Creature Feature: Pacific Bonito

Pacific bonito

Pacific bonito may range throughout state waters, but they are most prevalent south of Point Conception. They sometimes arrive off California when the ocean warms in the spring, but during periods of colder than normal water temperatures they may never show up.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Dark blue above, dusky on sides, silvery below
  • A number of slanted, dark stripes along the back (the only tuna-like fish in California to have this characteristic)
  • Body cigar-shaped
  • Head pointed and conical
  • Mouth large with sharp teeth

Life History & Other Notes
Pacific bonito prefer to feed on small fishes, such as anchovies and sardines. Their diet can sometimes include squid as well.

Pacific bonito may not spawn successfully off California every year; spawning generally takes place farther south. The bulk of southern California spawning appears to take place from late January through May. The free-floating eggs take about three days to hatch.

Pacific bonito are excellent fighters and have hearty appetites. Once a school is aroused they will take almost any bait or lure that is tossed their way. Most Pacific bonito are taken by a combination of trolling and live bait fishing. Schools are located by trolling feathers, and then live anchovies or pieces of squid are used for bait. Fishing for Pacific bonito generally takes place offshore in 300 to 600 ft. of water, but fishing next to kelp beds may also be productive when fish are found near shore.

 Pacific Bonito Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Sarda chiliensis

Other Common Names: bonehead, bonita, Laguna tuna

Range & Habitat: Statewide, but usually south of Point Conception

Length & Weight: to 40 inches and 25 pounds

Diet & Suggested Bait/Lures: Feeds on anchovies, sardines and other small fishes; try live
anchovies or squid for bait; also try artificial lures

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book. Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to

4 thoughts on “Creature Feature: Pacific Bonito

  1. When the purse seiners discovered the use of spotter planes at night, it was all over for the bonito– The bioluminescence given off by the spawning biomass made them such an easy target–the rest is history. Bonito went from THE single most abundant sportfish in the bight to virtually extinct by the mid nineties…I watched it happen–where was everybody??

  2. Yes, they are next to impossible to find. Easily the most exciting small sportfish that used to be caught off piers more often than any fish is nowadays. How did we let this happen? I had heard from others that they were a main target for commercial fisherman, because they were so commonly used for pet food.

    Nice post Brad!. I’ll have to look into your claims. I have never heard of that.

  3. I literally watched it happen without knowing… Just like i watched the decimation of our historical kelp forests and did not grasp the scope of what they were doing at the time…

  4. As a kid in the 1970’s I remember watching huge schools swimming through tiny King Harbor at Redondo Beach. Schools so huge and thick in that tiny harbor that some of the people on shore thought that they could reach in and grab them

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