Last modified: October 8, 2018

Fish Mackerel, Tuna & Jacks

Pacific Bonito

Mackerels and Tunas: Family Scombridae

Species: Sarda chiliensis (Cuvier, 1832); 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, magneto and bongo. In the past often called “poor mans tuna,” striped tuna, little tuna and, derisively, Laguna tuna. One of my favorites names—from the PFIC Message Board—Mr. Bojangles. Called bonito del Pacífico oriental in Mexico.

Identification: Tuna-shaped, elongated and pointed at both ends; a series of 6 to 8 finlets that follow the second dorsal fin and anal fin. Coloring dark blue above with greenish reflections and a metallic luster shading into silver below; several dark oblique lines on the back.

Size: To 40 inches; most caught from piers are less than 24 inches. The California record fish weighed 22 lb 3 oz and was caught in Malibu Cove in 1978.

Bonito caught at the Venice Pier

Range: Southern Baja Californa and Gulf of California to Copper River in Alaska. Also found in subtropical eastern Pacific, Peru to Chile, and off Japan. Primarily feeds on fish, occasionally on squid. As a general rule they’re only found north during El Nino, warm water conditions (and I witnessed several large bonito, all over ten pounds, being caught off of Elk in Mendocino County during the El Nino year of 1983).

Bonito caught at the Cabrillo Mole by KJ

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, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon)—#1, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Stearns Wharf and Goleta Pier. Rarely seen at piers north of Point Conception excepting during warm-water years.

Shoreline: Sometimes taken by shore anglers fishing from jettys in southern California, especially the jetty at Redondo Beach.

Bonito caught at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon by Rita Magdamo

Boats: One of the favored boat species although the numbers can show a drastic change year-to-year depending upon water temperature.

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, a Styrofoam float or a golf ball—the bubble/float/golf ball causes commotion on the surface which attracts the bonito and keeps the lure near the top.

Bonito caught at the Balboa Pier by Mike Granat

Food Value: Bonito are good flavored but require cleaning soon after capture. If bleed quickly, or even better if filleted and then put on ice, the flesh can be quite tasty. If allowed to warm up in a gunnysack on the nice hot surface of a pier the flesh can be almost inedible (which is true with many fish). However, parts of the flesh are dark colored—bloody—and strong flavored. Cut out those parts of the flesh unless you desire them for smoking. Typically the best cooking methods are broiling or bar-b-cuing the meat, 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.

Bonito caught at the Cabrillo Mole by Arcadian

Comments: Many people feel that bonito are among the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound, in the sea. Sometimes during the cold-water, winter months, the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in King Harbor is the best place in the state to catch bonito. Sometimes? The nearby power plant used to allow its hot water to flow into the harbor every winter, an event that usually would attract bonito and anglers. Today it’s a sometimes thing. When on, the warm water is discharged via the famous “bubble” that sits a short distance out from the pier and in the “old days” the bubble hole was a famous place for bonito.

Bonito or bonita? The correct spelling is bonito but a surprisingly high number of people over the years, including journalists and writers who should know better, have used bonita as the moniker for these fish. One day on the Pier Fishing in California message board someone said his daughter had been called a bonito and she got upset until someone told her that the name meant pretty in Spanish. People then chimed in that she should have been called a bonita since that was the feminine name and bonito was the masculine name. As for the fish, given the strong, powerful fight they typically put up, I think I will stick with bonito as the name.



Boat caught bonito


Large bonito caught from piers

11 ¾ Lbs. — Oceanside Pier

10 Lbs. — Ocean Park Pier, I. L. Noyes, May 31, 1908

Source: Los Angeles Herald, May 31, 1908

9 Lbs. 14 oz. — Belmont Pier, Jerry Summerfelt, September, 1966

Source: Long Beach Independent, September 22, 1966

9 Lbs. 13 oz. — Seal Beach Pier, Howard F. Laston, September, 1966

Source: Long Beach Independent, September 22, 1966

9 Lbs. 8 oz. — Seal Beach Pier, September 1966

Source: Long Beach Independent, September 22, 1966

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *