Anchovy Diner For Bonito

SAN DIEGO-The much-discussed return of anchovies is already yielding a substantially increased catch of perhaps California’s most exciting near-shore game fish, the bonito. A massive school of anchovies, estimated to be over 100 million strong moved in tight to the beach in La Jolla last month, drawing lots of attention from news outlets.

After over a decade of scarcity, the bonito started showing up in the catch counts for several local San Diego landings. Biologists have been saying that bonito population cycles closely follow the anchovy population cycle, so with luck the striped micro-tuna will stick around for a while.

During their peak abundance in the 1960s and 1970s, bonito were often treated with little respect and shunned in favor of more desirable species like yellow tail. In today’s fishingworld, they are much more popular on the table. Part of the reason is that aboard most sport fishing boats back in the day, bonito were simply dropped into a dry gunnysack and allowed to sit in the sun, which did not result in good table fare.

These days it is standard procedure to bleed the fish and immediately get it chilled down. This results in an amazingly good food product, although anglers should take care to remove the bloodline in each fillet.

The bonito’s fighting qualities as a game fish are unquestioned, and they rank among the world’s hardest fighters on a pound-for-pound basis. Heavy tuna tackle overwhelms them, of course, but 12- or 15-pound spinning gear like a Penn Spinfisher SSV4500 is ideal.

Bonito are also generally cooperative biters, and will hit a variety of casting and trolling lures, along with fly-lined live anchovies. Many trollers go with small-sized albacore feathers, as the classic bonito feathers are difficult to find these days. Even more effective are the smaller Rapala X-RapMagnums in size XRMAG10 or XRMAG15, and, not surprisingly, the silver color that replicates anchovies is usually best.

Casting lures similarly run the gamut of almost anything that resembles an anchovy,with a chrome or chrome/red Krocodile being among the longstanding champions of bonito catching. The best size of a Krocodile for smaller school-size bonito is usually the 5?8- ounce variety; for better-grade fish, the 1 ounce is standard.

Pier anglers love bonito, which are the biggest adrenaline rush they usually get. A live anchovy fished on a slide line or trolley rig is the most reliable way to catch bonito off of piers. Another soon to- be-revived pier rig for bonito is the splasher, which is a 5-inch piece of wooden dowel with 6 feet of line behind it and a 2/0 saltwater streamer fly. A chrome/red Krocodile in 5?8 ounce is also a good pier weapon as well.

California’s marine environment has changed somewhat since the last time bonito were abundant, but they were traditionally present to some degree most of the year. The peak is in summer and early fall.Weights ranged from little 1- and 2-pound tigers up to 12- pound-plus powerhouses. Just about every inshore zone from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara hosted bonito, as did the offshore islands, and many harbors. Older anglers will fondly remember the legendary runs of bonito inside Redondo’s King Harbor; with luck, those days are about to return.


Since last month, even more El Niño-related oddities have been noticed by California anglers, including:

*A  hammerhead shark off Orange County in Southern California, schools of Pacific green back mackerel off Marin County near the Bay Area, various tuna species spotted inside both Newport and Alamitos Bays, and a huge shoal of anchovies right on the beach at La Jolla.

*Although not exactly an El Niño oddity, a juvenile great white shark was hooked by an angler off Manhattan Beach Pier during the Fourth of July weekend. A handful of 6-foot great whites have been caught there over the past decade, so it’s not that unusual.

However, as the angler was fighting the shark, a marathon swimmer who was about 300 yards off the beach passed by the pier. In one of the most unusual collisions of fishing circumstance in history, the swimmer and the shark literally ran into each other,with the hooked shark lunging and snapping at the swimmer. Luckily the bite was not too serious, but a firestorm of controversy erupted.

Great whites are protected under California law, although fishing for all other shark species is perfectly legal.
Theoretically, the law requires that if the angler finds himself hooked up to a great white, the line is supposed to be cut immediately. In practical application, cutting the line and leaving 200 to 300 yards of line trailing from the fish’s mouth would be a death sentence.

Top this all off with the smartphone video that shows the angler laughing out loud as the shark got close to the
swimmer, and even right when the bite first occurred. Chumming is also perfectly legal, but much of the public’s wrath was directed at the fact that the angler may have been chumming (he denies it). Ironically,Manhattan Beach is a known pupping area for great whites, so anglers or no anglers, the sharks are there almost all the time.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife chose not to issue a citation in this case, but the knee-jerk reaction of Manhattan Beach officials was to close the pier to fishing for 60 days. The long-term ramifications of large numbers of people fishing around large numbers of swimmers may be irrevocably changed as this case will likely receive several legal examinations.


My July column started out with this: “For the first time ever, yellow fin tuna and dorado have been caught within range of San Diego one-day boats.” It was poor proofreading on my part, as I should have added “in the month of June” to the end of that sentence. Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

By Steve Carson
Editor’s note: The author can be reached at