Deadly Dicks, deceivers, frustration, exuberance; these all share one thing in common:
Based on the fishing logs and water temperatures, these members of the mackerel family should be migrating here very soon so to be ready for the challenge, you’ll need the right rod, a few lures and if possible, a good friend with a fast boat.
Anglers in New York and down south often confuse bonito and bonita. Both are members of the Scombridae family, having two dorsal fins and smaller finlets aft of the rear one. Bonito (Sarda sarda) with their magnificent iridescent stripes, efficient lines, powerful tail and boundless energy, are a sport fisherman’s dream catch. Rarely are genus and species identical, known as a tautonym, an honor it shares with the Atlantic halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus. Anyway, sarda also derives from Latin for sardines and their namesake, the island of Sardinia. Class dismissed.
Bonito have distinct horizontal lines running perpendicular to vertical swipes of black and the darkest green. Although classified as epipelagic, meaning they inhabit the near and far shore waters where sunlight can still penetrate, they have a taste for pelagic fish and small squid so will be found in skinny tidal waters and river mouths if they have forced some silversides or anchovies into a corner. Bonito weigh on average around six pounds but occasionally weigh more in our region. 53 years before winning the Euro 2016 soccer championship, the Portuguese landed the world record bonito weighing eighteen pounds four ounces near Faial Island in the Azores.
Bonita are false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) which are more closely related to tuna than the mackerel. The thynnus in their genus can be traced back to Latin for rushing or racing and may be the origin for another nickname, little tunny. Also called albies, or for some very unscientific reason, fat alberts, albies’ sides bear wild, irregular swirling lines above their lateral line and closer to the forward dorsal fin in addition to a series of dark spots near the pectoral fins. Albies have no upper set of teeth, an odd evolutionary distinction since both species survive on very similar diets of herring, alewives, sand eels and some shrimps but can be a factor when trying to set a hook. Neither fish has a swim bladder so they are constantly on the move.
Since our waters are in the low to high seventies now, temperatures are right for their return and they can be targeted with a spin or fly rod. Rod choice is imperative since, depending on the conditions and from where you are casting, you might be throwing a heavy metal weighing up to 1 ½ ounces but if waters are calm with action close and close to the surface, you might throw a light and cumbersome soft bait. Spin fishermen typically use a seven-foot rod with a medium action. The Shimano Stradic is a big seller and will do well fully spooled with 15 pound monofilament or braid and given that bonito are known to have excellent eyesight, it should be tipped with 4 feet of twenty to forty pound fluorocarbon leader. Hooksets can be deceiving and difficult as bonito tend to initially just hold prey in their mouths as they dart away. To ensure a solid hookset, keep some tension on the line with your fingers to push the hook to the corner of his mouth.
For fly-rodders, an 8 or 9 weight is best to get the most backbone with the least amount of arm fatigue from false casting. A Ross Animas 9-10 will do the trick, with its aluminum body and excellent Teflon drag system. The drag handle is also easy to grasp which really can make all the difference when your hands are wet and adrenaline is racing through your body as that line fires off the spool. It’s also great that they are an American company, which keeps a few dollars right here at home. Intermediate lines will increase your time of presentation but if there’s a strong wind and chop, a heavier sinking line will help put flies in the feeding zone faster. Peter at The Saltwater Edge recommends 30lb monofilament leaders with 15lb fluorocarbon tippets.
You have several bait options. Plastics tend to be lighter and therefore sink more slowly thus presenting themselves longer. Using a larger sized soft plastic will also give you somewhat of a weight advantage if casting from shore and may stand out from the bait ball. Many fishermen go with white or pearl from companies like Hogy and Long Cast Plastic’s Albie Snax. Cast 4 or 5 feet ahead of the blitz, over and over and over, trying to get your lure into the line of sight. If there’s a breeze, metals like Deadly Dicks, Swedish Pimples and SI Sand Eels are classics that will get your cast out farther but can sink too quickly thereby presenting themselves for too short a time. One advantage here is that blitz’s tend to be just after sunrise to late morning or later in the afternoon so a heavier metal or jig will better target fish in deeper waters when the action slows. New SI Epoxy Jigs from Hogy offer a better presentation, with high-tech and long-lasting shiny finishes which not only better mimic bait fish but will sink more slowly.
Fly fishermen reach for the classic imitations like Clouser minnows or anything a few inches long that matches the bait. There are all sorts of epoxy flies and bonito bunnies and best council says start with longer flies, given the size of the prey, you can always trim back some if the bait is running smaller.
Whichever type of rod you reach for, bonito and the closely related false albacore are fierce fighters and real trophy’s when finally landed. In this new age of fish conservation, it’s also important to remember that albies taste awful so there’s no need to keep them. Bonito are more palatable but need to be bled and iced quickly. Both species will fight to the boat so if you’re not planning on keeping them, best practice is to keep the fight as short as possible followed by a quick revival baptism to flood their gills with oxygen before setting them free. Good Luck!