Lures For Bonito

Ken Jones

Staff member
Please review and let me know if there is anything you think I should add ( it's pretty lean on recommendations for single lures).

Lures for Bonito

One of the favorite pier fish on Southern California piers is the Pacific Bonito, Sarda chiliensis. It reaches a large size and is, pound for pound, one of the best fighting fish pier anglers will encounter. Although a few are caught on live bait, the fast majority of bonito taken on piers are caught on artificial lures.

That was the lesson I learned when I began fishing on the Newport Pier in 1962. The ‘60s saw a lot of bonito and often they were good-sized fish weighing upwards of eight pounds or so. They were the inshore equivalent of the albacore that were caught on the Sportfishing boats far at sea (and you rarely heard of bluefin tuna in those days).

The standard rig was a splasher rig—a splasher of some type that disrupted the water and simulated a school of baitfish. Following the splasher was a leader and at the end was a simple streamer-type feather or a chrome-head bonito feather. The anglers themselves made most of the splashers although you could buy them at tackle shops. I bought mine at Baldy’s Bait and Tackle at the foot of the Newport Pier.

Traditional Splashers. The two most common splasher rigs were (1) splashers made with wooden dowels and (2) splashers made with cork centers.

Wooden-dowel Splashers
— People would use wooden dowels (often a 5 inch-long, 1 1/4 inch hardwood dowel) and screw in and glue small eyehooks to each end of the dowel. One eyehook on the end of the dowel was attached to the line, the opposite eyehook was attached to a 4-6 foot long monofilament leader, generally about 15-20 pound test. To the end of the leader was attached a feather usually about 1/0 in size. Colors of the feathers varied—white, white and blue, green and yellow, red and white, etc. Everyone had his or her favorite feather color until a fish was caught and then everyone wanted to use that color. A similar splasher could be made from an old broom handle replacing the dowel. Some of these splashers were left the original wood color; some were painted up with white or red and white colors predominating.

Round Cork Splashers
— These splashers were made with the round cork floats seen in commercial fishing nets. A 3-ounce torpedo sinker with two end rings was inserted into the hole in the middle that the net had gone into. The line was attached to one end ring while the leader was attached to the second end ring. The leader was the same as above. Given the weight it could be cast a long way.

Styrofoam Splashers
— In time the cork seemed to become less and less available and a third option became available, Styrofoam. The Styrofoam would be cut much like a dowel and into the center would be inserted and glued the two-ring torpedo sinker as above. The attachment to the line and leader was similar to above.

Sponge Rubber Ball Splashers
— Another alternative was a large rubber ball which had a two-ring torpedo sinker inserted and glued into the ball. The attachment to the line and leader was similar to above. One angler reported making a “splasher with an orange solid rubber ball, two Coke bottle tops, and a piece of coat hanger.”

Each of these rigs created “splash, pop and bubbles” in the water and all were widely used. The one drawback was weight since most of the rigs weighed four ounces or more. Most anglers had fairly heavy 8-9 foot rods and fairly heavy reels. Many used Penn Jigmaster 500’s while I remember using an early, green-colored Penn 700 spinning reel. Most piers would see the regulars fishing for the normal species, especially fishing for halibut with live bait, with the bonito outfits leaning up against a building. As soon as people started to see bonito boils everyone would run over and grab their bonito rods and the fun began. Kind of like the hurried battles when a boat would run into a school of albacore. An alternative view was held by some anglers who felt the splashers worked great at dawn and dusk while live bait worked better during the bay.

Newer Splashers. Eventually alternate splashers would be available.

— This is simply a clear, egg-shaped plastic bubble that can be filled with water and used as a splasher; for bonito a 2-1/2 inch bubble is most often used. It can be used two ways. The first is to simply run the main line through the bubble and attach it to a swivel (similar to a Carolina rigging). The leader is then attached to the other end of the swivel. The second method is to make a short 18-inch or so leader and tie a swivel to one end. Then thread a medium-sized red plastic bead on your leader and then run the leader through the bubble. Attach another red plastic bead, cut the leader so it is about 8-10 inches long, and then attach a second swivel at the end. The longer leader with the fly is attached to the second swivel. The longer leader is similar to the previous leaders and usually contains a Mylar feather or bucktail. One additional idea is that people sometimes will add BB’s to the bubble, which creates additional noise at the surface.

