Pacific Bonito — a true fighting fish

Bonito — Venice Pier

Mackerel and Tuna—Family Scombridae

Species: Sarda chiliensis (Cuvier, 1832); from the Greek word sarda  (an ancient name for an European species of bonito) and chiliensis (in reference to Chile, South America, where the species was first recognized). Subspecies (those in California): Sarda chiliensis lineolata.

Bonito — Ben Acker (DompfaBen), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Alternate Names: Most commonly called bonehead but also given the names bone, boner, bonefish, flasher, Laguna tuna, magneto, bongo, striped tuna and little tuna. One of my favorites—from the PFIC Message Board—Mr. Bojangles. Called bonito del Pacífico oriental in Mexico.

Bonito — Venice Pier

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.

Bonito with usual striping caught by Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid), Cabrillo Mole,  2016

Unusual striped bonito caught by Mahigeer, (Hashem Nahid), Cabrillo Mole, 2016

Size: To 40 inches although most caught from piers are less than 24 inches. For years the  California record fish was listed as a fish that was caught in Malibu Cove in 1978 with a weight of 22 lb 3 oz. Today the record is listed as a 21 lb 5 oz. fish taken at the 181 Spot in 2003. I’m not sure why the new, lighter fish is the record (and I haven’t been able to find out).

Bonito — Scott Geerds, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Range: There are two subspecies. One, the northern population, Sarda chiliensis lineolata, is found from Southern Baja California and Gulf of California to Copper River in Alaska. The southern population, Sarda chiliensis chiliensis, is found in the subtropical eastern Pacific, Peru to Chile, and off Japan. As a general rule they’re only found north of Point Conception during El Niño, warm-water conditions (and I witnessed several large bonito, all over ten pounds, being caught off of Elk in Mendocino County during the El Niño year of 1983).

Bonito — Rita Magdamo, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

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

Bonito — James Liu (GDude), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Piers: Common at most southland piers during and after warm-water years, both those in bays and those at oceanfront spots. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon)—#1, Redondo Beach Pier, and the Hermosa Beach Pier. Stearns Wharf (Santa Barbara) and Goleta Pier can be decent, especially in the fall.

Bonito — Mike Donahue (SD Pier Rat), Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego

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

Bonito — Mike Granat, Balboa Pier

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

Angie and her first bonito — Balboa Pier

Bait and Tackle: Bonito primarily feed on fish and squid and are taken on a variety of baits and lures. The best bait is live anchovies or small sardines 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 wooden float, 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 — Scott Geerds, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Food Value:  Bonito are considered fairly good quality but require cleaning soon after capture. If bled quickly, or even better if filleted and then put on ice, the flesh can be quite tasty. However, 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). Some parts of the flesh are dark colored—bloody and strong flavored. Remove those parts of the flesh unless you desire them for smoking. Given the high oil content of the flesh, the best cooking methods are broiling or bar-b-cuing the meat; the worst are methods like deep-frying that would add more oil. In addition, smoked bonito and pickled bonito are also very good.

When I was young, and lived in San Diego, I would often go out on the half-day boats to catch some bonito. Most of the bonito (in the gunnysacks) would wind up as fertilizer for my mom’s roses. However, 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.

Today, given that we’ve all become goumands, we would probably serve the thin slices raw as sashimi and include a little dipping sauce, i.e., wasabi paste and soy sauce draped over a daikon radish. One recommended dipping sauce even includes fish flakes from bonito, it’s a sauce made from shōyu (a type of soy sauce), mirin (a sweet cooking wine) and the bonito flakes.

Bonito — Hashem Nahid (Mahigeer), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Comments: Many people feel that bonito are among the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound, in the sea. For many years the place to go for bonito was the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in Redondo Harbor. This was especially true during the colder-weather, winter months. That narrative was altered when the nearby power plant changed ownership and changed procedures. Instead of always being on, and sending a steady stream of hot water into the harbor (where it emerged at the famous “bubble hole”), it became a sporadic occurrence. Visitors never knew when the hot water, or the bonito, would be showing up.  Locals learned to check out the tall towers to see if they were emiting smoke. If they were, the hot water would be bubbling up in the harbor and bonito probably would be present. Today the pier is closed but hopefully will be rebuilt. Many also hope the warm water will return to the harbor.

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.

Bonito — San Clemente Pier

Bonito —Stecve Barcellos (SteveO), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Imperial Beach Pier

Bonito — Adam Cassidy (Baitfish), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Kyle Pease, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Kyle Pease, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Rita Magdamo, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Ken Jones (The Pier Fisherman), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito — Steve Barcellos (SteveO), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

“Tres Bonitos” — Rita Magdamo, Ross Kestin (GordoGrande), and Kyle Pease, Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bonito caught at the  Goleta Pier in 2016 by seabass.seeker

My son Mike with a good-sized bonito and small yellowtail

A big bonito caught on the “Sea Wolf”


“Stuck in Catalina With the Bonito Blues Again”

Written for and dedicated to Hashem aka Mahigeer when he was seeking out his first bonito at Catalina in 2006. Although the rest of the UPSAC/PFIC gang was pulling in the bonies, Hashem just couldn‘t seem to hook one. Today he’s learned the “Tao of Bonito.”

