Posted by: socalsalty | December 17, 2010

Muy Bueno Bonito

Bonito are one of the Three B's

Bonito are considered one of the “Three B’s” that make up the apex of the inshore fishery in Southern California. Bonito are a schooling fish, and I used to think they were a species of tuna. This is a common mistake because they are shaped like football sized tuna. Actually though, they are part of the mackerel family. Funny that way, because when the mackerel bite is strong off the piers, and the water temperature is right (above 60 deg F), then that’s usually a sign that the predatory bonito schools are right behind. Around here, bonito usually make their appearance between Spring and early Fall. Bonito are characterized by the lateral stripes along their sides.

My first experience with bonito was fishing in a panga off Cabo with guy named Carl that I had met over a drink talking about fishing 😉 The next morning, we met at the dock, hired a panga captain, or “pangero” and set out to catch some fish. Following birds, we would spot schools of bonito and cast into them. We caught them with rigged squid skirts that we’d crank back to the panga, and use them as live bait for marlin and dorado (aka mahi mahi).

My next encounter with bonito were off the Manhattan Beach pier. I was early to pick up my brother at LAX and decided to kill some time at the pier. I looked down and the water was thick with bonito! Too bad I wasn’t rigged up to fish. 😦

This year was an odd year here in So Cal. The water was pretty cold most of the summer, so I didn’t see a lot of Bonito. The only time was on one Catalina trip, but I heard there was a late run in September around the Redondo Beach/Rocky Point area. Bonito are most often caught with light tackle, topwater, with a flylined bait…anchovies work best. They can also be caught with feather lures and rigged squid skirts. Bonito aren’t known as great table fare. Like their smaller mackerel cousins, they are bloody and kind of gamey. I have heard though that you can make good jerky with them.

Bonito are however good fighters for their size.  It’s interesting to think what a big bonito could do, but it’s a trophy catch if you were to ever catch one over 10 lbs. Good places to catch them are in the South Bay, the islands, or anywhere inshore (as I mentioned, pier fishermen have a chance to catch bonito too) when conditions are right. Given that you will be fishing with light tackle, you’re in for a nice little ride when you hook into one. For that reason, Bonito are #9 of the Top 10 Saltwater Fish in SoCal.



  1. Those Bonitos would almost certainly hit a Got-cha lure. I don’t know if they are popular in CA , but they’re probably one of the most widely used lures here on the East Coast. I’ve caught tons of Spanish Mackerel on them over the years.

    • JM, I’ll have to check out those lures and give them a try. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Actually tuna, mackerel, and bonito are considered to be one family, the Scombridae family. It may depend on who you speak to, but most published information doesn’t consider them to be either a tuna or a mackerel, but in a class of their own.

    • Hey Ron, thanks for stopping by. You could very well be right, I didn’t dig into their biology too much. I’ll have to spend some time reading up. Maybe that’s why I missed my 2011 Top 10 with that fish 😉 I had my chance at Clemente Island, but didn’t land one before the boat left to be in a more bass-y spot. You can find that trip report here

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