Bonito Ball
— These are wooden, egg-shaped balls with an eye hook at each end. Most are left unpainted but some people paint them, usually red. They are used with a leader like the previous splashers. The wooden balls/eggs are generally available at Michaels; just attach the screw-in hooks.

The advantage of these splashers is that they weigh less than the traditional splashers and thus do not require the heavy rods and reels (although a 7-9 foot rod with backbone is still required if using a longer leader). Light to medium-rated saltwater rods and reels should be able to be used with these rigs. The disadvantage in my eyes is that they do not, in my opinion, create as much of a commotion at the surface as the larger splashers.

How To Use Splashers. When a school of bonito gives evidence of their presence by “boiling” or a few fish are spotted, long casts are made into the general vicinity (bonito will often hang outside the schools of mackerel that are closer to the pier) and a fast retrieve is begun. Sometimes all that is needed is a rapid retrieve; sometimes a strong pull of the arm also gives more rapid motion to the lure and helps simulate a wounded fish. One of the main keys is to get the lure out to the fish as soon as a school is spotted.

Recommendations For Splashers. Anglers who plan to fish southern California piers on a regular basis should always carry a couple of splashers in their tackle box. If you don't you will sit there with envy when the regulars are pulling in the bonies, a less common and more distinguished fish than it was forty years ago.

Bait-Rigs. Although I hate to see them used, the small bonito so often seen today will often hit a bait rig, a Sabiki or Lucky Lura, before hitting a splasher rig or single lure. The problem is that you will sometimes see three or more bonito landed at a time. Given that only five of the small bonito can be kept it leads to people catching too many and often keeping too many. After all, how many people want to stop fishing after one cast? [California Fish and Wildlife regs — Section 28.32 - Pacific Bonito (a) Limit: Ten. (b) Minimum size: Twenty-four inches fork length or five pounds except that: Five fish less than twenty-four inches fork length or weighing less than five pounds may be taken and possessed.]

Lures. Contrasting the use of splashers is the use of single lures today. Many, many lures are used and in honesty if lures are in the tackle box why not try them out? However, some have already proven their worth. Generally these are hard body lures and bright gold and silver colors or fish patterns (anchovy and mackerel) seem best.

Krocodiles have been around for years and always seem to catch fish. Try mac patterns or gold for the bonito.

Kastmasters almost duplicate the story of Krocodies. Gold, silver and mac pattern colors.

Megabaits in anchovy, blue mack, green mack colors.

P-Line Lazer Minnows in blue mackerel or silver blue colors.

Buzz Bomb in chrome or blue holographic colors.

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minno

Shimano Coltsniper in green, blue, magenta

MirrOlures in mackerel or anchovy patterns
I only fish Bonito, I've personally specialized in small (die 3) crocs and cast-a-bubble splasher with homemade feathers since mid-80's.

Crocs: My experience targeting Piers, (Rock jetties or shoreline is different)
* Best Colors: Chrome base, good with color stripe (blue, green, plain or mackerel pattern) best with prism tape.
* Prism tape colors: chrome, chrome/light-blue mix for daylight, overcast mornings sometimes blue-purple tape works best
* Last few years they have not liked crocs that much (fast-retrieve), preferring slow jigged iron like Coltsniper or better, Jigpara had been really popular last few years for light-weight jigging

Splasher: same as it ever was
* Productive colors: white/blue, combinations of chartreuse, occasionally red or dark purple, not often
* Cluster: 1 or 2 feathers, sometimes 3 feathers is preferred, but can get messy
* Last 10 years, advent of light/dark chartreuse colors has been really productive

Live bait is gangbusters last week, waaaay more productive than artificials, which I find annoyingly common late season in last decade

Mentioned above Jigpara lures have been smas

Sabiki fishing with med-lg feathers can very VERY effective. Because anglers can get 3-6+ at a time, I would say over a season catches more fish than all other artificials combined. I hate this style of fishing because it takes the enjoyment out of it, BUT I have seen days/weeks when it is the 90% or more of the bite.