IN their quest for the elusive bonefish, anglers are always willing to go the extra mile.
This gamefish, known as the grey ghost of the flats, can only be found in a few places around the world.
Aside from the Caribbean islands and Florida in the United States, the place closest to Malaysia that hides this trophy saltwater species is the Maldives.
Anglers are prepared to pay top dollar to catch the bonefish.
What awaits is a thrilling adventure as this species is known to move stealthily.
It is able to blend well with its surroundings and is difficult to spot as it burrows for food at the bottom of the sandy flats.
The bonefish, fondly referred to as bones, is easily spooked. As such, one can wait for many hours just to find a fish, even at the most promising flat.
Serious anglers are all for the challenge that comes with catching this fish. It has astonishing strength and is able to dart at great speed using its powerful tail to get to the deep even after it is hooked.
Primarily caught for sport, it is the undisputed fighter of the sea, and the tug-of-war between man and fish can provide an adrenaline high.
One has to be observant when looking for bones; the tell-tale signs being a moving “cloudy” in crystal-clear water as a school of bonefish spits out sand while scrounging the seabed.
The shallow flats allow anglers to spot the fish’s tail as it dives vertically to find food.
The bonefish is amphidromous; it comes to the flats to find food and play during the incoming tide, only to return to deeper water as the tide ebbs.
I have travelled more than half a dozen times to the Maldives to hunt this fish, my favourite haunt being the small remote islands within the Lhaviyani Atoll.
Situated on the northeast of Male, the capital city of the Maldives, the journey on a slow live-in wooden boat can take anything between eight and 10 hours depending on weather and sea conditions.
The many islets in the Laccadive Sea offer crystal-clear flats.
There are two ways to catch the bonefish – fly fishing or spin fishing – and neither way is easy.
Sea worms are one of the best options for bait if one is into the spinning method. Fly lures that imitate sea creatures such as crab and shrimp also make great bait.
Aside from this, the Crazy Charlie and Clouser are two hot lures among fly fishers.
Small lures can be used on a school of bones, but only when the fish are in feeding-frenzy mode.
To be successful, never cast directly at the bonefish as it is alert and will quickly go into the deep.
The trick is to cast the bait ahead and slowly retrieve it, hoping that the bones will snap it.
From my experience, the larger bonefish come in a smaller school and the best spot to catch them is closer to the edge of the flats.
Hooking the bonefish is bound to be a lifetime experience for any angler.
The excitement is when the fish gives a non-stop 50m run on the first surge. One’s heart beats faster as the line runs out quickly off the reel.
This is where skill is needed; one must have the ability to stop the fish without breaking the line as the surge happens several times depending on the size of the catch. And the battle can last from 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on the rod and line setting.
I prefer a lighter setting. For spinning, I use the 3000 series reel on a 20lb line with a medium action rod.
A six or seven weight rod will be ideal for fly fishing.
Grubs and other soft plastics can also be used for spinning.
However, more importantly, one should be willing to wade the flats.
At some spots, the water can be waist deep and one must wait hours under the scorching sun to make the find.
A fishing trip to Maldives at the end of the year, when the sea is rougher and weather is windy, is also the best time to look for bonefish. The bones found during this period are also bigger in size.