10 Tips for Catching Albies & Bones
September 14, 2018
With the false albacore and bonito bite busting wide open in numerous southeastern New England locations, many anglers have come down with a case of “funny fish fever.” For these times, we offer the following article on albie tactics and techniques. Good luck, and get out there now, as you never know when these fickle fish will suddenly vanish. By Tom Richardson
To help improve your odds, I offer the following tips, earned over many seasons of being frustrated by these seemingly diabolical late-season visitors.
Go where the bait is: You won’t find albies if you don’t find their food. In other words, don’t expect them to hang around if there’s nothing to eat. When scouting for fish, focus on areas where small baitfish—e.g., bay anchovies, peanut bunker, silversides, or baby butterfish—are abundant.
Slashes not slaps: Many anglers mistakenly waste their time casting to surface-busting bluefish in their pursuit of albies—and wind up losing a lot of lures in the process. You can generally tell the 2 species apart by their feeding style. Albies, as well as bonito, generally make fast, slashing attacks as they tear through bait pods, whereas bluefish tend to “slap” the water, often sticking their tails above the surface in the process. If you are unsure about which species you’ve got in front of you, take a few moments to observe the school before making a cast. If the fish are albies, you will often see their rounded backs and crescent tails as they slash through the school. Of course, there are times when the 2 species mix together, in which case you’ll just have to take your chances.
Dawn and dusk patrol: It is, of course, possible to find albies feeding at any time of day, but I have generally had the best luck in the early morning and late afternoon. Similar to other members of the tuna tribe, albies feed closest to the surface at these times, and seem most willing to take a fly or lure.
West is best: If you could choose the ideal weather conditions in which to chase albies, wait for the passage of a cold front. I always prefer a stiff west wind when albie fishing. For whatever reason, the fish like a high-pressure system with a bit of surface chop to stir up the baitfish. The fish also seem to be easier to fool under these conditions, perhaps due to the refracting light of the moving water, which disguises the leader.
Don’t go too light: Many anglers, particularly fly fishermen, make the mistake of using too light a leader or tippet in their quest to fool albies. While there is no doubt that albies will shy away from a heavy leader, going too light—say less tan 8-pound test—will usually lead to a lost or dead fish. The weight and resistance of a heavy fly line being pulled through the water will most likely cause a light tippet to part. And if you are hesitant to put additional pressure on the fish, you will end up exhausting the fish beyond the point of recovery.
Switch ‘em up: It takes a nearly impossible show of willpower to put down your rod and tie on a new lure or fly when albies are busting all around the boat, but the best albie fishermen somehow find it within themselves to keep changing lures until they find the one that works. This could mean choosing a lure with a different shape or color, or simply giving it a different action. Bottom line: if the lure you’re using continues to be ignored, don’t fish it.
Slow it down: Somewhere in albie-fishing lore, a myth developed that a lure or fly must be retrieved at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour. Truth is, a slowly retrieved lure, or even one that’s dead-drifted or twitched now and then, is more likely to get eaten. That’s because albies, and indeed all predators, usually prefer to chase after injured baitfish, since they are more easily separated from the school and easier to catch.
Keep it tight: Albies have a very crafty trick of ripping off line and suddenly doubling back toward the boat. The sudden slackening of the line causes many anglers to assume that the fish has broken off or the hook has fallen out. No so! When an albie breaks the leader or the hook pulls free, you’ll usually feel a distinct and sudden “pop”. If you don’t feel the pop, reel like crazy to take up slack line and come tight to the fish. Otherwise, the resistance of the line being pulled sideways through the water may cause a parting of the ways, or the hook may simply fall out. This is why large-arbor fly reels are preferred in albie fishing, as they let you gather slack line very rapidly.
Run-and-gun ain’t no fun: If you arrive at the albie grounds to find a dozen boats racing all over the place, look for another place to fish. In my mind, running-and-gunning with a bunch of competing boats takes all the fun out of albie fishing. Even if you try to hang back and let the fish come to you, there will always be some bozo who comes blasting over to put the fish down. Tempers eventually flare and strong words start to fly—sometimes in combination with sinkers.
Sling a Slug-Go: I have been preaching the effectiveness of small, unweighted Slug-Gos for years, and people still don’t believe they work. If you have tried every fly or metal lure in your arsenal and still can’t get the albies to eat, rig a 4” white Slug-Go, Fin-S-Fish or Zoom Fluke on a worm hook and twitch it through the school. I have rarely seen these lures fail to get a follow. Slug-Gos and similar soft-plastics can’t be cast very far, so fish them on a 7-foot, light-tip spinning rod and 8- to 10-pound line with a 2-foot, 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. Also note that Slug-Gos tend to twist the line and lead to tangles, so be sure to have a backup outfit rigged and ready to go.