THE CREEPY CRAWLER
Updated: Feb 10, 2021
One of the most unique aspects of our fishery here at h2o bonefishing is how, when conditions are such, big bonefish will get into water so shallow you would not think it was possible for them to even swim let alone successfully hunt their prey. They can be found literally crawling across the flat with their backs completely out of the water with tail on full display and their dorsal fin often laid back. At times however they will straighten up that dorsal fin, drastically changing their profile. They often seem a different fish when they do. It really is something to behold where 50% of the bonefishes body is above water as it wriggles, slides and writhes across the open flat in search of crabs and other prey to eat.
If you are lucky you can come across one that in the moment actually finds something to chase and you can experience the fish explode as it accelerates to catch its fleeing prey. Most often than not in this environment it will be small crabs that the bonefish needs to catch before they bury themselves in the sand or mud or grass. The bonefish knows they need to get on their pray fast in this environment but the limited water behind and under them create serious challenges.
Imagine you have tilted the outboard engine up on your flats boat to enable you to go over a shallow bar. Now you have half the blades of the prop out of the water. It does create forward motion but it’s labored as the prop does not have enough water around it to work properly. If you then accelerate, while you may move that tiny bit faster it causes significant added commotion for so little result. So it’s much the same for a bonefish in this extra shallow water when it sees or senses a crab and sets off in pursuit. half its tail is now made redundant and its other half is much impaired as it is dragging bottom and not free swinging as it is meant to be. Add in the added friction of its entire belly on the bottom then this species’ normally world renowned acceleration is now in question !! This extra shallow environment also causes other challenges for the fish as on occasion you witness one that has tried to tilt forward to grab something, which in ‘ normal conditions ‘ would be known as tailing but without the support of surrounding water it only manages to flop on its side in its failed attempt. Its almost comical at times.
Just seeing this happen is enjoyable enough but we are not bonefish watching so of course, a fly has to be sent in their direction. So while the actual bonefish has issues of its own to feed there is also additional challenges to the angler in this environment.
Bonefish are spooky creatures by nature and the shallower the water they are in the more exposed and vulnerable they are so with crawlers they have put themselves into a precarious position and therefore their senses are fine tuned and what little tolerance that fish may have had to anglers is no longer something that can be relied on. Therefore there are only two defined rules on crawlers. One is you need to land the fly as gently as possible so ensure you have a weightless fly and the second is that you absolutely MUST cast very close to the fish. That’s it. Do that and then hold on !!
When hooked, it transforms the flat from a calm tranquil setting into complete chaos, with water flying everywhere and a very audible sound of fly line cutting the surface forming rooster tails as the fish thrashes and tears off the flat in full Loco mode.
There is no more satisfying moment in fly fishing for bonefish than to find, stalk and successfully cast, hook and land a crawler. If you have never experienced it then you should.