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Captain’s Log: Last Blast of Bonito

There are tried and true ways to get in on the action of hooking these fast and furious fish.

Article Image
Shaun Vague, crewing aboard the Wavewalker, enjoys a big bruiser bonito. (Capt. David Bacon / Noozhawk photo)

The wildest way to close out our surface fishing season is with a wide-open local bonito bite. That is what we’ve got going on now, within a few miles of the Santa Barbara Harbor. The fish are in thick, they are big bruisers and there is plenty of fun to be had. What are you waiting for?

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
The “bones” have been schooling and foraging throughout the Channel and around the Channel Isles since midsummer. In the past couple of weeks, they have invaded our local waters near the oil rigs and westward toward Ellwood. These speedsters can be many miles away in the blink of an eye, so keep a sharp eye out for bonito signs wherever you are on the water.

Birds are generally the best signs to watch for. When bonito drive baitballs to the surface and feed aggressively, sea birds will show you the way. Birds can see or sense action at surprising distances. When bonito chase bait up to the surface, birds form a tight flight pattern above it and the feeding frenzy is readily apparent.

The frenzied surface feeding scene is classic — terrified baitfish skittering across the top of the water, bonito crashing wildly on the frothing surface, while seabirds wheel and dive on the hapless baitfish. The sight inspires awe over the intensity of the fight for survival in the natural food chain.

There are tried and true ways to get in on the action. One way is to slide a boat up to the feeding activity and cast jigs or lures of most any kind. Hookups often come fast and always come furious. Chumming live baitfish helps keep a school of bonito near the boat. Cast live-lined baits among the chum to connect with a fighting bonehead. That live bait fish is hampered by the line and looks like a mighty easy meal to the hungry fish.

Another way to get into the action is to troll feathers, spoons or jigs through the surface action. I have never liked to troll right through the middle of the action, for fear of disrupting the feeding frenzy. Instead, I troll past on one side and turn across the area so the lures go right through the action. You can almost foretell a hookup as lures troll through the action.

Keep a supply of “bonito feathers” aboard your boat. They are rather simple little trolling feathers — just a shiny metal head/hook, with a small feather in a variety of colors. They aren’t fancy, but then a hungry bonito doesn’t require fancy. If it moves and can be caught, it looks like dinner to a bonehead. Bonito feathers are perfect for either trolling or casting.

In the past few years, we have been encountering increasingly vast schools of bonito throughout their previous wide range, enjoying a taste of past glory. Why have they suddenly come roaring back to abundance? Good questions to ponder.

I recommend pondering them while casting and hooking these fast and furious fish this month. They are a blast to catch, and are not particularly finicky eaters when they go on the bite.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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