Bonito —Hashem Nahid (Mahigeer), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Oh, the Dompha, he draws circles
Up and down the mole.
I’d ask him what the matter was
But I know that he don’t talk.
And the anglers treat me kindly
And furnish me with line,
But deep inside my heart
I know I can’t escape.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Well, Ken, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells,
Speaking to some French girl,
Who says she knows me well.
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked,
But the tackle store’s been stolen
And the tackle box is locked.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Gordo tried to tell me
To stay away from that Catalina mole
He said that all those older fishermen
Just drink up your blood like wine.
An’ I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that,
But then again, there’s only one I’ve met
An’ he just smoked my eyelids
An’ punched my cigarette.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Grandpa died last week
And now he’s buried in the kelp,
But everybody still talks about
How badly they were shocked.
But me, I expected it to happen,
I knew he’d lost control
When he built a fire on the mole
And shot it full of holes.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Now the GDude came down here
Showing ev’ryone his rod,
Handing out free tickets
To the gathering on the mole.
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a license
And be discovered beneath a trunk.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Now Baitfish looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of feathers
Stapled to his chest.
But he cursed me when I proved it to him,
Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide.
You see, you’re just like me,
I hope you’re satisfied.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Now Mahigeer gave me two cures,
Then he said, “Jump right in.”
The one was Persian medicine,
The other was just plain Raki gin.
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind,
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

When Rita says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon,
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Avalonian moon.
An’ I say, “Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante.”
An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Now the bricks lay on Metropole
Where the neon madmen climb.
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed.
An’ here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get new balls and feathers
After losing them more than twice.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

(With apologies to Bob Dylan and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)


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11 Responses to Pacific Bonito — a true fighting fish

  1. Victor says:

    When and where is the best place to catch a bonito fish? I have never experienced this fighting fish before, and I would love to catch this fish one day.



    • kenjones says:

      The answer to your question depends to some degree on the water temperatures we see year to year. In warm water years bonito can be a common catch at most piers between San Diego and Los Angeles — or even beyond. However, that is not the norm. Most years see some piers yield bonito and most commonly those are the deep water piers — Newport, Balboa, Redondo and the Redondo Beach. When the warm water bubble is turned on, and it is not turned at all times, the small Redondo Beach Sportfishing Pier can be the best coastal pier. The best overall pier, based upon what we have seen during the past ten years, is the Cabrillo Mole at Catalina. We have caught bonito there almost every year during our April Get Togethers (which is early in the season).

  2. Tracy Kim says:

    I grew up in Manhattan Beach. I use to fish off the Redondo breakwater in the 70′s. I’d take a 7 and 5 foot Sabre rods with 8 and 4 pound test. I cast Rebels and Crocadiles off the 8 pound outfit and white tiny tots off the 4 pound. Once I hooked and landed a 32 inch Bonita on the 4 pound outfit. I had to run up and down that breakwater for 15 minutes. Greatest fight I ever had. Righteous fish.

    • Steve says:

      I also grew up in the ’70s in Torrance and would peddle my 10 speed Schwinn bike to King Harbor- Redondo starting out before sun up as a 12 thru 15-year-old and fish from the south small – short jetty and attempt too ‘cast a bubble & fly’ and throw broke back Rebels towards the hot water outflow bubble and slay the Bonito…..awesome times….cheers

  3. Greg says:

    The Bonita was the fish that turned me on to sport fishing. My father had been taking me to the Wedge in Newport Beach since I was four years old. I was 12 when I caught my first Bonita on a cheap Berkeley rod and reel, using a Diamond jig. I caught three that day. I yearn for those days of catching the Bonita at the Wedge:

  4. Tony Quiroz says:

    Thank you for the article on bonito fishing, it seam’s harder to find the fish here in so cal beache’s anymore and yes redondo used to be won of the top spot’s back in the day’s when I was younger It dose not seam to be the case anymore with all the sea lion’s and water pollution, I will definetly try catalina mole pier , thank’s again.

    • kenjones says:

      Bonito have showed up in good numbers along the coast during the El Nino years but don’t seem to show up in good numbers during cold water years. Catalina though is usually the best bet.

  5. Mark Gates says:

    I used to fish off the King Harbor jetty back in the early to mid 80s. There were many a day we would catch and release scores of hard-fighting bonito on light tackle.
    Those were the days…

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