Saltwater Edge Tackle and Tactics: Atlantic Bonito
Atlantic Bonito are typically the first of the "ocean speedsters" to arrive in the waters of Southern New England. Usually, somewhere around the Newport Folk Festival, the fast and tasty bones offer an exciting change of pace to the striped bass fishing that consumed the first half of the season. They are a great gamefish on both light spin and fly gear. This primer is intended to make your time on the water more effective by helping you determine your tackle needs and provide a review of proven tactics. Buckle up for some of the most exciting fishing of the year!
Light Tackle Choices for Atlantic Bonito:
The spin fisherman will need a good quality light tackle rod that will throw lures in the range of 1/2 to 1 ounce. The G Loomis E6X 844S is a seven footer and a shop favorite. It has the stiffness to throw smaller metal lures, yet the tip is so sensitive, you feel every beat of the tail. Captain Eric Thomas of Teezer 77 Charters prefers an eight footer like the St Croix Avid Inshore for bonito, as the added length provides additional casting distance.
Your reel must be substantial enough to handle the powerful runs and have a smooth drag as it will be tested. We like the Daiwa Saltist 4000 because it has the overbuilt Digi Gear providing nearly 40 inches per turn retrieve speed, which may become a critical feature when the bonito turns and burns back at the boat. It is smooth and reliable due to Daiwa's proprietary Mag Seal a vicious, magnetic material that dynamically lubes and seals the Saltist
The benefits of braided line shine when chasing bonito, as it offers some distinct advantages. Most notably, the positive impact it has on casting distance, which is a distinct advantage with this fast moving target. Consider the smoother eight carrier braids like Power Pro Super Slick and Daiwa J Braid 8x for maximum distance. Also, the strength to diameter ratio helps the line cut through the water during a bonito's drag melting run. As for leaders, many anglers feel the sharp eyed bonito give good reason to upgrade to fluorocarbon leaders like Ande and Seaguar in the 10-15 lb range.
Here are the "go to" lure recommendations from two of the Ocean State's top guides for Atlantic bonito:
Captain Eric Thomas Teezer77 "Go To" Lures:
Captain Eric likes the Po-Jee from Pt Jude because it casts great and has a heavy back end that tracks well. Other flat sided metal can skip along the surface the Po Jee rides at a slight angle and stay on the dinner plate.
The Hogy Epoxy Jigs in bright purple and pink stand out better when there is an abundance of bait.
Captain Corey Pietraszek Plug N Play Charters "Go To" Lures:
Captain Corey prefers the Deadly Dick 1L with Silver or Blue tape, as it has delivered for his clients for years.
Fly Tackle Choices for Atlantic Bonito:
The bonito is an excellent fish to target with the fly rod and is one of the highlights of the season. Because the common baits are small like silversides, young of the year herring and sand eels, they can be very well imitated with flies. Most anglers use a fast action 8 or 9 weight rod. We LOVE the GLoomis Pro 4X Short Stix fly rods. They are short and stiff which means they load fast to get your fly in the action and they have a strong butt to lift with during the fight. We did a Gear Review if you want to learn more. Your reel should have a top notch drag system. The Orvis Hydros SL is a great combination of a solid drag system on a lightweight reel. For the 8 weight use an Airflo Sniper Intermediate line. The aggressive taper loads fast and can deliver the distance. If you fish a 9 weight consider an Airflo Depthfinder 300 grain in addition to an intermediate. The 300 grain will allow you to fish structure that the bonito use to ambush bait. They do not always "show" when they have the bait in a concentration. Sinking lines get the fly in the feeding zone instantly, load the rod quickly, and they can punch through the wind and chop much more efficiently. Use a simple 6-8 foot leader with a 30 lb mono butt section tapering to a 15lb fluorocarbon tippet to provide the stiffness to allow your cast to unfurl. With a sinking line, shorten the leader 4or 5 feet. Use the non-slip loop knot to attach the fly as it allows for a more natural movement, as opposed to the straight and stiff clinch knot. Despite the teeth that bonito have, cutoffs are uncommon. Also, these fish can be leader shy, so it is wise to take advantage of both the abrasion resistance and underwater transparency provided by fluorocarbon tippets.
Below is the "go to" fly recommendation from one of the Ocean State's top fly fishing guides:
Captain Ryan Gluek - Double Haul Anglers:
Atlantic Bonito Tactics:
Like any gamefish, different tactics will produce on different days. The first hot stable weather of a July "Bermuda High" should get the water temps to 70 degrees and the party started in Southern New England. You want to target clear, moving water with some structure to focus the bait; reefs and steep drop offs, for example. Bones prefer clean water; a rainy spell will sometimes move them out until clarity returns.
Bonito and its larger relative, the false albacore, "feed with speed," preferring to eat inline while charging through the bait. Conversely, a bluefish will spin to hammer a plug they failed to chomp on the first pass. There is a debate among bonito fisherman about retrieve speed. Some like to "rip" the lure or fly across the surface to stimulate a strike. Be sure to maintain a speed where you are "connected" to your offering (easier said than done with fly gear). It's a common mistake to reel so fast that the lure skips across the surface making the hook set more difficult. The other school advocates a slow retrieve that leaves your lure/fly in the strike zone longer. Toss a weighted Bunny Fly or jig into the school and let it fall through the bait. An offering presented in this manner is "easy pickins" for a tiny tuna to nail the apparently stunned bait on the drop. Best advice is to vary your retrieve between the two extremes.
It is far more effective to study the movements and try to establish a pattern than to "run and gun" chasing the busting fish. For example, there are some "hot spots" above the reef in Watch Hill and the bonito utilizing the structure below commonly "pop" in two or three locations. By observing the situation, you can position the boat, so you are ready; let the action come to you.
Fish the water you have identified regardless if you see breaking fish at the moment, as the surface feeders are the "tip of the iceberg" and most of the feeding is 3-4 feet below the fray. Blind casting can be extremely effective when fish appear to be unwilling to "stay on top."
When you come upon breaking fish, try to position the boat upwind or up-current of the school, and shut off the motor. This way your engine noise doesn't disperse the feed ahead of the arrival of the bait. This should give you and other anglers the best opportunity to put your offerings on target. Try to lead the fish by 3-4 feet, allowing them first to see, and then take your offering.
We hope this Tackle and Tactics Primer helps move you up the learning curve with this challenging gamefish. Once you have landed a bonito, then the question becomes "How should you prepare it?" All I can say is, you are in for another treat!
If you have any feedback or want more information, please contact the shop at 401-842-0062