How To Catch Bonito at Catalina — GDude & Scooterfish

From Pier Fishing In California (

GDude (James Liu) and a bonito he caught at the Cabrillo Mole at Catalina — 2008

Date: April 8, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
From: gyozadude
Subject: Bonito fishing at the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

If you’re coming to Catalina and want to catch bonito, here are some tips:

Gear to bring: Get an 8 – 10 ft spinning rod with a mod-fast action, and 12 – 20 lb test line. Try to avoid a full surf rod as the butt section may be too long for good under-hand casting. I like to use braid as it seems to have less memory and casts farther.

Bring some metal spoons, in the 1 – 3 oz range. Kroc spoons in chrome with a splash of colour work. Also an in-line golf-ball with two small screw-in framing loops works if tied to a 5 ft leader and streamer or Hoochie or glow grub. The golf ball is just a bit denser than water so it sinks slowly, and will create a splash if you retrieve it quickly. But my favourite lure has to be a size 4 Buzzbomb. A popular lure up in B.C. for salmon, the Buzzbomb flutters when jerked and released and catches all sorts of fish. The Buzzbomb is about 1.75 oz and casts far, plus sinks fairly quickly. Due to its pulsing hydrodynamics, however, the lure puts out a huge alert under water. So unlike the golf ball rig that generates the most flash just at the surface, the Buzzbomb draws out fish from deeper waters.

You’ll see myself, Mahigeer, and Scooterfish using Buzzbombs this year. Chrome or holographic finishes are ideal.

Location: Best location I think for bonito is the Cabrillo Mole. You can often spot them at a distance off shore attacking schools of baitfish. The water dances wildly on the surface. But even when there is no surface activity, there are schooling bonito that may be sub-surface, around 6 – 10 ft deep.

GDude and a bonito — 2006

How far you need to cast varies. Sometimes they’re in close. More often, they’re out beyond 30 – 50 yds. As the Mole only allows for underhand casting, we get best results using an 8 – 10 ft spinning rod held vertically downward. 10 ft seems ideal for me. The extra length allows me to clear the structure and swing inboard and under the Mole in a pendulum motion, then quickly pull back on the butt section, which lifts the tip and shoots the lure out quite a ways.

Useful tips: Be careful during underhand casting so as not to smash rods against the concrete Mole understructure. This can chip ceramic guides. I recommend a Berkley or Abu made rod or custom rod that uses either the new flex ring memory metal titanium guides or Berkley SS304 type guides which have no ceramic ring inside but just a hardened TiCh or TiNitride coated metal ring.

The kelp grows thick in front of the Mole and bonito will tangle up in it. Try to keep lines tight and fish from diving into the kelp if possible. Braid can help in these cases if you hook up because the thin, tough line can cut somewhat through the foilage. Best tactic is to be quick and keep the fish’s head up and out of the water.

If the bonito seem to disappear and stop hitting, often, they’re still there. Just cast further, and let the lure sink to about 10 ft and work your lure. Bonito are attracted to the surface often because of baitfish. But otherwise, in bright sunlight, they will stay deeper.

Vary the speed of the retrieve and depth to find where the fish are and then work that section for 10 minutes or until the hits stop and then move on. If the bonito are out there, they won’t waste time chasing food, and they are picky. If there are no hits, change positions and cast some more.

When a bonito hits, often, you won’t hook up. Crank up the slack quickly, and continue to retrieve. Bonito will give chase and often smack a lure multiple times until hooked.

If you plan to have kids work rods and fight bonito, you may want to go with 8 lb line and a tether to the rod just in case the kids let go and fish wants to pull the rod into the water.

Scooterfish (Scott) and a bonito — 2009

Date: April 24, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Scooterfish
Subject: Catalina bonito rigging 

Some folks at Catalina were interested in details about the bonito rig I was using at Catalina, so here they are, starting with the terminal end…

Lure — 1/4oz jig head dressed with a 4 inch Saltwater Assassin “Sea Shad” in the “Space Guppy” pattern (Chartreuse with salt + pepper flaked clear). Not the most durable plastic by a long shot (1 per landed fish), but very effective with great action. I like using a ¼ oz head because it keeps the lure ~6” underwater even when retrieving “bonito fast”. Tail action of the Sea Shad is frantic, even at lower speeds and on the fall.

Leader — 5+ feet of 20lb P-line CFX fluorocarbon leader. I’ve used this stuff for quite a few years in the 15-30lb test and have never had it fail me. Works well with my Uni knots.

