Cortez Bonefish

Bonefishes—Family Albulidae

Bonefish caught at Spanish Landing in San Diego Bay by jkim

Species: Albula gilberti Pfeiler & Van der Heiden, 2011. Previously referred to as Albula vulpes and “Albula sp. A” (Pfeiler and Van der Heiden 2011). From the Latin Albula (meaning fox).

Alternate Names: Ladyfish, mullet, silver ghost, silver shuttle, sanducha and macabi. There are hundreds of local names for the fish worldwide. My favorites: banana or bananafish (many countries), sorte de mullet (New Caladonia; and it does sort of look like a mullet), salmon peel (Barbados) and Zorro (Spain and Peru). Called macabi in Mexico.

Identification: Snout conical and cartilaginous with a small mouth. One dorsal fin located at the middle of the back. Generally gray, bluish or greenish above, silvery below; base of fins yellowish. Sometimes bars at side, usually in younger fish; bars fade at death. Often confused with mullet by anglers  who see mullet milling down around the pilings of piers.

Bonefish from the Balboa Pier in 2007

Size: Length in the eastern Pacific to 14.2 inches (Pfeiler and Van der Heiden 2011). Typical size from California piers is 10-12 inches.

Range: San Francisco, northern California, along west coast of Baja California, and into the Gulf of California (Pfeiler and Van der Heiden 2011) to Acapulco, Mexico (Palacios-Salgado et al. 2014). Increasing number have been seen in southern California in the past twenty years with a regular fishery developing in San Diego Bay.

Habitat: Shallow waters, in bays, lagoons, estuaries and along sandy-beach shores.

Bonefish taken by anadomous at a “secret” spot in south San Diego Bay

Piers: In California, In California, most often encountered at piers inside of bays but occasionally found at ocean-front piers.  Best bets are the Ferry Landing Pier (Coronado), Bayshore Park Pier (Chula Vista), L.M. “Pep” Pepper Park Pier  (National City), and the Embarcadero Marina Park Pier—all located in San Diego Bay. Also reported from the Oceanside Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Seal Beach Pier. Unconfirmed reports from the Imperial Beach Pier, Belmont Pier and San Francisco Bay.

Shoreline: An occasional catch by anglers at SoCal bays and harbors—San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, Newport Bay, Huntington Harbor, Alamitos Bay and Marina Del Rey Harbor.

Two bonefish taken from the Newport Pier in 2001

Boats: An inshore species rarely taken from boats unless fishing in bays. South San Diego Bay is considered an excellent area for bonefish.

Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle, size 6 or 4 hooks, and ghost shrimp, bloodworms, clams, fresh mussels, or cut shrimp as bait.

Food Value: Reported to be good eating but they also supposedly contain many small bones. Perhaps that’s why they are called bonefish?

Comments: Bonefish are a highly sought out fish in many parts of the world (especially in the Caribbean). However, the more prized fish are a different sub-species reaching a much larger size. The Cortez bonefish found in California is a smaller sized bonefish and  an incidental  catch for most California anglers. I’ve only caught two, both in 1999, and both from the Embarcadero Marina Park Pier in San Diego Bay (on ghost shrimp) and while they put up a good fight, the fight didn’t equal the stories I had heard over the years regarding the “silver ghost.” But, to be fair, the fish I caught were relatively small and were caught on medium tackle, not on a fly rod.

A bonefish taken near the boat docks in Coronado (San Diego Bay) by pEsCaDoR619 in 2003.

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