August means summer is giving way.
Her early mornings are darker than July’s. It’s hot on deck and hot on swim platforms. The daily mail is a back-to-school irritation. August and her heat are peaking but warm seas and the advance of September also means Bonito and Bonita: fierce summer competitors, notoriously elusive, absolute victories when brought to the gunwales. A long summer might mean they arrive at August’s tail end or possibly hold off until September can wait no longer. Here’s what the experts say about how to attract and catch summer’s coolest fish.
Massachusetts State Record: 13 pounds, 8 ounces. Caught in 2002 off the New Bedford Dyke
IGFA International All-Tackle Record: 18 pounds, 4 ounces. Caught in 1953 off Faial Island, Azores, Portugal
The two are often confused.
Bonito are Sarda sarda, squaring them back to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, anchoring them in the Scombridae family of other tunas and mackerel. They bear perfect racing stripes broken intermittently by brushes of wide shadows over some magically iridescent skin. Marvels of nature, bonito thrive from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico and many points east; if you ran a pen down the east coast of our shared continents, you’d likely find bonito.
IGFA International All-Tackle Record: 36 pounds, 0 ounces. Caught Nov. 5, 2006, Washington Canyon, New Jersey, USA
Bonita are Euthynnus alletteratus, also members of the Scombridae family.
Called false albacore, albies, fat alberts, little tunny or little tuna, they’re pelagic predators found around the world speeding up to 40 miles per hour. Behind some dark spots scattered near gill plates and just below sharp dorsal fins are a series of wavy lines over shimmering skin. They bear more in common with mackerel than tuna.
For gear, the fight starts with the rod. Captain Jerry Sparks of Northeast Boat and Kayak Charters recommends a stout 7’6” Falcon rod.
He likes its backbone and that it has enough strength to wrangle an angry fish without giving up a responsive tip. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle said, “Most anglers target albies and bonito with 7’ or 7 ½’ rods with light spinning gear and 20-30 pound braid.” He also recommended twenty-pound fluorocarbon leaders. “Surf anglers,” he said, “employ 9-10’ rods with 30-pound braid and FC leaders.”
Fly fisherman Pete Farrell guided people for years to catch stripers and albies around Block Island and recommends a nine weight, fast action rod. “I like intermediate lines. They sink just enough to present the fly when the fish are actively feeding in front of you,” he said. Captain Rene Letourneau of On The Rocks Charters also recommends an eight or nine weight rod and intermediate lines. “The casting must be quick,” he said, “and the retrieve fast also. These fish are up and down quickly. Most will use the two-hand retrieve. Approach with caution, fish will spook at times,” he advised.
Bonito and albies race to consume shrimps, silversides, menhaden and sand lances. They often target jetties, piers and rock walls. For the business end of the rod, Henault prefers ½ to two ounce lures for casting from boats. “I get casting distances of 60-80 yards,” he said and, “I tie my jigs directly.” Captain Letourneau spools his reels with at least two hundred years of braid finished with a 30” fluorocarbon leader. “Most importantly,” he said, your lure should be, “tied direct to braided line. No swivel or other hardware. I use the slim beauty knot, to tie my fluorocarbon leader. The retrieve should be fast,with the rod extended into the water.”Captain Sparks reaches first for a Rapala Twichin’ Minnow. “Smaller ones seem to work,” he said, adding, “The C-Eye Poppas from MirrOlure work the best for me. It’s a great lure.” Henault uses metals like Daddy Mac’s and Kastmaster XL’s along with some soft plastics.
“Albie Snax offer long casting without a jig head and are considered one of the best plastics,” Henault said. “My favorite lures are Hogy Epoxy Jigs. They offer durability, long casting distances and some buoyancy. They skim along just under the surface and breakwater occasionally,” he said. Deadly Dicks are always favorites but Henault recommends replacing both split rings and hooks as they don’t hold nearly as long as the lure.
Captain Letourneau reaches for swimbaits early on, then for the metal. “When the main population appears,” he said, “I will use metal lure’s like Deadly Dicks and Hogy S.I. epoxy jigs. These are my go-to baits. Color can be critical on some days. Silver, white, pink, green, are my favorites.”
Pete starts with identifying what’s in the water before choosing his flies.
He likes, “small epoxy flies to mimic bay anchovies, epoxies and deceivers for silversides and baby bunker flies for baby bunker.” Yellow and white, depending on the conditions, are often his preferred colors.
Bonito and Bonita will break the spell of summer doldrums but their fleeting appearance also signals the short cool days of fall. There’s no need to rush their arrival but now’s the time to heed the advice and counsel of seasoned guides and tackle store owners to be best prepared for the rush that is bonito and Bonita season.
Those are all such beautiful fish.
Indeed, that’s half the reason so many work so hard to catch one.