Rigging Bonito Strip Baits
Making Bonita Strips for Trolling:
Bonito strips are deadly tools that can bring life to a troll spread. Tough and versatile by nature, these wiggly morsels work just as well up top as they do behind a planer. Whether you are trolling or live baiting, the goal while fishing is to shoot for the most natural presentation possible. Bonito strips behind a seawitch or feather can be irresistible to a variety of species as they rip through the water column.
The first step in prepping for bonito strips is the obvious: catch bonito. Bonito are ravenous little fish that can be caught on the edge from 80-200 feet of water almost year round. We catch bonito while live baiting and trolling. Bait preparation and management is crucial while charter fishing so we make sure that every bonito we catch makes it into the box and eventually our freezer.
The Little Tunny or “bonita” are widely regarded as a trash fish because they are poor table fare. They do make great baits for targeting everything from sharks, snapper, mahi and mackerel. The best way to utilize the bonita is to cut their skin into strips for trolling. A well cut strip placed behind a skirt provides a great natural action to the bait and a scent trail to get the bite. A bonita strip can be fished anywhere in the water column. On the surface behind a feather such as an Illand Lure or Billy Bait, or down deep with a planer or trolling lead. Our trolling spread always includes a planer setup with a double hook rig and bonita strip. There are a few key points to cutting a strip that you might not think of, but can make all the difference. Here’s how we cut and rig our strip baits for the planer.
Cutting the bonito strip:
First, filet the bonito. I like to make a square cut behind the pec fin then run the knife through to the tail. It's basically a standard filet but we leave plenty of meat on the fish.
Next we like to cut the filet as thin as possible. Your skin section should be no more than one quarter inch thick and should be even throughout the filet. I usually like to take the knife and essentially skin the bonito while leaving a small amount of meat on the skin.
Next, cut your strip in a teardrop type shape. This takes a little bit of practice. No strip is perfect but it definitely helps to make sure your strip has good action in the water. Long, skinny strips work just fine. If you want to get fancy with a tear drop shape that has beveled edges it will swim even more realistically. Always start from the tail section of the bonito which will be the front of the bait.
It’s very important to note the direction of the grain pattern in the bonita’s flesh (see illustration). It runs at an angle to the skin. The “head” of your strip bait will be oriented to the bonita’s tail, and the tail of your strip to the bonita’s head. Why is this important? Cutting your strip in this orientation will cause it to swim more hydrodynamic. If you do it the other way, the flesh will flake off faster, the strip will fall apart, and cause it to spin or swim erratically as well as wash out. You can also hold the knife blade at an angle to bevel the edges of the strip. Lastly, cut your strips so they are between 6-10 inches in length, and 1.5-2 inches wide.
Rigging the strip:
We prefer to fish our strips with a double hook rig. The leading hook is used to secure the head of the strip. Hook the strip so that the hook goes through the flesh side of strip first. Next, place the second hook through the strip so that the strip lays flat. If the strip is not taut and has a “bow”, it will spin in the water. Use hooks that are sized appropriately for your strip. A good rule of thumb is to keep the hooks in the top half of the bait. This allows for the best action, as hooks placed to far back prevent the strip from wiggling naturally. The best skirt to place in front of your strip is the Sea Witch. Try adding a mylar skirt behind the sea witch to fill out the bait and add flash. This combo is our go to for targeting big kings and wahoo on the reef. Click to read more info on planer fishing