These aren’t stealthy fish. In fact, if you are on the flats when they come in, you’ll likely see them from a mile away. A giant herd of slow-moving, alien-looking fish gently flopping their bluey-green tails on the surface.
But spotting them and landing them are two different things entirely!
If you have the chance, go for it. These big beasts will challenge you every step of the way. From getting them to take your fly, to getting them to the net, it will be an experience for a lifetime.
Intrigued?Let’s look at catching a bumphead parrotfish on a fly…
Where to Find Bumphead Parrotfish
Bumphead parrotfish are found on reefs and flats throughout the Indo-Pacific region. You’ll find them from the Red Sea down to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and they are common in Micronesia, Malaysia, and Seychelles.
While they hang out on deep offshore reefs and wrecks, fly fishermen find them when they flood the flats in a large school.
All About Bumphead Parrotfish
Bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) are also commonly known as giant parrotfish, buffalo parrotfish, double-headed parrotfish, and humphead parrotfish.
And, in the fly fishing world, they are known as bumpies.
The bumphead parrotfish is the largest species of parrotfish and one of the largest reef fish, growing to just under five feet long and up to 165 pounds.
All bumpies have a large bony forehead protrusion, often compared to the horns of a battering ram. Fittingly, they use them to smash and headbutt their way into dominant positions within their territory.
Other than the most dominant males having the largest humps, there are few visual clues between male and female bumpheads. And, unlike other parrotfish, they have uniform scales covering their body (except the ramming part of their noggin).
The juveniles have five bands of whitish spots arranged vertically along their bodies, and they initially have a greenish brown color. They can range in color from olive to slate grey when fully grown, with a blaze running down the front of their face in colors ranging from yellow to pink.
While groups of fish are usually referred to as schools, when talking about bumpies, the word most often used is “herds.” And that is exactly how they behave—like a herd of grazing buffalo.
Slow moving, munching along the ground, and when one is spooked, they all stampede off the flats in a thunderous fashion. “Herds” can be as large as 75 of these monstrous green fish. Quite a sight.
Bumphead parrotfish are primarily corallivores. Yes, certainly a unique diet. They eat algae and coral. And if a crab or shrimp is presented, they’ll eat them too.
Eating the Coral is a Good Thing
We all know we need to save the world’s coral, so how much damage can a herd of behemoth coral-grazing fish do in a day?
While they spend most of the day taking large bites out of coral, chewing it up, and discharging it back out–as the fine, white powdery sand we all love to sit and sunbathe on–it is much more beneficial than harmful.
This is relief, because they can eat 5 tons of calcium carbonate from the reef in a year!
So, since, they do contribute to the bioerosion of the reefs. How in the world is this a good thing?
First, they eat a lot of algae. Keeping the algae under control allows the living coral to get the sun and water flow they need to eat and grow healthy. Kind of like picking weeds out of a garden.
Second, they eat dead coral. Just like trees need dead limbs pruned to grow stronger, coral needs to be pruned too.
Third, bumpies eat the fast-growing live coral on the reefs. This keeps the exuberant coral in check, allowing the slow-growing coral a chance to thrive and not get swallowed up. To keep with gardening analogies, it’s like managing that one vine that threatens to take over your neighbor’s fence and tree.
These gardeners of our reef keep us in a fresh supply of powdery sand and keep the reefs well-manicured.
But how do we find them?
Picking the Right Water
Like most fish found on the flats, they have a somewhat predictable routine that revolves around the tides. But unlike most fish on the flats, they prefer slow-moving water. They head into the shallows to gracefully graze on algae and the crunchy things hidden beneath the turtle grass.
They are found in slow-moving waters, and their large, blue-green fins are easily spotted on the surface.
Juveniles will spend most of their time in the protected lagoons, while larger fish will venture out to offshore reefs between visits to the flats.
I liken them to the “bison of the flats.” Growing to well over 100 pounds, these gentle monsters come with a pair of bolt croppers on the front end that bite through coral and could easily remove a digit if you’re not careful.
Packing the Tacklebox
Bumpies are often targeted along with other Indo-Pacific fly fishing favorites like bluefin trevallies, moustache triggerfish, and permits. And thankfully, the setups are somewhat interchangeable for these fish. Here are the basics.
