August 14, 2017
We are searching for people with knowledge of Florida Keys fishing history to help us find locations where bonefish used to spawn. This may help us identify locations where bonefish spawning still occurs. It is possible that bonefish spawn in the general area where commercial kingfishing occurs. We dug out an old article from Sports Illustrated from 1959. The article describes fishermen fishing offshore for mackerel coming across large schools of bonefish.
“The two chief hazards for bonefish are cold water and man, in that order. Within a few days after a bad spell of abnormally cold weather in the Keys, bonefish will school up and move out of their cold-water flats, presumably in search of warmth and safety. Mullet and mackerel netters have seen masses of numb bonefish in alien territory offshore and have sometimes mistakenly netted them for mackerel or bluefish. One such error in the ’30s produced an estimated haul of 20,000 pounds of bonefish which the netters desperately tried to dump on the spot.”
From this account, we looked at areas where the king mackerel fishery was historically concentrated. A separate article, from the Key West Maritime Historical Society identified the regions where the mackerel fishery occurred:
“Various period sources state the “principal grounds [for mackerel] are from Love [Looe] Key to Sombrero Key.” The boats usually fished “outside the range of the coastline, over bottom that slopes toward the Gulf Stream, and sometimes even in the inside waters of the latter”.”
“By the early 1930s, it seems that the most popular kingfishing grounds had shifted more to the westward. These were described thusly in 1936: “About 45 miles west of Key West, in the vicinity of Marquesas Keys…is a watery waste dubbed “No Man’s Land” … Commercial fishermen risk the elements and dangerous straits to assemble in this place when the fish [king mackerel] are running… the author [ angling writer Moise Kaplan] has observed there, during January, all kinds of vessels, from comfortable yachts to mere floating barques-everything that could carry one or more fishermen and hold a hundred or more of these fishes.”
Since this happened between November and April, which is bonefish spawning season, we think these may have been bonefish schools moving offshore to spawn.
We’re interested in reports of where, exactly, these fisheries occurred so that we can visit these areas on full moons during spawning season to search for schools of spawning bonefish.
Perhaps fishermen who fish for mackerel now have seen bonefish offshore?
If you have information that you think would be helpful, please let us know.
You can read the full Sport Illustrated article here.
You can read the full Key West Maritime Historical Society article here.
A video of a school of bonefish moving offshore to spawn is here.
(Photo: Justin Lewis)
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