Albie Tactics: Additional Thoughts
September 10, 2019
In the words of my psychologist wife, my fascination with false albacore boils down to a phenomenon known as “intermittent conditioning.” In other words, if albies were available all season long in southern New England, catching them would be no big deal. However, since we only see them for a month or so, and some years not at all, the quest for these non-edible, maddeningly selective members of the tuna family takes on Grail-like proportions—sometimes with occasional blood-letting among overly obsessive anglers.
I look (“hope” is more accurate) for the first albies to appear during the last week of August. The fish typically follow on the heels of bonito and Spanish mackerel, both of which tend to clear out once the albies move in en masse, perhaps due to competition. Prime conditions include warm (70-degree-plus), clear water with good current flow, and an abundance of small bait.
For the first week or so following their arrival, albies tend to feed with abandon, allowing more shots at surface-feeding schools. Anglers who are prepared to drop everything and get on the water once they get wind of a hot bite will reap the rewards at this time.
Once the fish settle into an area, however, they usually become harder to catch, especially in calm, stable weather. Many times, they break into smaller pods, coming to the surface to feed for just a few seconds before disappearing. This leads to the inevitable “albie rodeo,” wherein several boats end up competing for the same ephemeral school of fish—another incentive for getting on the fish before the crowds sniff out the hot spots.
Fooling Fussy Fish
What makes the fish so selective is a matter of debate. Some years, tiny bay anchovies (aka “rain bait”) and even anchovy larvae can be the primary feed, and the albies can get so keyed on this miniscule prey that they reject most standard lures and flies. The chances for fooling them improve if the feed happens to be peanut bunker, sand eels, and silversides. When the bait is larger, top producers include 2 oz. Maria jigs, Hogy Epoxy Jigs, Deadly Dick and Hopkins spoons, Rapala X-rap swimming plugs, 5 1/2-inch Zoom Flukes and four-inch Slug-Go’s. As for flies, No. 2 Skok Mushies, epoxy flies, Crease Flies, Gurglers, and Bonito Bunnies are good choices.
I almost exclusively throw small, unweighted soft-plastics at albies. Plastics aren’t foolproof, of course, but they normally outfish standard metal lures and flies 10-to-1. They even work when blindcasting in areas where the albies are popping up sporadically, or after a school has just sounded and the fish are picking off stray or injured baitfish. My favorites are the aforementioned Zoom Fluke, Fin-S-Fish, and Slug-Go in pearl. Arkansas shiner, and pink. The Flukes are slightly heavier than the other baits, providing a bit more casting range, which can be critical.
For tackle, I recommend a 7 ½-foot rod with a limber tip, matched to a midsize spinning reel filled with at least 200 yards of 10- to 12-pound mono or 30-pound braid. Lighter line may buy you a few more feet of casting distance, but you’ll end up prolonging the fight and possibly exhausting the fish beyond recovery. Use a wind-on leader system. My favorite setup is a Spider Hitch or Bimini in the main line, tied to two feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon with a Bristol (No-Name) knot or uni-to-uni connection. This system lets me reel the leader inside the rod guides, improving casting accuracy and distance.
The most effective way to fish soft-plastics for albies is to cast it into the middle of the feeding school and twitch the bait gently across the surface, so that the tail wiggles and flips. You don’t need to rip the bait across the surface, but the retrieve speed should be somewhat faster than what you’d use for bass.
On the Fly
As for fly gear, a 9- or 10-weight outfit that includes a large-arbor reel usually fills the bill. Spool up with at least 200 yards of backing and an intermediate or sink-tip line. The leader should be 9 feet or so with a 20-pound-test tippet to start. If the fish are proving fussy, scale down to a 15- or 12-pound-test tippet, but it’s not advisable to go lighter than that. Flies do not need to be stripped at breakneck speed. Short, evenly spaced strips that make the fly look like a panicky baitfish darting through the water work best.
Once you hook up, pray that the line is clear of all obstructions and that the drag has been properly adjusted then hang on. Be prepared to reel fast if the fish suddenly turns and heads towards the boat, as often happens. This is where the large arbor comes in handy!
Weather can have a big affect on albies, especially later in the season. Calm, bright days can be a joy to be on the water, but often make for a slow pick. Conversely, I have enjoyed my best albie fishing on days with strong winds and overcast skies. A strong northerly wind associated with a frontal system is a recipe for success. Something about the snotty conditions really gets the fish to put on the feed bag!