Bonito in San Diego, CA
It was a sunny Sunday morning in October, when my husband, Dave Smith, and I, met up with two other fly anglers to go chase some tuna. With three pelagic seasoned fly anglers on the boat, I was the noobie and this made me super nervous. I’ve caught Mako sharks on the fly but I’ve been told that is a whole different experience. For Makos, the casting doesn’t have to be precise, the strip and take are slow. But for pelagics, everything is fast, at least that was what my research on YouTube had me thinking.
Now, me being a new angler to off shore pelagics, I left all the planning to Dave. Dave is a mechanical engineer by day and because of this, his mind is always on the details. He is an excellent trip planner and I have to say, many, if not all, of my fishing adventures are because of Dave’s trip planning talent! He had heard some inside tips that tuna were in Mexican waters off the Coronado Islands (about 15 miles south of San Diego). So, in order to fish Mexican Waters, Dave made sure we got our Mexican fishing permit, Biosphere Bracelet, FMM Visa, temporary Importation Permit and all of us had our passports on board. Like I said, Dave knows the details. We were now ready to head south for some tuna!
We were about an hour into our boat ride south, looking and searching for patties, birds, any signs of action, but we saw nothing. Nothing! The big blue ocean became a desert, a wasteland of, yep you guessed it, nothing. That’s when Dave decided to drive more to the actual Islands and search for structure rather than be in open water and see nothing all day. He would rather catch any fish or be zeroed out by actually fishing than search for fish all day and never cast to anything. It was because of this exact decision, Dave made our day into a FISHING trip and not just a boat ride! Did I mention he is a smart man (and good looking too).
When we got to the Islands, Dave slowed down to a trolling speed. He noticed a bait ball on the fish finder and said “why don’t we just throw a line out.” Everyone on the boat wasn’t expecting much. We were in no rush. I was just kind of slowly stripping out line and admiring the beauty of the shoreline, Dave was manning the boat keeping us on the bait ball that he saw. Kevin was the first one with his fly in the water and not more than 10 seconds “I’M HOOKED UP!”
Everyone stunned and turned to watch Kevin with a 12wt rod fully bent over and reel screaming pulling out line. “What is it?” Our rods where set up for tuna, so we new the drag was set tight. This fish made long runs and some deep dives. Kevin handled it like a pro, letting it run when it needed to and reeling in fast not giving the fish any slack. After what seemed to be longer than a 7 minute fight, all of us at the stern of the boat, looking down, we all saw the color – it’s a Bonito! Kevin had fought and landed a 3 pound, 3ft Bonito on a 12wt with a full bend. None of us have caught a Bonito on a fly rod before and we couldn’t believe the fight the fish put out.
The fish’s name comes from the Spanish word bonito meaning ‘pretty’ – and they sure do live up to this! Deep blues, greens and yellows on top with a bold strip pattern that goes into a silver under belly. They closely resemble the skipjack tuna. In San Diego, fishing for them can vary moderately throughout the year. But the peak season is from August to October.
We all looked at each other with stunned belief and we knew our day of fishing had just begun. I grabbed the 10wt already rigged with a sardine fly pattern and gave it a cast out. Let it sink, count it down, 8,9,10, and began a twitching strip in. Dave kept the boat a steady, a slow, crawl where the bait was still visible on the fish finder. BOOM! A strong hit, a good strip set, and I’m on! Then Sam yelled “doubles.” We were both on within seconds of our casts. While both fish were making their runs, and both of us giving them no slack, I learned something new: the boat dance of “over…under.” Me, being new to pelagic salt water fishing, had no idea how fast a boat can become so small when you have multiple anglers hooked up at once. Sam quickly said “under” while he darted under my line and he swiftly got to the port side as his fish made a run that way. I promptly got the hang of this “tango” and yelled “over” when I need to change positions to fight my fish. My first Bonito, I’m going to say 3 pounds (it was totally less than that) was landed on a fully bent out 10wt. I couldn’t believe the fight this little fish gave. The runs it made with the line cutting through the water! I released him back to the ocean and I was ready for more.
All day we did the tango of setting the hook, fighting the fish, and over/under. It was fantastic. Cast after cast, we were hooking up. But we weren’t the only predators out there fishing for Bonito. Suddenly, a seal showed up. It reminded me of this situation: just like when you’re trout fishing on a river and an unknown angler shows up below you, and you begin to rail on fish, and they aren’t catching a thing….so they low hole you. Yep, that seal low holed us! , We did the hard work of catching the Bonito and the seal did the easy work of eating the Bonito. I learned quickly, when the fish was done running, I reeled in as fast as I most possibly could. No messing around, get the fish in the boat, so I could release it back into the ocean not attached to hook and no seal chasing it.
Dave even got in on the action while I worked on my boat driving skills. I’m happy to report that all were safe when I was driving, and I kept all anglers on the fish as well.
But we did come to a point when we had to make choice: Do we leave fish to find fish? We set out to find tuna, we all wanted tuna. Do we leave the Bonito we have been catching all day to search once again for tuna and maybe nothing? On this day, the pull of the Bonito was just to strong to leave. After all, we weren’t just fishing, we were catching – would you leave a bent 10wt?