If you’ve ever been fishing in the tropics like Florida, Bermuda, or The Bahamas, you may have come across bonefish. This beautiful and strong species lives in shallow coastal waters where they feed on crabs, worms, and tiny fish.
Not only are bonefish fun to catch, but they are also good to eat if properly prepared. After catching a few bonefish ourselves, here’s what we’ve learned about preparing and eating these fish.
Do Bonefish Taste Good?
So, are bonefish really good to eat? The short answer is yes, bonefish can make for delicious dining, but they do require careful preparation.
Known as “The Grey Ghost” by many anglers, these fish are strong fighters that are typically just caught and released because they contain many small bones. If you do want to eat bonefish, you need to debone the fish before cooking.
Anglers who do take the time to debone and cook bonefish can appreciate its sweet, delicate, and mouthwatering taste. With the right cleaning and preparation, bonefish make for a unique and flavorful source of protein that pairs well with grilled veggies and potatoes.
How to Prepare Bonefish
After reeling in some bonefish, let them refrigerate overnight. This is important because bonefish are tough to work with right out of the water.
When you’re ready, follow these steps to remove the scales and bones and fillet the bonefish in preparation for cooking.
- Descale the back of the bonefish.
- Remove the head.
- Put under running water for a quick rinse.
- Use a downward motion to slice along the underbelly and remove the guts.
- Remove fat deposits from the cavity.
- Rinse the remaining fish carcass.
- Lay belly side down and cut from the ribcage to the edge of the fish, but not completely through.
- Open up the fillet section, then spoon and scoop, removing all the meat.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
To prepare bonefish, you need a few key tools:
- Fillet knife – make sure your fillet or boning knife is sharp so you can get as much of the bonefish meat off the bone as possible. A slightly curved knife will help with separating the meat and the bone. If you prefer a chef’s knife for cutting and chopping, go for it – whatever gives you the most control when preparing the bonefish.
- Fish scaler – mature bonefish may be anywhere from 1.5 – 3 feet long, so they come with plenty of silvery, shiny scales. Removing these scales is much easier with a fish scaler. This tool makes it easier to grip and remove scales, although the back of your knife or a spoon also works when you need it.
- Fishbone tweezers – tweezers are great to have on hand whenever preparing fish, but especially bonefish with their small, stubborn pin bones. If you don’t have fishbone tweezers, use a pair of needle-nose pliers.
- Cutting board – whether you’re grilling on the beach or taking your big bonefish catch home for the day, make sure you have a large, clean cutting board on hand. Especially with bonefish, there are a lot of bone fragments and scales to get rid of, so the more space you have to work with, the better.
- Silicone tongs – however you plan on cooking the bonefish, a pair of tongs will come in handy. Keep the mess to a minimum and use tongs to grab the fish or dispose of discarded parts whenever possible.
- Fish spatula – handle the delicate bonefish meat with care using a fish spatula. This works great for scooping out the bonefish meat or while cooking patties or preparing ceviche.
- Kitchen scissors – a pair of sharp scissors goes a long way in preparing bonefish, particularly because you don’t want the whole fish. Use scissors to trim fins, cut through bones, and open up the fish belly without making a mess.
How to Cook Bonefish
Unlike other fish, you shouldn’t cook bonefish whole due to the numerous tiny bones that are a choking hazard. Luckily, there are other popular methods for cooking and ultimately enjoying this flaky white fish.
Here are the top suggestions for cooking bonefish.
Pan-Fried or Oven-Baked
Although grilling or frying the entire bonefish is out of the question due to the high number of bones, you can try pan-frying the bonefish fillets. You just need to brown the fish for a few minutes on each side to cook it all the way through for a safe and satisfying meal.
A thoroughly deboned bonefish could taste good in the oven too. Lemon juice and seasoning help bring the natural bonefish flavors to life within 20-25 minutes of baking in a pre-heated oven.
Bonefish patties or fishcakes are arguably the most popular way to prepare this fish variety. The light, flaky meat tastes great in patty form, especially when mixed with flavorful ingredients like ginger, garlic, scallions, and onion.
To prepare patties or fishcakes, combine the bonefish meat with egg before rolling in flour. Create the desired patty/cake shape and size before frying in oil.
Another option for eating bonefish is fish soup or stew. Drop the chopped bonefish meat into a boiling pot and add your favorite veggies and seasonings to make a unique fish soup.
Some people even use the bonefish head for stock if you really want to get the most out of your catch.
Bonefish can be used for a tasty ceviche or poke bowl to satisfy seafood cravings. Limes and other citrus fruits are used to cure the bonefish before it’s mixed in with onion, spices, and avocado. For a ceviche bonefish meal, you’ll need to cut the fillets into smaller, bite-sized portions.
Are Bonefish Poisonous?
Indigenous people have eaten bonefish for centuries, so it can be done safely, although it’s important to keep in mind that this species is known for containing toxins.
Bonefish are bottom feeders and contain toxins from the food they eat. These carnivores feed in mudflats and shallow waters, feasting on small fish, crabs, shrimp, worms, and snails.
Marine microalgae can be poisonous to humans if consumed, and clupeotoxin poisoning may occur in bonefish and other plankton-eating varieties.
The danger with clupeotoxin is that it doesn’t have a taste or odor, but it can be concentrated in fish organs. Clupeotoxin poisoning is less common in bonefish because you don’t eat the whole fish, but rather just the meat off the bone.
Herring, anchovies, sardines, slickheads, and tarpons may also carry clupeotoxin. This toxin is more common in fish caught during the summer months, and unfortunately, it doesn’t break down during cooking.
The best way to avoid clupeotoxin poisoning from bonefish is to carefully prepare the fish and monitor for symptoms, which usually appear 30-60 minutes after consuming contaminated fish.
Nausea, vomiting, headache, and blue-tinged extremities are all symptoms. It’s also best to eat bonefish in moderation rather than all the time.
Although clupeotoxin poisoning is serious, it’s also very rare. The vast majority of people who eat bonefish have no problem, but it’s always best to be safe and know what to look out for just in case.
Tips on Catching Bonefish to Eat
So you’ve decided you want to give eating bonefish a try. Now you just need to be in the right fishing spot at the right time to hook a decent-sized bonefish for your next meal.
First things first, make sure you know what you’re looking for: a fast, silvery swimmer that weighs 6-8 pounds on average. Fly rod may be your best option if you’re determined to hook a bonefish and try eating one for yourself.
Here are a few of our favorite tips for successfully reeling in bonefish to use for a delicious meal.
- Bonefish spook easily in shallow water, so you need to be stealthy. Make as little movement and noise as possible to increase your chances of hooking your next seafood meal.
- Tail bonefish in low tides. Keep your eyes peeled for silvery tails sticking out of the water, which occurs when bonefish are digging into the bottom in search of food. If you spot a tail near the top of the water, you can quietly approach the fish.
- Due to the shallow bonefish feeding habitats, fly fishing is one of the most popular ways to successfully catch this variety for cooking and eating. Shrimp, crab, and slider fly patterns may entice a healthy bonefish that will ultimately make for a hearty meal.
If you’re headed out for a tropical fishing adventure in the South Atlantic or the Caribbean Sea, you may encounter bonefish. This beautiful silver fish with mirror-like scales can be a fierce fighter and tough to catch, but once you do, you can either catch and release or try a new meal.
Bonefish require careful preparation to get rid of the bones, and you should also be aware of potential toxins before eating.
While a lot of anglers pass on eating bonefish, instead opting for catch and release, you can try your hand at a delicious bonefish meal if you have the right tools and know the proper preparation methods.