We have all heard the chit-chat about glamour fish at your local tackle store, marinas, and just about anyplace where folks talk about fishing.
You know a slam of this, or a slam of that, and mind you, I’m not knocking anyone who can catch three highly prized game fish in one outing either on the flats, backcountry, or offshore. That’s quite an accomplishment, in any one's book.
Living in South Florida is quite a blessing in many ways, and one of the fishing benefits is that here in Jupiter it’s not uncommon to catch six or more species of fish on any given summer day. Sure it super hot and the afternoon thunderstorms can be problematic. However, some excellent fly fishing opportunities exist.
One particular specie of fish that’s not all that glamorous is the bonito, albie - football, hardhead,or bombers - are a few nick names. It’s sort of like the Rodney Danderfield of fish, until recently, “ it got no respect”.
But that all changed when fly fishermen discovered that this cousin of the tunas can be chummed close to a boat and caught in good numbers. They hit like you hooked a car going 30-miles per hour, not once, but they can go on as many as four long runs. When an angler hooks an albie for the first time they are in for a real treat. You almost always believe that you have a larger fish on the line since the fish seem to have incredible strength. They really run for their lives when other fish like wahoo, marlin, cuda, sharks, and goliath grouper try and make a meal of the hooked fighting fish.
Fishermen that are targeting other fish can consider albies annoying since they are pound for pound one of the best fighting fish in any body of water anywhere.
Bonito are not very selective or picky about what they eat. Just about anything that is either fast moving, stripped intermediately, or smelling good, will suffice. Flashy flies, plastics, dead or live bait.
Without the bonito the entire food chain would suffer terribly. Almost anything that eats fish will take a small live bonito, or “one way fish” given that name because you can put them out for bait, but they won’t be back in without a hit. Big bonito are used for strip bait, for bill fish, wahoo, and a variety of others.
Bonito are not very good table fare, I know I have eaten them and I eat things that most westen people won’t. The meat is bloody red and very strong tasting even when bled and properly aced and cooked.
If you know a way to make them palatable please let me know. Japanese folks use bonito flakes as a spice as we use salt, I am told.
During the months of May, June, July and August when the small baitfish are plentiful in the Jupiter area the albies won’t be far behind. This year is unusual since the albies are here on into the late fall .
Mixed in with the albies out in the ocean depths, it’s not uncommon to catch a cornucopia of other fish such as rainbow runners, blue runners, dolphin, jack, sails, marlin, sharks, cobia, tripletail and kingfish to name a few.
Now, I’ve taken people fishing from other areas that have never caught a bonito and they sure are surprised when they discover that I was not exaggerating about the hard fighting qualities of these fish.
When properly chummed, albies explode on the surface, and it’s really exciting when you cast your fly into the melee and strip set the hook.
Hold on tight, make sure your line is clear of anything that it will snag on, get it on the reel quick or be assured that Murphy’s law will kick in. That is, what ever can go wrong will go wrong.
High sticking a fly-rod with an albie on the other end is a big problem - if you have ever done it you know why - they break 12 and 14 weight rods as if they were pretzel sticks. A 15-pound fish can dump a couple of hundred yards of line in a flash, so get your act together quickly.
Albie fishing is a type of fishing that will change the way you think about fly-fishing. It’s amazing that a fish that weighs under 20-pounds will be your new standard of excellence. I love them.
I prefer a large arbor big game 10-13 wt reel loaded with gel-spun backing attached to either Tarpon wonder line 3, or clear sink tip fly line. Then it’s important to use Trikfish Fluorocarbon 15 or 20 # leader material since albies are very leader shy at times. A Cowen Silverside or a Blados Crease Fly is a good fly choice so are some Puglisi patterns.
On a final thought, unless you are using the caught albies for something special, I encourage you to practice catch and release. That way these beautiful game fish can live to fight again. Please be gentle on the fish and remember they tend to behave when you turn them belly up when decoking or use a de-hooker as I do. Bonito do have teeth so be aware.
Also, since bonito are fast moving fish it’s important to launch them head first into the water to get them breathing again.
Capt. Cliff Budd on the April 2013 edition of Florida Sportsman.