Bonefishing in Ascension Bay and Bocapaila, Yucatán, Mexico

Ascension Bay is well known for it’s endless wading flats, mangrove lagoons, channels and coral reefs. Pesca Maya is located right on the northern side of the bay, having access to over 100,000 acres of flats, some wadable, some soft, that request a boat. Renowned by anglers for their wariness and fighting spirit, bonefish are stealthy and speedy residents of these shallow flats. Although they are not usually consumed by people, bonefish are a major target of sport anglers, becoming a pillar of the recreational fishing industry.

Without any doubt, the great bonefishing pleasure is to spot the fish, cast, strip, see the fish following, feel the bite, set the hook and listen your reel scream while bonefish pulls your line, stronger, pound per pound, than most fish. It sounds simple, but it takes angler’s best skills to catch bonefish.

Your eyes have to learn to read the water, flashes, waves, moog, birds, mantaray, sharks and many other signs. Your cast will make your fly go for 30 feet and land nice and smoothly at the right place, the proper stripping and sensitivity to feel the fish and set the hook with your hand, not lifting the rod. It takes a good guide to help you with each step. The way to work the flat with the wind on your back, directions to spot the fish and strip.

These details will make the difference when chasing bonefish. At Pesca Maya we are very much aware of it and for that reason we have two guides per boat. A head guide and an apprentice will be very helpful. For beginners it works very well when casting from the boat, the guide will be behind you, pointing and helping with the line, solving knots and keeping the line off your feet. For expert fisherman it will be very helpful especially when wading, each angler will have aid to spot the fish and to tell you where the soft soil is, so you don’t burry yourself in the moog. When catching the fish you will appreciate very much to have help to take the hook out of the fish’s mouth and you won’t have to walk all the way back to the boat, he will bring it to you.

Bonefish Description

These torpedo-shaped fish often resemble gray ghosts as they streak through the shallow backwaters and along the fringes of mangrove forests. Their silvery color often casts reflections of blue and green, and dark streaks punctuate the gaps between the scales on their upper body. Bonefish have a conical, scaleless head with a black-tipped snout and small mouth.They have a single sail-shaped dorsal fin, a powerful muscled body, and a deeply forked tail. Bonefish are grouped with tarpon, eels and ladyfish, because all of these fish have a similar larval stage, but the only other characteristic they share is that most of them are not considered good to eat. Nevertheless, tarpon and bonefish are greatly prized by sport anglers for their wily nature and tenacious spirit. Bonefish may live as long as 19 years. Females are slightly longer than males of the same age.

Range and Habitat

Bonefish reside in inshore marine waters. As adults, they frequent shallow flats, occupying seagrass beds, sandy bottoms, and, occasionally, hard bottoms. They are often found in quiet backwaters along mangrove-fringed areas, prefering salty water. In mid-summer and in winter, bonefish may move out to deeper waters, but they typically do not migrate long distances. Worldwide, bonefish occur in coastal and inland waters of tropical seas. Scientists have discovered at least eight species of bonefish, but more may exist. There is usually little difference between species in the way they look.

Where bonefish spawn is also a mystery. Researchers believe their spawning grounds are probably located outside their traditional shallow-water habitats, either offshore or in an area where currents are likely to carry the eggs offshore. Larvae in early stages of development have been captured in offshore waters, whereas larvae in later stages of development have been found in nearshore waters. Scientists have been unable to catch “ripe” females in inshore areas, but they note that another explanation for this might be that females do not feed or bite hooks right before or after spawning.

Bonefish spawn from November through May or June, producing from 400,000 to 1.7 million eggs. Scientists don’t know if they can spawn more than once in a season. The heavier and older the fish, the more eggs she will produce. The eggs hatch into larvae called leptocephali, strange-looking, transparent creatures with large eyes and a ribbonlike body. Bonefish leptocephali look like tiny eels with forked tails. Although similar in appearance to tarpon larvae, bonefish leptocephali reach a larger maximum size of about 2.5 inches – although tarpon will far surpass bonefish in size as adults. The larval phase lasts from 41 to 71 days. When the larvae transform to juveniles, each individual looks like a tiny bona fide bonefish and will take up residence in the shallows, where it will spend most of its life. Bonefish grow rapidly for five to six years of their life, after which their growth rate slows considerably. Males reach sexual maturity at a younger age and smaller size than females. Males mature at an average of 3.6 years of age and 17.4 inches. Females reach maturity at about 4.2 years and 18.8 inches.

