Consider the humble bonito. Prolific-breeding, fast-growing. Beautiful. So iridescently easy-on-the-eyes in fact, that the Spanish and Portuguese ‘bonito’ translates to ‘pretty’. (Although there is some disagreement that this is the true origin of its name).
Its great downfall – for those which pass for a time through my home bay, at least – is that they are regarded as baitfish.
The hardcore rock n surf manne see them as shark fodder down here. To target them is regarded on the same level as cast-netting for mullet. When the Summer southeasterly pattern is at play and the water above a certain temp and they are shoaling in the bay, it is a four-rods-off-the-back-of-the-boat trawl to fill the quota as fast as possible.
One might be bled for sashimi, or bound for the smoker. The rest fatefully destined to be slid for big bronzies and raggies off the deepwater ledges.
A trash fish really. But then there is of course the old cliche’d adage about ‘one man’s trash’ … You know the rest.
My diving board for launching into the dumpster lately has been the bow of Shawn Mey‘s boat Ninja.
Shawn is one of those for whom they are ‘just’ bait. As a busy rock-n-surf guide in the area, Shawn is only as good as his bait. So when there are bonnies around, he’s always chasing fresh bait.
Shawn, much to his great credit has really gotten into putting me into fish on the fly. Partly because I think he finds it highly entertaining that I could ‘make life so difficult for myself with the sukkel stick’ and, in part because trawling for bonnies can get pretty mundane.
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
The modus operandi is simple: When he’s going bonny hunting for bait, I’ll get a text:
“Bud, I’m launching at 5″ … or 12, or 15:00, or whatever time it might be that day. If I can make it – not near as often as I would like – the bow berth is reserved for me.
Shawn and his deckhands will have the rods out the back over the known areas. As soon as a shoal is located it’s a frantic minute or five of the well practiced dance: One of the deckhands will hoist the fish on board. Shawn will deftly take it to hand, remove the swimbait and then drop the bonnie in the hatch. All while steering the boat.
On to the next shoal. There is no time to stop on a shoal and cast fish it. This is strictly business to fill the hold.
I’ll take up station in the bow and cast when and how an opportunity is manufactured. It’s an interception game and happens mostly when fish are being landed. Banged up knees, dinged reels and many a soaking later we have kind of got it dialled. Sort of.
BOOTS AND ALL
I go armed with two rods now. A 7 and a 9. Overkill for the size of the fish, no doubt, but it is a one false-cast situation to get the fly anywhere in range, when they come across the bow. The 9 is loaded with a fast sink and the 7 with an intermediate and either a flipper or NYAP. On the 9 I start with a surf candy, or small silicone baitfish pattern in anchovy, silverside or sprat colourways.
Clousers in chartreuse/white; silver/white; baby pink/white and full white – all with lots of flash of course – are a great default too. Of course.
When I miss out, I am on the receiving end of a barrage of video and voice messages on just how thick it is. Boom and bust it is this dumpster diving business.