Splasher — 3” Magnum (1-1/8oz) Flexcoat “Launcher” casting float. There are larger sizes of this float, but this size casts best for me with this rod. The larger sizes seem awkward and have too much wind resistance, and the lighter sizes are too light to get distance… *Distance casting was less important this year as the bonito were cruising primarily just outside the kelp, and inside the harbor. On Sunday I caught a few smaller sized bonito on long casts, but the rest of the week they were close in. Thursday afternoon they were cruising the Green Pleasure Pier and the harbor and technically could have been caught with a handline!

Mainline — ~270yds 20lb PowerPro. Old reliable! Casts far, sensitive, strong. Brought a spare spool with 30lb PP, but never needed it. FWIW I had zero break-offs this year from kelp, fish, or bad casts!

Rod — 11’ G-Loomis SUR1324s (Fast Action ½-3oz lure, 15-30lbline). Same rod as last year, and same rod I use primarily for Jack Crevalle and Redfish here in Louisiana. Light, strong and fast. Allows me to easily load up under the pier for a pretty effective underhand cast.

Reel — Shimano Sustain 4000fe. The drag on this reel got a pretty good workout this year, and did not disappoint. Spool lip is definitely smoother than the Stradic, although I did not notice any big difference in casting distance.

Scooterfish and a Catalina bonito — 2008

Date: May 1, 2010
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Scooterfish
Subject: Bonito fishing, rig and technique notes from Catalina 2010

This is a summary of my bonito fishing notes from Catalina this year. Hopefully this adds some more useful information to the PFIC archives for future visitors to the island, and those who are obsessed with targeting these awesome fish!

There were two environmental factors that I believe directly affected fishing at the Catalina event this year for bonito. It was generally more overcast, usually for the first half of the day, and windier with a light chop on the water (with the exception of Friday). Wednesday the weather was very windy, with a huge swell, which stirred up the water quite a bit and seemed to put off the bite for pelagics for about a day and a half. We were also faced with a situation where the anchovy that are usually present around the island (and usually available at the bait shops frozen) were reportedly no where to be found. Anchovy happen to be the primary food source for Sarda Chiliensis (Pacific Bonito), closely followed by squid…

Our usual routine at Catalina in years past has consisted of spotting “boils” (fish working on the surface), and repetitive casting to cover as much water as possible when the fish are not showing. Most of us utilized “splasher rigs”. A splasher rig is a topwater rig that utilizes a weighted float (cast-a-bubble, Launcher floats or drilled golf balls) with a leader of 4-8 feet (preferable good fluorocarbon). At the business end of the rig there are a variety of options that will work (and you should keep a good selection of these in your tackle box!). Lures for a splasher rig can be a simple as a couple of rubber bands tied to a bare hook, fancy flies and feathers, and even small plastics. I’m sure a squid strip would do well on this rig also, although I’ve never tried it.

The most popular (and effective in my opinion) color for bonito lures is chartreuse, while white, olive green and other colors can be effective at times also. All of these colors will benefit greatly when combined with a good bit of silver flash or chrome.

About a month or so prior to the event Hashem had visited Catalina and posted about the technique that was most effective at the time. This rig is very similar to the splasher rig, but the float is replaced with a 1-3oz torpedo sinker. I stocked up on 1-3 oz torpedo sinkers and found a Bass Pro Shop version that includes an integrated inline swivel on both ends marketed as a trolling sinker. These proved to be indispensable at Catalina this year. This rig casts farther than a splasher, can cover the entire water column, and is much easier to work in the water. It also is more flexible as far as lure options. I was able to use this rig with flies, plastics with jigheads, and even a 3 1/2” X-rap with the middle hook removed (caught a good bonito on that one!).

When casting a rig with a longer leader, braided line and a weight in between, I find it necessary to slightly modify my casting style and leader. If you attempt to cast this rig overhand, it will foul almost every time because the weight will shoot straight out, the leader will straighten behind it (parallel to the braid mainline) and then spin around the mainline causing a tangle. This is a worse problem if you use thinner diameter leader material (like 10-15lb). I had my best results using P-Line CFX 25lb flourocarbon which is a bit thicker and stiffer than the 15lb version I usually use. This makes it far more resistant to wrapping around the mainline, and easier to free up if it fouls.

