By: Darren Unland
Bonito are here!
Atlantic Bonito (not to be confused with Bonita, a.k.a. False Albacore) are a highly sought fish here in North Carolina during the short period of time that they pass by our coast each spring. Unlike False Albacore, Bonito are excellent tasting fish that many consider similar to tuna.
Bonito begin to show up once water temperatures hit 60 F and are typically around for 2-4 weeks until the water gets over 64 F. Along Wrightsville Beach this is usually from mid-April until the beginning of May. They are just beginning to show up! Try to get out there and catch some before they are gone.
Two general methods are used to catch Bonito: Trolling and casting. If you can locate where the Bonito are pushing bait to the surface, simply motor over to them and cast around the edges of the feeding frenzy. Bonito and the bait that they are feeding on are easily spooked. To avoid scaring them, approach with stealth. Ideally, approach from upwind quietly and then allow the wind to drift the boat toward the feeding action. Once you are within casting distance, using a ½ – 1 oz casting jig (such as a Big Nic from Blue Water Candy, Sting Silvers, and epoxy jigs), cast around the edges of the bait then retrieve it very fast. If this doesn’t work, cast then allow the jig to sink a bit then retrieve very fast. A key point with casting to Bonito is a fast retrieve.
If you don’t find feeding activity on the surface, try trolling until you find bait balls on the sonar or see surface feeding. When trolling there are several lure options. First and most simple would be to use a diving plug such as a Yo-Zuri deep diver. Another option is to use planers ahead of a Clarkspoon, Dronespoon, or even a casting jig.
Depending on the specific lure or planer, you’ll be able to target different depths. Generally, if the Bonito are not feeding on the surface and you are fishing in 20-50 feet of water like we have along our shorelines, you’ll want to run a planer or diving lure that will get down about 10 feet. While color doesn’t seem to be critical for casting or trolling lures for Bonito, many people prefer pink or combinations with pink.
Time of Day
The best fishing is early in the morning. Like many other species, Bonito are frequently at the surface first thing of the day then go a bit deeper as the sun gets up and certainly deeper when there is boat traffic.
Any bottom structure near-shore that holds bait fish. Along our coast this is especially around the artificial reefs. While they can be found further off-shore, you don’t need to go that far. Some of the best Bonito fishing is within 3 miles of the beach.
Identifying Bonito vs False Albacore
There are 3 key characteristics to look at. First are the presence of spots along their sides just behind the pectoral fins. False Albacore have 4-5 spots while Bonito do not have any. A second characteristic are the lines along their back. Bonito have fairly straight diagonal lines while False Albacore has wavy lines. Third is the presence of sharp teeth. Remember “Bonito have teeth and are good to eat. False Albacore have no teeth and are no good to eat.”
Here are some additional resources if you are interested in learning more:
Fisherman’s Post podcast with Captain Ray Brittain:
Coastal Carolina Fisherman article with Captain Lee Parsons:
Looking forward for Upcoming Fishing:
Spanish Mackerel will be on the heels of the Bonito! If you like trolling near shore structure and around the inlets, Spanish are a lot of fun and make for some good table fare.
The Redfish will begin to transition to their summer locations. They have been schooled up over the winter but as the water is warming up, they will disperse and spread out among the creeks and flats around our barrier islands.