Tags Fish Guide

Oriental Bonito

Tags Fish Guide
THESE little speedsters draw light spinning enthusiasts from far and wide when they are sighted in Perth waters. Crashing across the surface, bonito, like all small tunas, are fast and voracious feeders.
More accurately called oriental bonito, they are mostly referred to simply as bonito in WA. Although Watson’s leaping bonito can also be caught in WA waters, oriental bonito are clearly the predominant species.
A frequently overlooked fact with bonito is that they are pretty good eating if bled straight away and put on ice. The flesh is nowhere near as red as you might expect and it cooks up well.

Straight from the ocean and still alive, oriental bonito can easily be identified by the bright green back that turns to blue/black after death. In addition there are numerous stripes running along the upper part of the body, whereas skipjack tuna only have 4-6 stripes running along the lower sides. Skipjack tuna also lack the bright green colouration when still alive.  Bonito have quite large, strong jaws that contain a single row of sharp teeth. They are well equipped to attack baitfish.

Bonito don’t grow large and the biggest recorded in WA was a 4.4kg specimen caught by Paul Willis at Augusta. A two-kilo fish is about the size that anglers can expect to encounter.  Having said that, there was a 10.65kg specimen taken back in 1975 off the Seychelles – just image how that would go on 2kg line!

Bonito are widespread in tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific. They are a prolific pelagic surface species, generally found in depths of less than 200m in waters from the Great Australian Bight up as far as Shark Bay. They mostly feed within a few hundred metres of the shoreline and around inshore islands and reef formations where bait fish can be found.

Breeding and migration
Little or nothing is known about the breeding and migration habits of bonito in WA, although they are thought to be summer breeders.  They form moderate-sized schools and prey on species that include herring, slimy mackerel, yellowtail, pilchards and whitebait, as well as other small fish. Squid also form part of their opportunistic diet.  Bonito usually make their presence felt around the metro area during early summer and are regularly caught as far north as Exmouth.

There appears to be no identified threats to bonito, although the decline of inshore water quality around our towns and cities could be keeping them farther offshore and out of range of some anglers.

Tackle and bait
Bonito are fantastic fun on light gear and two or four-kilo spinning outfits allow these fish to display their full potential when boat fishing. When fishing from the shore or jetty, a heavier spinning outfit will often be necessary for casting distance. In which case a six-kilo spin stick should do the job.  I would prefer to fish lures for bonito, but they will take a range of small fish and cut baits.

Fishing methods
Boat anglers are able to target bonito in several ways; casting metal hi-speed lures; casting hard-body and soft plastic lures; trolling hard-body lures and skirted trolling lures; fishing strip and dead baits down a berley trail and casting or trolling whole fish baits. Shore-based anglers are naturally more limited in their approach and are generally restricted to casting lures or baits.  But casting metal lures like Halco Twisties and Slices has to be the most rewarding way to pursue bonito. These lures cast a country mile and if the bonito are there, these lures will usually do the job. Remember that the lighter the line, or braid, you use the further you will be able to cast.  Minnow lures such as Nils Masters, Bombers or Scorpions will often work sensationally well, as will a baitcast mulie.  The trick is knowing when the bonito arrive at your local fishing spots, and also having patience. If you hear the bonito are about and decide to make an assault on them from the shore, be prepared to do a fair bit of casting. If they are on, bonito will come through at irregular intervals and it is first and foremost a matter of having your line in the water when they turn up. When they finally appear, there is plenty of excitement as small groups of these speedsters zero in on lures and baits. At the best spots, which are groynes and jetties close to deep water, multiple hook-ups are a common occurrence when the bonito fire up.

References: The Marine & Estuarine Fishes of South-Western Australia by Barry Hutchins and Roger Swainston.  The Fisherman’s Handbook by Steve Starling.
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