Remember when...bonito

Ken Jones

Staff member
Remember when people wondered if we would ever see bonito at the piers again? They still don't show up every year but most years see some. Given the big number of small bonito last year we should see the bonies again this year only a little (or a lot) bigger.

Date: June 14, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Mikey
Subject: Any Bonito yet?

Hey guys, just wondering if the bonies have started showing yet (not including King’s Harbor, or the bubble). I see the water’s at about 66...and I don't think I’m gonna head out to the pier until it reaches 68 or 69. I sure hope they show this year...they made a slight comeback last season, but they were all small. Mike

Posted by Josh Y.

I have been out into the harbor a couple times and the only thing around are macks. I haven't seen any bonito and have only heard of a single here and there. There are some ‘cudas showing. Not is big numbers and also all small.

Posted by Mola Joe

Bonita!!! Bonita!!! Most of the younger fishermen, or the ones that are new to fishing in general, have heard stories about how good the bonita fishing was back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and some of the ‘80s. Bonita played a huge part in getting many young fishermen hooked on this sport, and were a big reason the local piers and harbors filled with fishermen every season. It was the one fish that you could count on that was as close to a pure gamefish that you could catch close to shore, either from the rocks or a pier. These fish would rip line like no other of its size, and would eat bait and jigs with fury. They were considered a trash fish by most that fished for albacore and yellowtail, because schools would travel together, and at times it was hard to get away from them. My dad to this day would never think about eating one, and puts them in the same category as mackeral. They are actually very good to eat, but spoil very fast if you don’t take care of them. Most people fishing the piers would stick them head first in a bucket of water, or just put them in a sack to back in the sun all day. If you bleed and ice them as soon as they hit the deck, they are excellent. It leaves a huge void in the local fishing not having bonita to fall back on for the local 1/2 day trips. They always kept the paying passengers happy when bass or barracuda didn’t show. Standing on a pier and watching schools of 5 to 8 pound bonita chasing your splasher and feather was every bit as exciting for me as fishing albacore or some of the other larger game fish. Watching 10 or 15 guys all bent on the end of the pier, with reels singing, people yelling, schools of bonita boiling, blood and fish everywhere on the deck, is a sight that seems so far from reality these days for someone fishing our local piers. No one knows if these days will ever return, but one thing is for sure. With commercial catch increasing along with the population growth around the world, something has to be done. Many third world countries have already wiped out and destroyed the fishery close to home, and are now looking elsewhere for seafood. The fish in our backyard are now on their menus. I bet they have at least 20 ways of cooking bonita in Japan. It's been many years since I've had one on my BBQ. Tight Lines!!!

Posted by Ken Jones

You're right about bonito fishing and how it affected many anglers, including myself. I started fishing the Newport Pier in 1962, a time when the pier had some great runs of bonito, and it was truly the inshore equivalent of albacore fishing. All manner of make-shift rigs were thrown at the bonies and nice-sized fish were the norm, not the exception.

Of course the barges and near-shore boats also saw this great action. I'll never forget one trip on the half-day boat Bonanza out of the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach. The bonito were so thick that you couldn't get your bait to the bass or barracuda. Finally, in hopes of catching something different, I put a three-hook bottom fishing outfit on my line along with a heavy jig. Thought I would see if I could pick up some rockfish. No way! Four bonito hooked themselves just about the time I got the rig in the water and there I was fighting four bonito at the same time. Yes, they fought good but they also managed to mangle that bottom fishing rig. Believe I stopped fishing for a while and had a good hamburger after that mishap.

By the way, Mola Joe is also right about people’s opinions about eating bonito. Most people let them sit in the sack and bake and then wondered why they weren't too good when they got ready to cook them. One way we enjoyed eating them was fresh—out on the half-day boats of Mission Bay Sportfishing (today's Islandia) and Seaforth Landing. When we had a cooperative cook, we would take freshly caught bonito and slice off thin strips of the flesh from the top of the head (behind the eyes). Then the cook would put the bonito strips on the grill with a little butter. Cook for half a minute or so and eat as was or add a little soy sauce. Delicious!

