Anyone who fishes offshore in South Florida knows the feeling. You get a bite and the reel starts screaming as line is peeled off at a blistering pace. You fight the fish, hoping that there’s a big blackfin or kingfish in your future. As you bring the fish closer to the boat and you see the color, the disappointment sets in when you realize that it’s a bonito.
This time of year, there are big schools of bonito swimming in the waters just off our coastline. With little to no value as table fare, bonito get a bad rap and many refer to them as a trash fish. As every cloud has a silver lining, bonito can be utilized as excellent bait to catch other edible species. One of the most effective techniques used by local charter boats is to pull a bonito strip behind a sea witch. This combination is deadly and will catch dolphin, kingfish, wahoo, blackfin tuna and sailfish. As a chunk bait, bonito is great for catching schoolie dolphin and will save you some money that you would normally spend on extra ballyhoo and squid. Smaller chunks also work well for catching yellowtail and mangrove snappers on the reef. Bonito bellies can be rigged for daytime swordfishing. Bonito can also be butterflied and make great baits for shark fishing.
The next time your spread gets invaded by a school of bonito, don’t think it’s the end of the world. Throw a few of them in the fish box to use as bait on your next fishing trip. You won’t be disappointed.
~ Gene Dyer