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Meet The World’s Most Unique Bonefish: The Crucian Ten Pounder





With a blistering top speed of 40mph, the Bonefish is one of the most sought after Gamefish in the world with anglers spending Billions of dollars to travel to exotic destinations for a chance at the Grey Ghost of the Flats. One of the most difficult and thrilling fish to catch, most anglers will tie on Shrimp, Crab, or Sand Flea patterns to target these bottom-feeders.


But what if I told you there is a place in the Caribbean where you can leave the crustacean patterns at home and instead breakout your best streamers, lures, or even live baits? A place so remote and isolated from its neighboring Islands that the Bonefish there have adapted to a Unique Way Of Life …

Welcome to the US Virgin Island of St. Croix


 

A ‘Quick’ History of St. Croix Bonefish:

If you Google Top Bonefish Fishing Destinations, you’ll find no mention of St. Croix. Even the most travelled of anglers have overlooked this unassuming Island. But if we turn back the clock to the 1950s, well before the Internet, there was one man who discovered the secret of St. Croix. His name: Ted Williams. Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all-time and an IGFA hall-of-fame angler, Ted Williams discovered St. Croix in the late 1950s and quickly fell in love with the Island. Staying in Christiansted, Ted Williams would frequently fly fish the Southshore with one of the local park rangers (well before fishing guides became common). Ted William’s experience led him to state to his fishing colleagues that St. Croix had the best Bonefishing he had ever experienced in his life. And experienced he was! With over a dozen World Records set on the Fly, Ted Williams was no stranger to Exotic Destinations.


The Bad News: 1966-2000

St. Croix would never capitalize on its World-Class Bonefish as in the early 1960s the allure of heavy industry became too attractive and an ambitious plan was implemented to Industrialize Krause Lagoon, a 700 acre Mangrove estuary in the middle of the Southshore. In came Hovensa, the World’s Largest Oil Refinery. Right next store set up Harvey Aluminum, a bauxite processing plant capable of annually producing 600,000 tons of Alumina, the main input in Aluminum. The massive size of these plants required the deep dredging of millions of pounds coral, sand, and mangroves from Krause Lagoon and the outer barrier reef systems. These ship channels effectively cut the Southshore Flat into two distinct halfs and eliminated important nurseries and feeding zones for Bonefish. To add injury to insult, what was left untouched around the industrial zone would be polluted by toxic chemicals and petrol products for decades. This, coupled with Gill net use in lagoons and bays, had a negative impact on St. Croix’s Bonefish populations. By the late 1990s, Bonefish had gone from abdundant to scare. In fact, the story of St. Croix is used by many fishery advocates as an example of how fast a World-Class Fishery can disappear if its shallow water ecosystem isn’t protected.



The Good News: The 21st Century

In 2004, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council for PR and the USVIs joined many other fisheries in putting no-take, no kill protections on Bonefish and Tarpon. This designation, coupled with a ban on large scale netting activities, has improved the mortality rate of the Bonefish on St. Croix. But perhaps the biggest impact was the closure of Harvey Aluminum (renamed to Alumina) in 2001 and the Hovensa Refinery in 2011. The additional tens of millions of dollars spent on the clean up and restoration of Mangrove Salt Ponds and the removal of toxic waste, has now resulted in a place that is safe to fish. The Southshore Industrial Complex lasted 46 years, the equivalent of two generations of Bonefish. Over that period, the fish that survived learned to adapt to the structure and deep channels. Today, large Tarpon, Rays, Barracuda and even Pelagics use the deep channels to hunt and live, while Snook, Permit, and Bonefish have started to repopulate the Island’s Reefs and Flats. With heavy industry and netting in the rearview mirror, we are seeing and hearing reports of Bonefish in more than a dozen places on St. Croix, showing their ability to adapt to all sides of the Island if given healthy habitats. The size of the Bonefish here remains exceptional, with an average Bonefish coming in around 5lbs and 2ft in length!



 

What Makes St. Croix A Bonefish Paradise?


So now you now know that St. Croix once had an incredible Bonefishery, that their habitats and populations nearly collapsed through the late 20th century, and that improved stewardship of coastal habitats has the population trending back in the right direction. But the real question we wanted to answer for everyone is:


Question: What Was Ted William’s Reason For Saying That St. Croix Was His Favorite Bonefish Destination?


If he wanted convenience, heading to Miami or the Keys would have been his choice. If he wanted sheer numbers, he wouldn’t have found that on a 23 mile long island, no match for the hundreds of miles of Flats in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Keys. So then as an angler, if you’re not hooked on a location for the quantity of fish it holds, the mind immediately goes to the quality of the fish.