Posted by Mola Joe

Just to give you an idea on how voracious bonita were when they are schooling and feeding. On more than one occasion while fishing with diamond jigs, I've had fish eat the jig on the sink, only to have the jig pass through the gills and back out to be eaten by another bonita. Two five pound bonita going different directions on the same jig, with one of them freesliding on the line. Thank God for 20 pound test Maxima!!!

Posted by Snookie

They may or may not show up this year in quantity, but they will show up again in the future. When I was raised on Newport Pier in the 40’s and 50’s bonito were a thing of the past. They said they were gone. All the old fishermen told stories about them, but I did not see any until the 60’s and on. When they did return, they returned en masse. No, the commercial guys did not get them. It was currents, weather and food sources, etc.

The best thing about catching them on the pier is that you can immediately clean them, fillet them or whatever you want to do to them and put them on ice. If they are cooked in the next day or two, they are excellent fish. There is absolutely no fish taste when you have the chance to care for them this way. They are excellent smoked as well.

Bonito are fast growers. They grow 15 inches in the first year and to 19 inches in the second year and by the time they are 32 inches long they are about 6 plus years old.

Keep watching-they will return, Snookie

Posted by Mikey

Thanks for the replies guys (and girl), hehe. They are indeed probably my favorite fish to catch, and pound for pound, the best fighters out there. Mola's right....I got hooked on fishing by for bonies at Oceanside Pier as a kid. My dad taught me how to fish with a splasher and fly (which we tied ourselves). Now days, guys use the clear “cast-a-bubble” as the splasher, but when I started out, and what I use till this day are cork balls hollowed out, with a 1-oz torpedo sinker glued inside. Inexpensive, and highly effective. It just takes me back whenever I see a bonito caught, and I remember how excited I was. Let's hope they make a comeback! Mike

Posted by bill

To bad they stopped the hot water outflow from the Edison plant. That's what kept the Bonita inside King Harbor year round. Seems that the lack of Bonita coincides with the lack of anchovies or am I mistaken? In the last 5-6 years I’ve seen maybe 6 Bonita off the 1⁄2 boat out MDR and they were only 12-14” long!

Posted by Mola Joe

Just turning the bubble back on will have little effect on bonita fishing if there’s no bonita to move back into the harbor. No one more than I would love to see these fish return, but you have to be realistic. Read the numbers. These ships travel thousands of miles, stay at see for many months, and process the fish right on the boat. I'll look for the numbers, but since Purina decided they liked Pacific bonita for dog and cat food about 15 years ago, the commercial take on these fish have increased 50 fold.

Posted by SurFan

Hope they do come back! After reading everyone's post I started to think back when I was a kid, fishing at the river channel in Seal Beach and how plentiful the Bonito were. One particular day I remember the Bonito were in a boiling crazy feeding frenzy and people were spaced maybe 10-15’ apart at most along the bank. Literally every cast brought a Bonito in or had a fish or several fish chasing the lure (NOT a fisherman's exaggeration). I can’t remember how many I caught because we released all but maybe two, but I sure was happily exhausted. My arms were sore, what a workout and a fishing adrenalin rush for a kid. It was such blast!

Just recently got back into ocean fishing and wondered in the back or my mind why I hadn't heard about any HOT Bonito bites. Well I didn't realize that they've been gone for quite sometime. Although it makes me sad to think the Bonito aren't around like they used to be, Snookie's post gives me reason to be optimistic about the future of the fishery. Lets hope they come back.

Also can't wait to try to eat the next Bonito I catch, everyone who has cleaned and put the fish on ice quickly seems to like the flavor of Bonito. I just have memories as a kid of the terrible taste.

Wow, that sure was something way back then...Oh No! I'm starting to sound like my parents