False Albacore fly fishing season is the best time of year for many East Coast anglers. Every summer, schools of False Albacore rocket up the Atlantic Coast, crashing bait fish and tearing peeling line from Miami to Boston. It really is a great time to be a fly fisher.
To get you ready for the action this summer, we’ve made a beginner’s guide to False Albacore fly fishing. What makes this species so special? What is the best fly outfit for catching them? How do you bring in the biggest fish out there? All this and more is answered here.
What is the Big Deal About Albies?
False Albacore have a few different names that often cause confusion. Albies, Little Tunny, and Bonito are the most common, although they’re not the same species as “true” Atlantic Bonito or Albacore. Whatever you call them, these little terrors have built a reputation as one of the most stubborn, relentless fighters in the sea.
Albies have been known to literally fight themselves to death. They don’t know how or when to give in. Add in their aggressive feeding habits and their dramatic coloring, and you have what some consider to be the ultimate light tackle sport fish.
How to Find False Albacore
Albies live all along the East Coast, showing up from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine. They migrate north in summer and are at their best in early fall farther north. North Carolina and New Jersey are classic hunting grounds for Albie fly fishing enthusiasts, as are the warm waters of the Sunshine State.
The most productive places for False Albacore fly fishing are inlets and inshore waters within a couple miles of shore. You can catch them right off the beach, but fishing from a boat makes life a lot easier as you become a mobile bait magnet.
Tracking down Albies on the hunt isn’t hard. They make a lot of commotion, crashing bait fish and often rocketing clear out of the water. In Florida, dredge holes and passes are great places to look. Farther north, check around shrimp boats and sheltered inlets. Keep an eye out for birds and foam – clear signs of Little Tunny making a big splash.
False Albacore Fly Fishing Equipment
Before you can start your Albie adventure, you need to pick out the right fly outfit. You don’t need anything specialized, but there are some essentials to a successful fishing trip. Here are some pointers for the best False Albacore fly fishing gear.
A standard 8 wt fly rod does the job for smaller fish. But if you’re going after big fish, a 9 or 10 wt will tire them out much less, giving them a better chance of surviving. Whatever the weight, you want a fast action rod with enough backbone left in it to work fish to the surface.
Again, you don’t need anything fancy. The most important things are smooth startup and drag and enough line capacity to hold 150 yards of backing. Large arbors are a bonus, as they help you reclaim line quickly if the fish does a sudden U-turn.
Floating, weight-forward line is the go-to setup for most situations. However, for clear waters and sunny days you should also pack clear, intermediate-sinking line. This gives a more subtle presentation. It can also be useful when the fish aren’t right on the surface or when you’re fishing around bait. Many anglers also bring a fast-sinking header setup for when the fish absolutely refuse to come to the surface.
One of the best False Albacore flies is the humble Clouser Minnow. Floating and Deep Minnows are both ideal for False Albacore fly fishing. Surf Candies are another great option, as are Alba Clousers. If you’re using live chum, pick a pattern and coloring that matches the fish. Otherwise, you can get the best results with muted colors like grays, greens, blues, and tans.
Leaders and Tippets
False Albacore don’t have sharp teeth like a lot of their family, so you don’t need very thick tippets. A 9–10’ leader with a 15 lb tippet should do the trick. If you’re fishing clear water or using small flies to mimic the bait, drop down to a 12 lb tippet. This will give you a more stealthy presentation. On the other hand, you may need to switch up to a 30 lb mono tippet if you’re fishing around rocks.
False Albacore Fly Fishing Tips
So you’re finally ready to take on a Tunny. Here are a few tips for working different waters and not losing the fish once it bites.
Boats vs. Beaches
Boat-based anglers will have a much easier time when it comes to the cast. Albies will be picking off the bait fish hiding around your boat. All you need to do is choose your fish and make a short cast to intercept it. If you’re fishing from shore, things get a bit harder.
Casts from shore need to be longer and more accurate than from a boat. You also have rocks to worry about. On top of all that, you need to pick your moment, as Little Tunny are likely to speed off if they get spooked. Cut yourself a break by fishing off a jetty – you’ll be closer to the bait schools and farther from the rocks.
Chum and Bait
Chumming is a no-brainer when it comes to attracting fish. You have plenty of options as to what you use to attract False Albacore. Frozen chum blocks work well, as do small chunks. Live pilchards or sardines are the best options if you can afford them. Otherwise, you can regularly find Albies creating their own chum slick among schools of silversides or glass minnows.
If you’re fishing with chum, you can get better results by letting your fly drift below the bait before you retrieve. Feed your line out gently to give it a more natural movement in the water. When casting around schools of bait fish, aim for the edge of the school rather than in the middle of it. The lone offering will be picked off more quickly there.
The Perfect Retrieve
Albies go for fast, steady retrieves imitating a bait fish on the run. Holding the rod under one arm and stripping with two hands will give your fly the steadiest movement. If you’re fishing around shrimp boats, let your fly sink a little before you start stripping. This gives the fish a chance to spot it beneath the foam and commotion of the boat’s wake.
Sometimes, you don’t need to retrieve at all. Placing a floating fly in a school of bait fish imitates an injured fish that can’t swim properly – an easy meal that no predatory fish can resist, as long as you get its attention.
The most important tip for fighting False Albacore is to keep your rod angled low. You won’t be able to stop the fish with your rod and trying to do so is a great way to break your rod tip. Instead, be ready for the fish to take off like a bullet when it realizes it’s hooked. Use your drag to slow the run but expect to lose a fair amount of line to begin with.
Once they finish their first run, Albies tend to turn around and run back toward you. Your line can easily get tangled up around the fish this way. Dip your rod tip into the water and reel like crazy to take up the slack and prevent that from happening.
False Albacore really don’t know their own limits. Just because the fish seems to have fight left, doesn’t mean it’s not exhausted. If your fish does look tired, move it through the water in a figure eight to get water through its gills. Otherwise, drop it nose-first directly into the water to give it a kick-start.
False Albacore are a ton of fun to fight and you don’t need expensive equipment to do so. Just make sure to treat them with the respect they deserve by using appropriate tackle and releasing them safely. After all, we all want them to come back again year after year!
What do you think are the best Albie flies? What are your top tips for catching them? Do you eat them? Let us know below – we always love to hear from you!