I modified my casting style to a semi-sidearm (maybe 45 degrees from vertical), with a sweeping follow through down and to the left (I am a right hand caster). When casting this way, the weight flies forward first leaving the rod with a straight trajectory about 2 feet to your right. The leader and fly will follow in line with the weight. The follow through part of the cast holds the mainline off to the left for a second so that it is not parallel to the leader during the initial flight of the cast when speeds are high and fouling/wrapping is more likely. I hope I explained this well enough, it is much easier to actually demonstrate… This casting technique worked really well when casting nearly weightless flies. If you use plastics with a light leadhead, or heavier flies with lead eyes, the follow through part of the cast becomes less important.

On each and every cast, as the rig is about to hit the water, I touch my finger to the mainline to slow down the weight, and the fly or lure will shoot forward ahead of the weight as it splashes down. I follow this with two quick and firm jerks of the rod to straighten out the leader. This is where the swivel equipped weights really shined. A couple of jerks on the rod almost always cleared the line for a good retrieve. On rare occasions, the leader would wrap a few times and stay that way throughout the retrieve. Most times you can pull the rig out of the water, jig it lightly a couple of times and it would resolve itself, ready for the next cast. This is a very easy rig to cast when you use a 1oz torpedo with a 1/4oz leadhead and 4” plastic. This has opened up my fishing options for just about everywhere I fish! A 1/4oz leadhead with plastic on this rig can be cast long, long distances and will cover much more water than the leadhead alone. The Rapala X-rap behind a 2oz. torpedo can easily be thrown 90+ yards (this could make a killer striper rig for some spots).

You can fish this rig surface, shallow, deep, fast, slow, dead drop, etc…. We had quite a few hits on the dead drop. Just cast out, straighten the line, and wait. Or stop for 5-10 seconds mid-retrieve. A very, very versatile rig that is as simple as can be!

The most effective lures this year were flashy chartreuse flies in #2 and #1 sizes. Clouser Minnows, Deceivers and Bunny flies all worked well. The interesting thing was that the more bloody, mangled and sparse the fly would get, the better it seemed to work. I knew that small sparse baits were effective, and many of the flies I brought had been trimmed down in advance to simulate a smaller, thinner profile bait. The flies seemed to hold up very well, with 10+ fish on one fly before it started to become ineffective. Most of the damage to my flies actually was not from the fish, but from grasping the shank of the hook with pliers for hook removal. For some reason the Jack Mackeral shredded flies far worse than the bonito, even though the bonito have visibly bigger teeth. I was also able to catch using the torpedo rig with a standard 1/4oz leadhead and the Space Guppy 4” SWA plastics that I have had success with in years past. I tried the Rapala for a while, and landed one bonie on it, but that was more of an experiment to see if the rig was still castable with a hard jerkbait, and it is!
I did try throwing tins/ metal jigs this year for a brief time, but with no fish to show, so I concentrated on what worked. G-dude did manage a few on his smaller BuzzBomb I think…

Already looking forward and planning already for next years hot pursuit of the speedy striped silver wonders!

Posted by RYRYK

Wow … I just got my PhD in bonito fishing. Great details. Can u see this rig working on the end of some jettys out here in socal for barracuda macs n bonies?

Posted by pinfish

Thanks for the description. So the boils are way far out huh?

Posted by scooterfish

RYRVK: I think the torpedo/lure combo could work for many fishing situations. I would use it at a jetty, but be careful not to go to heavy or too slow, as structure is not going to be your friend with a rig like this. I would work it in the upper half of the water column.

Pinfish: This year I only heard of or saw two visible boils the whole week (as in visible surface strikes on baitfish school). In years past visible boils have ranged from just outside the kelpline, to way out of range of even the most accomplished casters. That being said, most fish were caught from 40-80 yards from the Mole. From what I have researched about Pacific bonito and their East Coast cousin, when food is available they tend to have consistent cruising spots that they pass by on a regular basis. By numbers, the best technique for a non-mobile bonito fisherman is to find a known cruising spot and cover that water as completely as possible with repetitive cast and retrieve. I hooked fish this year at well over 100yds, and also just outside the kelp at 25yds. No consistency this year, water was often chopped up by wind, so boils would have been hard to see anyway. If we had seen boils, I likely would have switched back to the splasher rig.

Some Catalina bonito — from the Cabrillo Mole

Joey (Grammar Police) and a bonito from the Mole in 2006

Redfish (Robert) and a Catalina bonito — 2010

Rita and a bonito at the Cabrillo Mole — 2012

Mahigeer (Hashem) and a bonito at the Mole —2012

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