Bonito has to be one of the most underrated of the tuna species. If you like explosive visual strikes, long drag screaming runs, and okay table fare, then the Bonito might be your perfect match. There is no doubt that they will test your angling abilities and push your tackle and gear to its max. Before we jump all in and tell you everything you need to know, let's learn a little about the Bonito.
About the Bonito (genus Sarda)
Did you know that Bonito in Spanish means "Beautiful"? I think that is appropriate for the Bonito fish as well because their striations and markings are phenomenal. They are very streamlined fish. When first caught, they are a beautiful blue with a large forked tail that screams speed. Bonito is a predatory fish of the genus Sarda in the mackerel family.
- Grow to 30 inches
- Has a life span of three to five years
- Bonito fish have many names: skipjack, skippies, Victor fish, and watermelon tunas
- You can catch Bonito in the South Chinese Sea, the Black Sea, the Indian Ocean, Gulf, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Is Bonito Good to Eat?
A topic that fishers have been debating on for years is whether or not Bonito is a tasty table fare? They are very popular among commercial anglers, and many who like sushi swear by Bonito. Why do people have such a distaste for Bonito fillets? Bonito is very oily and bloody; the key to tasty fillets is to bleed the fish and then throw it on ice immediately. Like any game, if you don't prepare the meat properly than you probably won't like it, or you might even say it has a gamey taste.
The good news, if you don't want to eat it, then you can use Bonito as bait. They work for a wide array of fish species, dead sticking Bonito or trolling with strips of meat will yield the best results. So how do you catch them? That brings us to our next topic.
How to Effectively Catch Bonito
Bonito is considered a pelagic fish; they have been documented swimming miles upon miles every day. They cover a lot of water, and they move quickly, the idea is to locate a school of fish and either pitch to them or troll. You can also lure them in with a healthy chum slick; be mindful that chumming also attracts other unwelcomed guests who will probably be looking for an easy meal as well. The taxman always gets his right?
Getting a Bonito to bite is typically not difficult, especially if you get them in a mild frenzy. Let's talk about the lure preferences that will have you catching in no time.
Lures for Catching Bonito
Atlantic bonito eat mackerel, menhaden, alewives, silversides, pilchards, threadfins, as well as squid. Therefore, your lure choice should be one that is shiny, and that puts off significant vibration or noise. Here are some of my top lure suggestions for Bonito:
- Clark Spoon - The Clark spoon is a very easy spoon that you can rig using a small trolling weight. The wobble, vibration, and flash always seem to produce when targeting Bonito or mackerel in general.
- Doc's Jig - If you have watched my videos, you know that I can catch any fish on this jig, they are deadly, and I don't think I will ever completely understand why. I do know the unique sinking motion and the teaser fly make for a wild presentation, and I believe that most fish think they're witnessing an injured erratic baitfish.
- Got-cha Lure - The Got-cha lure is a tried and trusty lure with a unique darting action, it resembles an injured baitfish. The weight of the fishing lure allows for a long cast. You can vertically jig the bait or work it in a zig-zag motion across the service. The option to purchase them in gold, silver, or white is also fantastic. Test different colors, but the chrome is almost always the winner.
- Small Bucktail Jig - How can you go wrong with a small bucktail with a little flash? You really can't the bucktail has been the go-to lure for many species over the years, and it will work on Bonito just as well. Throw the jig ahead of the school and straight reel or jig very rapidly back to the boat or pier.
- Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow - Probably the simplest of the five recommended lures, cast it out, and reel fast. The vibration and sheer sheen will get the fish's attention. Just make sure you check the hooks after each fish because they can do some gnarly damage to trebles.
Using Live Bait to Catch Bonito
Some don't like using live bait, but I am just the opposite; the reaction strikes that you can get from live bait fishing is sometimes a spectacle that you won't soon forget. The idea is to keep this rig as simple as possible; Two to three feet of 30 to 50lb leader tied directly to your braid with a Uni Knot and 2/0 Owner or Gamagatsu circle hook. Free line out a threadfin, sardine, or pilchard and hold on. You can also use various cork rigs that are incredibly effective.
What Gear Do You Need to Catch, Bonito?
You probably already have all that you need to land your first Bonito, I recommend a 4000 size spinning reel with a smooth drag (The drag is important because these fish pull hard and fast, you don't want to break off). A seven-foot medium heavy rod will have plenty of backbone to turn a football-sized skipjack. I recommend spooling your reel up with 20 to 30lb 832 Suffix.
Bonito Handling Tips
After landing a fresh Bonito, you will see that they like to go into a state of convulsions. If you hold the fish upside down, it sometimes helps prevent the shake and, ultimately, the blood from slinging all over you and the boat.
Smoked Bonito Recipe
Here is a great recipe that is perfect for all oily fish, especially those in the mackerel family
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Brine Time 8 hrs
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat
Servings: 2 pounds
Provider: Hank Shaw
- 2 pounds bonito fillets, skin on
- 3 quarts water
- 3/4 cup kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Put salt and sugar in water and allow it to dissolve. Soak fillets in water, in the fridge, for 4 to 12 hours; 8 hours seems to be the ticket.
- Remove the fish from the brine and set on a tray, skin side down. Let these rest, uncovered, in the fridge up to a day or two, but for at least 1 hour.
- Fire up the smoker. I prefer any fruitwood. Apple is my flavor of choice. Brush the skins of the bonito with some oil and lay them on the smoker grates. Smoke the fillets over low heat, for up to 3 hours, or until they are bronze in color. One hundred sixty-five degrees is the ideal temperature.
- Remove the fish from the smoker and allow it to cool. Get ready to dig in.
Check out Josh and crew wrecking some Bonito on a recent trip offshore, take note of the tackle, lures, and technique:
If you enjoyed this article on how to catch and target Bonito, drop us a comment below. Do you have an article topic that you would like to see written? Let us know, and we will do our best to make it happen. Until next time, we will see you on the water.