Pacific Bonito

Species: Sarda chiliensis; from the Greek word sarda (an ancient name for a European species of bonito) and chiliensis (in reference to Chile, South America, where the species was first recognized).

Alternate Names: Most commonly called bonehead but also given the names bone, boner, bonefish, flasher, Laguna tuna, magneto, bongo and little tuna.

Identification: Tuna-shaped; bonito are dark blue above with silver below and have several dark oblique lines on the back.

Size: To 40 inches; most caught from piers are under 24 inches.

Range: Chile to Alaska.

Habitat: Pelagic, although enters bays, especially those with warm water outlets.

Piers: Common at most southland piers, both those in bays and those at oceanfront spots. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Belmont Shores Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Barbara Wharf and Goleta Pier. Uncommon at piers north of Cayucos.

Bait and Tackle: Taken on a variety of baits and lures. The best bait is live anchovies fished on a sliding leader or with a cast-a-bubble. The best lure is a bonito feather affixed to either a cast-a-bubble or a Styrofoam float. The float causes commotion on the surface which attracts the bonito and keeps the lure near the top.

Food Value: Parts of the flesh are bloody and strong flavored. Cut out those parts and the remaining meat is fairly good -- although still stronger flavored than many fish. Typically bonito are best when broiled or bar-b-qued, although smoked bonito and pickled bonito are also good. When I was young and lived in San Diego, I would often go out on the half day boats to catch some bonito. A couple of the cooks on the boats would cook up some of the fresh-caught fish. A favorite method was to cut thin slices of meat from the head of the bonito (up behind the eyes) and then lightly cook the slices on a grill using just a little butter. Flavored with soy sauce, it was delicious.

Comments: Many feel the bonito is the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound, in the sea. During the cold-water, winter months, the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in King Harbor is the best place in the state to catch bonito.