If you’ve ever fished for pelagic fish like marlin or wahoo, you’ve probably caught a Bonito. Bonito are a small type of tuna that make great bait for catching larger fish but are often ignored when caught fishing for other fish. They’re known for being one of the hardest fighting fish for their size.
But what if we told you they taste great? Would you consider keeping them, or even fishing for them on purpose? After reading this article, you might change your mind.
We’ll first cover quickly what bonito fish are, then we’ll dive into what bonito fish taste like. After that we’ll discuss where you can catch them, as well as share some of our favorite ways to prepare them. By the end of this article, you might think twice about throwing those pesky bonito back!
What are Bonito?
As we mentioned above, bonito are a relative of the tuna that only grow up to 11 or 13 lbs. There are actually several species of bonito that you can catch: Atlantic bonito, striped bonito, and Pacific bonito.
All bonito have a similar body shape to albacore tuna or skipjack tuna but have several dark stripes down their sides and very small scales. Sometimes they are mistaken for mackerel, but an easy way to tell is to look at their mouths. Mackerel usually have lots of sharp teeth.
They are strong swimmers that live in large schools several miles offshore. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘skipjack’ due to their tendency to jump out of the water when feeding.
Author Note: They live in the Atlantic ocean and feed on smaller mackerel, sardines, and squid. Bonito also make great bait for larger predatory fish, like barracuda.
If you’re interested more about fish anatomy, check out our fish poop article.
What Do Bonito Taste Like?
Bonito tastes very similar to tuna, with the larger bonitos tasting a bit stronger than the smaller fish. This means that most preparations for tuna are also great choices with bonito! It’s worth noting that bonito have been wrongly labeled as a bad tasting fish (unlike mudfish, which actually taste bad). There are several reasons for this.
- Bonito are always caught when fishing for something else. This means that the fishermen are already annoyed they have to deal with the aggressive smaller fish (similarly to Skipjack Tuna or Blackfin). They eat your bait and cause you extra work. It’s easy to pile on that they are a trash fish when you wish you were catching a mahi mahi or other pelagic fish.
- They have more prominent bloodlines than other fish. These bloodlines are full of blood and cause the meat around them to taste fishy and strong. As with any fish, it’s best if you bleed them immediately after catching and remove the bloodlines as soon as possible. After you do that, however, the rest of the meat is delicious.
- Since they aren’t targeted they aren’t treated well after being caught. As we mentioned above, you need to bleed them and throw them on ice immediately after being caught. But this is true for almost every fish! Imagine catching a trophy yellowfin tuna and not bleeding it or throwing it on ice immediately.
If you treat bonito well after catching it, it tastes just as good as any other tuna. And they’re much easier to catch! Which leads us to our next question.
Where Can I Catch Them?
Since bonito aren’t targeted by commercial fisheries, you can catch them in abundance all over the world. They tend to like warmer water temperatures, like off the coast of California, Florida, or Mexico.
Bonito are very aggressive fish and will go after almost any flashy lure you put in front of them. They also are known for biting lures that are almost as big as they are! We recommend trolling brightly color spoons and hoochie squids as you would for Wahoo or other species of tuna.
Top Tip: If you find a school of bonito, you can also spin cast for them with spoons and spinners like a Kastmaster or Blue Fox Vibrax. Combine this with an affordable spinning reel or ultralight tackle and you’ll have a great time!
Our Favorite Ways to Prepare Bonito
Now that we’ve convinced you that bonito fish taste good enough to keep, we wanted share some of our favorite recipes for preparing bonito. We’ll start with the easiest – bonito steaks.
Great for smaller, fresh bonito. If your boat has a grill, we recommend doing this for lunch or a quick snack right after you catch them!
- After cleaning your bonito, cut into small steaks as you would with any tuna. Cut them at around an inch thick.
- Rub the steaks with virgin olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.
- Throw on your grill or cast-iron skillet with canola oil for 2 minutes on each side or until seared to your liking.
- Squeeze a little more lemon to finish.
- Enjoy your fresh bonito steaks!
Poke is another great option for freshly caught bonito. This one can be done on the boat even if you don’t have a grill. Just be sure to bring the ingredients ahead of time.
- 1 freshly caught and cleaned bonito.
- 1 small yellow or Maui onion.
- 3 tablespoons lime juice.
- 3 green onions sliced thinly.
- 2 serrano peppers diced.
- 1 avocado cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
Cut your freshly caught bonito into half-inch square chunks, then add all the ingredients to a large bowl and combine. That’s it! You can also add extra sea salt to taste.
Smoked bonito is another delicious way to prepare bonito that works great when you can’t cook it immediately on the boat. You’ll need a small smoker like the Cusineart COS 30” Smoker and mesquite or alder wood chips.
- 2 lbs of bonito fillets.
- 3 quarts of water.
- ¾ cup of kosher salt.
- ½ cup of brown sugar.
- First, you’ll need to brine the bonito filets overnight. Mix the salt and brown sugar in the water until dissolved. Pour into a large bowl and soak your bonito fillets in it at least 8 hours.
- The next day, remove the fillets from the brine and set on a rack skin side down to dry. Place the rack in your fridge and wait another 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, you’re ready to smoke. Prep your smoker with your wood of choice. We like to use either mesquite or alder wood. It’s subjective so you may want to try several times before you find one that you like. Brush on some olive oil to the skins of the fillets and lay skin down inside your smoker.
- Smoke the fillets over low heat, for 3 to 4 hours or until they are bronze in color.
- Remove the fish from the smoker and let cool to room temperature. Enjoy!
Bonito get a bad rap for tasting strong and oily. We think this is mostly untrue and a result of angry fishermen who don’t clean them properly. Hopefully after reading this article, the next time you catch a bonito you consider using it for more than just bait.
And if you have a bonito recipe of your own you’d like to share with us, let us know about it in the comments below.