Answer: The reason Ted William’s liked fishing St. Croix was due to Size of the Bonefish that he encountered


But to sustain a population of quality Bonefish in an area of the Caribbean better known for its Trenches than Flats, something must be fueling or creating a unique situation. And when you think about it, the answer we gave above requires a follow-up question:


Why on this 23-mile long Island, are the Bonefish getting so large?


Amazingly, the Answer to this question needs just two words: Their Diet




Their Diet: The Key To Creating The Ten Pounder


If you go into a Fly Shop and tell the guy behind the counter you’re going to the Caribbean to fish for Bonefish, they’ll start rattling off a list of proven flies for Bonefish like Crazy Charlies, Gotchas, and Shrimp patterns. This is because Bonefish are considered Benthic Predators, meaning that the majority of their Diets come from digging up crustaceans hidden in the Sand. This feeding style, also known as Tailing, is what 99% of anglers think of when thinking of Bonefish.


But what if there is a lack of shrimp, crabs, and sand fleas in a Bonefish habitat? What then do they eat?


While St. Croix has crabs, urchins, fleas, and even shrimp in certain bays, the most common bait by far on the Flats here is baitfish, locally known as Sprat. Sprat here can range from 1/2” - 6”, and can be comprised of a variety of different baitfish species. Due to the abundance of baitfish in shallow waters, Crucian Bonefish have have had to adapt their feeding style to fit St. Croix’s isolated ecosystem. The end result is that St. Croix’s Bonefish have adapted to become Dynamic Predators. While you’ll still see Tails popping up along the Flats as they feed on Crustaceans, the majority of the prey Bonefish feed on are swimming in the middle or upper water column in Baitballs. Yes you read that correctly:


Crucian Bonefish are Primarily Eating Baitfish, not Crustaceans.



The only other locations where Bonefish have been recorded eating Baitfish are Florida (home to the current IGFA Bonefish All-Tackle Length WR for both Spin & Fly Fishing) and the Los Roques archipelago off Venezuela. But neither have Bonefish that consistently feed on Pilchards and Mullet, something truly remarkable for a fish with no teeth and a pointed nose meant for shoveling sand. The diets of the Bonefish on St. Croix make it a must add to the short-list of Most Unique Bonefish Destinations in the Caribbean!



Why A Bonefish’s Diet Matters:


To set the stage, let’s use a very basic mathematical equation:

Bonefish Size = Lifespan * Growth Rate


The First part of the equation is straight forward. The less premature death, the bigger the fish in a population will get. No Take regulations and proper fish handling practices have greatly increased Lifespans of Bonefish, which can be up to 23 years!


The Second part of the equation is where science comes into play. Dr. Mike Larkin was one of the first researchers to study how Diet differences between Florida Bonefish and Bahamaian Bonefish impact growth rates and his finding are nothing short of remarkable. In his research, Dr. Larkin found that Bonefish that primarily eat baitfish will grow up to 2.67x Faster than Bonefish that eat primarily crustaceans. This is an extraordinary difference:


10LB Atlantic Bonefish: Projected Age


Baitfish Diet: 6 Years Old


Crustacean Diet: 16 Years Old


Tying this into Lifespan, a traditional Bonefish population will produce double-digit fish when those fish make it through 70% of their Lifespan. To create Quality fish, a location like this would need to have lots of fish (Bahamas) or low mortality rates (Christmas Island). But now what happens when a Bonefish eats primarily baitfish? They can reach 10LBs at just 26% of their Lifespan. This means that a Bonefish population could continue to produce large fish despite having less individuals and a higher mortality rate. But if mortality rates decreased and population size increased, it would result in a very healthy population of large individuals.


Conclusion:


Ted Williams didn’t choose St. Croix because it had more Bonefish than the Keys or Bahamas, he choose it because the Bonefish here become true Giants due to their Diets! Still don’t believe us, go ask the older fishermen on St. Croix about Bonefish. But if they give you a blank stare when you ask, try using the Crucian name for it:


The Ten Pounder


 

Final Thoughts:

As we head into the Summer of 2024, exactly 20 years since No Take, No Kill regulations were passed, the positive changes on St. Croix have been evident. Bonefish populations have clearly rebounded and can now be found in nearly every bay on St. Croix, with the greatest concentrations still on the Southshore and out East. And while it will take even more time and investment to return to the days of the Ten Pounder, Anglers are still blown away that a 5LB Bonefish is the Norm here! In fact, we’ve caught more Bonefish over 6lbs than we have under 4lbs! And yes, we’re mostly using Baitfish Streamers and Lures to catch these fish! The same styles we use to target Tarpon, Snook, and Jacks!




At Silver Kings Kayak Charters, we leverage scientific studies, fisheries data, and empirical fishing experience to better understand the unique complexities of the ecosystems our clients fish. This multi-pronged approach is what has put Silver Kings on the map as one of the fastest growing Spin & Fly Fishing companies in the Caribbean!


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