spot where you will cast. shoulders and feet squared up to that spot too. Feet directly under each shoulder. knees slightly bent. A you are side casting out at a 45 degree angle with your casting hand not going higher than your shoulders and your hauling hand only making bumps on your fly line instead of long hauls. So try practicing that 1st before you go.

Sometimes what you'll find more bigger bones in are slightly deeper cuts and in narrow cuts than run through the grass flat you are working (maybe only a 1 or so feet deeper from the bottom (even large prop scars thru the grass) can be a more comfortable freeway for larger bones to move in and off a flat without being noticed so much. It's how they can keep a lower profile and basically a more off-the-grid style of stalking that the bigger ones sometimes do.

So with this method of calling them in, you probably don't want to stand up on the polling platform and look out for them, cause they'll see you before you spot them. And trying to get that fish in range to fly cast to, while you are standing on the PP will likely detour the fish before he is willing to come into fly casting range, or within sight for your caster.

So keep a more lower profile, no dark clothes, keep movements to a minimum and keep a few shrimp in a plastic cup with a bit of water in it, to keep them fresh and to keep from reaching in the live well all the time, again, thereby possibly spooking potential bones.

Resist the urge to cast to small sharks moving by, cause that will add to the problem of potentially missing a good bone, if the opportunity presents itself.

Oh and BTW, forget trying to stalk and catch decent size bones on the weekends. The boat traffic and all the weekend warriors out there mucking up the area to try their hap-hazard ways to catch them and whatever else they are fishing for (which is usually anything that bites), will blow all your chances at a really good fish.

Hope this helps. ;)

Ted Haas
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
Lots of good info here guys, thank you. Can’t wait to get back out there and try some of this out. I’ve only caught 12 Bonefish so my experience is limited compared to the experts on here. I will say that in my little time chasing these guys in Biscayne Bay: Getting out of the skiff and wading has really helped me, A LOT. I’ve only caught one from the skiff, the rest have been while wading. Even had an eat 10’ in front of me while wading. When I wade I’ve also noticed that I see a lot more tails/wakes compared to being in the skiff. I’m sure some of these bones sense the skiff and are long gone before you get in casting range. I’ll report back after incorporating these tips on my next trip. Tight lines
 

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Backwater has pretty much spelled it out in his two posts - now I think I'll speak up a bit about what I didn't say in my first post...

I quit guiding for bonefish about nine or more years ago and retreated back into the Everglades instead. I got tired of showing folks fish - that ran from us before I was ever able to get into position (with rare exceptions). The great bonefishing I was lucky enough to learn on changed quite a bit over the years - with the biggest downside simply much more pressure on the fishery than it could support as far as I was concerned.. In short I could still catch them on my own (the biggest fish when I was on foot, of course). For those wanting to wade... ocean side flats are mostly harder than bayside (or gulfside) flats - so start there. All I ever brought with me was a few flies and leaders (in a ziplock baggie under my hat to keep them dry) and a pair of forceps to remove a hook... and just maybe a special 'cuda fly that didn't need a wire leader..

The truth of the matter is that my old Maverick was simply too big to fish really spooky fish in shallow waters.. years before, no problem at all.... in the backcountry of the Everglades it works just fine....

As one outstanding bonefish guide told me years ago - find bones in six feet of water and they're dumb as posts... in six inches of water they'll spook just seeing something that might be a skiff 200 feet away... Proving my point, most of the guides I know that are still bonefishing are working out of micro-skiffs (or something darned close to a micro...).

As far as chumming goes, over the years here's what a few that I knew went to - a chum tube meant to be casted on a heavy rod... It's about one inch in diameter, just enough to hold four or five shrimp in bits if wanted... Note the wire leader - we lost more than one tube to sharks before using a wire leader. Kind of funny whenever it happened since the shark didn't want to let go of its prize and you got to fight them for a bit before they'd drop it.... In use, you sailed the tube a long ways then quickly reeled it into position and allowed a bit of slack so the line to the tube wasn't in the way.,.. When we used spinning gear the tube could be as far away from the skiff as you could still see it. Pretty handy for spooky fish... This old tube hasn't been on my skiff in years now...


Speaking of spooky bonefish - one of the downsides over the years was the advent of good quality microskiffs that floated in shallows that boats years before simply couldn't get to... When I started there were many places where fish could prowl -and never be disturbed by anyone (unless you were willing to wade - and some soft flats you'd never even consider wading). That's just not the case now... All those years ago a bonefish skiff wasn't a common sight at all and if you saw one being trailered down the road it was probably someone you knew... Nowadays there are high quality skiffs that float in very little water from the Keys all the way up to the northeast (would you believe New York and points north...). Add to quality micros, modern electronics that allow even a rank beginner to run in places that rarely ever saw anyone but really skilled boatmen operating in years ago and you begin to see that we've caused some of our own problems...

Funny thing - as tough as bonefishing is these days... the permit fishing is actually even better than it was years ago - and in the hottest part of the summer...
 
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