Many a confused fisherman has found themselves looking down the line at a delicious member of the tuna/mackerel family, wondering whether it was a false albacore or a bonito. If you’re lucky enough to land the fish, then you have to remember which one is sushi quality and which one is for the chum bucket. Hopefully this article and the accompanying pictures will set the record straight.
The false albacore, little tunny, or little tuna is not the one you want to eat. It can be identified by the worm like markings on it’s back and the fingerprint sized spots on it’s stomach. While they may not make the best eating (they are sometimes referred to as ‘trash fish’), they are known to put up a serious fight. They can make initial runs at over 40 mph and will attack topwater lures with some major enthusiasm. False albacore average about 15 pounds, and make good bait when targeting larger tuna and billfish.
When anglers in North America say “bonito”, they are typically referring to the tasty Atlantic bonito. The easiest distinction between bonito and false albacore are the markings on the back. Atlantic bonito have straight markings on their backs, while the false albacore’s markings are more squiggly. The bonito also has more teeth than a false albacore. One easy way to tell the difference is to put your finger in the fish’s mouth. If it comes back out bloody, it’s a bonito. On average, bonito are smaller than false albies. A good one would be about 8 or 9 pounds.
Both false albacore and bonito are schooling fish, and will sometimes school up together. It wouldn’t be uncommon to catch a falsie and a bonito on the same day in similar water, which definitely adds to the confusion.
So if you’re looking to keep one for dinner, make sure those lines on its back are straight and not squiggly!