Bonefish are typically found in groups or schools of a few to as many as 100 individuals. Bonefish have a fairly nondiscriminating palate. They eat a variety of food, including small crabs, snails, worms, shrimp, and other crustaceans, as well as toadfish. They frequently feed along the bottom and, in the process of grubbing in silt and sand, may incidentally ingest plant matter. Bonefish are built for speed for good reason: They are often preyed upon by sharks and barracuda, and their only defense against these attacks is to flee, as quickly as possible. They are very wary and alert animals, and these characteristics make them a challenge to catch.

Economic importance

Because they are not tasty to eat, bonefish were probably considered trash fish until fishing for leisure came into fashion since the 50’s. Today, dedicated bonefishing enthusiasts can buy rods, reels, and even specially made flat-water skiffs named after their favorite quarry. Bonefish are an economic lifeline for the many charter fishing guides in the Caribbean, and the thrill of snaring these savvy backwater gladiators has infected celebrities, athletes, and even U.S. presidents. Because bonefishing is predominantly a catch-and-release fishery, neither the number of bonefish caught each year nor their associated economic value is known.

Fishing Tips

Because they inhabit very shallow water and are easily spooked, catching a bonefish takes skill and experience. Our fishing guides will lead you to the best spots – which are usually very shallow areas that can be entered only by cutting off the boat engine and using a pole to push the boat in. Poling also provides a good way to sneak up on these nervous fish, as does quietly wading in shallow flats. The more shallow the water, the more skittish the bonefish are likely to be. Experienced guides sight-fish for bonefish by searching for their telltale silvery shapes in the shallows or watching for plumes of mud stirred up by these bottom-feeding fish. A bonefish feeds with its head down and its tail protruding from the water – a behaviour known as “tailing” – and this activity provides another clue to its whereabouts.

Live shrimp and crab make good bonefish bait, but bonefish also respond to flies and artificial lures. They also can be enticed to bite by anglers chumming with chopped shrimp. Casting is another test of the angler’s skill; casting too close to a fish will send it scurrying, whereas a line dropped too far away will never get its attention. Once hooked, a bonefish makes a mad dash for deeper water, often breaking the line on rocks or corals as it streaks across the bottom. Most anglers use 10-pound test line on bonefish. Although bonefish can be caught any time of day, tailing fish are most likely to be spotted in the early morning or evening. In the winter, bonefish are not as numerous in the shallows, and deeper waters are a better choice for the angler.

When is the best time for bonefishing in Ascension Bay and Bocapaila?

In Ascension Bay and Bocapaila any time is good! Because bonefish are resident year round, the difference comes with the weather. But again any month you can get a perfect bonefishing day. However, better times come with warmer weather. Bonefish will reduce their feeding during cold water periods, they will go for deeper and warmer waters. Rain is a factor that will make it difficult to spot the fish and will get the water milky. Wind will make it hard to cast. “So what is the perfect time?” you might ask, well there is no simple answer. You can have perfect days and catch fish year round and you can have bad days year round, however we will analyze each time of the year: In the Caribbean we have basically 2 seasons: wet and dry season. Wet season goes from the end of June to the end of December and dry season goes from early January through June. The heaviest showers are usually in September, October and sometimes November and December get some.

Most of the time in the Caribbean you can get a heavy rain and it will be sunny 30 minutes later, however some times it can be 3 days cloudy and fishing gets harder, but you still see the fish tailing and nervous in the water. So any time you have the chance, it’s a good time to go bonefishing. The peak season is February through May, June and July are good and August is very good, It might be the best time to catch a Grand Slam.