The fall and early winter mark a very important time for the southern California saltwater fly fisherman. This time of year means transition, and with this transition comes the seasonal migration of Pacific bonito to the nearshore waters off southern California.
Although SoCal has a year-round population of bonito, many of the fish who take up residence here in the early fall and winter are the larger pelagic bonito that trek to our coast from southern waters. These fish can range in size between 5 to 15 pounds and are probably the hardest fighting fish readily available to fly fishermen off the southern California coast. These fish are found both inshore and offshore, however, most of the offshore bonito are in 30 fathoms (150 feet) or less.
When fishing for open-water bonito, the angler’s best approach is to look for birds and schools working along current or temperature breaks. Once these areas are found, look for bonito chasing anchovies or sardines near the surface. Bonito can be very shy, so cutting the engine and siding up on the fish is very important. Once the boat is in position, a 40- to 80-foot cast placed to the outside edge of the schooling fish is best. The angler should make sure the fish are moving either toward the skiff or in a crossing direction so the cast can be put in the path of the moving fish.
The fly tackle best suited for bonito fishing includes 9-foot, 6- to 10-weight rods matched with a good direct-drive saltwater fly reel with a minimum of 120 yards of 20- to 30-lb. Dacron backing. In terms of fly lines, a shooting head with a built-in running line in weights of 175 to 350 grains will work best. Tippets should be 8 to 12 pounds, and abrasion-resistant fluorocarbon works wonders on leader-shy fish.
As for flies, Clousers, Deceivers, Crazy Charlies and any anchovy pattern in sizes 8 through 2 will do the trick. Color is an important factor, so match the fly color to the color of the bait being taken. Green/white and blue/white are great choices, however, chartreuse/white is always a great attractor color.
Fighting a bonito once it is hooked is an exciting and sometimes exhausting experience for the fly angler. Because the bonito is built like a mini rocket, it will make some amazing runs and will usually take line well into the angler’s backing.
As summer fades and the days get shorter, it’s worth a trip to southern California where fly anglers can take part in the famous bonito run.