You can use anything from a 9-weight to an 11-weight rod. These hefty fish are going to test your gear. But they are also quite spooky, so subtlety and accuracy are of equal importance. Choose what you can handle best.
Select a smooth, saltwater reel with a fast line retrieval. It will need to be able to hold at least 250 yards of braid. Typical setups include a floating tropical line. Your tippet should be a 40-pound fluorocarbon.
Fly selection always depends on matching the dining habits of your target. Here, you are looking to replicate a crab meal.
Tips for Catching Bumphead Parrotfish on a Fly
Catching a Bumphead parrotfish is going to test your intuition.
Things you instinctively do while going after other saltwater species will be the exact opposite of what you need to do to bring in a bumpy. Even with perfect technique, level your expectations and know that most get away.
But the thrill of bringing in one of these hulks is undeniable, so here are a few tips…
Unlike, say, targeting bonefish, spotting these fish is quite easy. They aren’t exactly stealthy because they aren’t trying to ambush any prey…it’s not like the coral is going to get up and run away!
So, once spotted, the next step is one of the most critical, getting yourself in position. The ideal situation is to put yourself directly in front of them, with them making their way toward you. Easier said than done because if just one fish catches on to you, the whole herd will react.
Once in position, focus. What you are trying to do next is anticipate the fish’s movements. Pick just one out and aim to place your fly just a few feet directly in front of it.
Remember, these beasts aren’t hunting. They are just slowly working their way down the buffet. If you don’t present that crab right in their lane, they probably aren’t going to care enough to change direction.
Unlike predator fish that NEED to see their prey trying to escape with their lives–so you have to keep the fly moving with a constant stipping–bumpies don’t. You just let it sit there. If they miss it, try repositioning your fly a few feet ahead again.
The next real challenge is setting the hook when they take your fly. Their entire mouth is filled with beak-like teeth, so finding a soft fleshy spot isn’t easy. Plus, the added challenge is not getting your hook bit in half. Again, you’ll do something completely counterintuitive here for flats fishing, lift the rod a bit. This sometimes gives just the right angle to catch the fleshy “lip.”
Once hooked, hang on. They can easily take 150 yards of backing.
At first, you will have little control. Their power comes not so much from a sleek torpedo shape and well-designed fins but from sheer brute size. Once you get some control, try to keep your fish away from structures and separate from the herd.
If (yes, if) you manage to get your bumpy in, you’ll need a net or harness. And a healthy respect for their coral-crunching mouths. Fingerbones won’t be much of a challenge for an angry fish.
To add to this, these are particularly slimy fish.
They are believed to release well and don’t suffer the same challenges as sailfish or bonefish on release, but gentle handling and quick picture-taking always improve their odds.
Bumphead Parrotfish Conservation
Bumphead Parrotfish are critical to our reef habitats and are an important species in the sportfishing world.
Unfortunately, their numbers are in sharp decline and, in some areas, have become extinct. As a whole, they are categorized as ‘vulnerable’ on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) ‘Red List of Threatened Species’ and as a Management Unit Species (MUS) in the Coral Reef Ecosystems Fishery Management Plan for the Western Pacific. (source)
Their primary challenge is overfishing. The giants, as stated above, keep to a routine. And part of that routine is sleeping in the same spot every night. Spearfishing and nets can take out an entire school before morning.
The aquarium trade is another threat, as is the diminishing habitats and water quality of the juvenile habitats.
To complicate their fragile situation, bumphead parrotfish have a very long life cycle. They can live for 40 years, and it takes 5 to 8 years to reach sexual maturity.
Even with more coral reefs and marine zones being designated as “no-take” zones, their recovery potential is painfully slow. Hopefully they will not be outpaced by the threats they face.
As anglers and lovers of our oceans, we are often the best advocates for these fish and the ecosystems that desperately rely on them.
Fishing with Scout Boats
While targeting a bumphead parrotfish on a fly will likely involve booking a special fly fishing retreat and a local guide halfway around the world, there is no reason not to get out on the water in search of your local prize catch.
Check out our cutting-edge Epoxy Infusion and Carbon Epoxy Construction techniques used in our S-class series, just one reason Scout builds superior boats.