Man on boat fishing for false albacore

Autumn Is for Albies

“Albies” are as strong as bulls and as fast as racehorses. Autumn is prime time to catch these ocean-going speedsters.

[by Henry Cowen]

FROM NEW ENGLAND TO NORTH CAROLINA, the warmest ocean water temperatures of the year occur sometime around the end of August. It is not uncommon for surface temperatures to push into the low to mid 70’s. This rise in temperature occurs because the Gulfstream moves closer to shore. The warm water attracts false albacore, and we enjoy some of the very best angling of the season.

False albacore first appear in New England—usually around Martha’s Vineyard—and over the next several weeks they work their way south to Wilmington, North Carolina. Why all the excitement, you might ask?

For their size, false albacore are some of the toughest game fish in the ocean. They readily take flies, and you can catch them in great numbers. False albacore go by many names: greenies, apple knockers, bonita, core, fat Albert’s, little tunny, or just plain “albies.” Whatever you call them, false albacore are one of God’s great gifts to saltwater anglers, especially fly rodders.

These Fish Eat Flies

Fishing for false albacore is incredibly fun. First comes the hunt for the fish. Look for terns and seagulls diving on the water’s surface; this is a good sign that albies are tearing through a school of baitfish. A false albacore “blitz” is a memorable experience. It is so visual and exciting that you will relive the event long after the day is over.

Aggressively feeding albies readily take flies. They are so eager, in fact, that sometimes you will look around and see several anglers fighting fish at the same time. And false albacore are also some of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean. While their shape and other characteristics make them look like tuna, they are not; false albacore are in the mackerel family, hence the name false albacore. False albacore meat is mostly red, much like the color of blood, so they have limited value as table fare. This is great news for anglers because most fish are caught and released to live and fight another day.

Hooking and fighting an albie on a fly rod is one of the most memorable angling experiences you will ever have. They run fast, hard, and long. Line will scream off your reel; an albie will put you into your backing in a only a few seconds. And pound for pound, few fish fight as hard as false albacore. If you could tie a rope to the tail of an 8-pound false albacore, and tie the other end to an 8-pound bonefish, the albie would pull the bonefish all over the ocean!

Plenty of Opportunity

Look for false albacore as far north as Cape Cod to as far south as Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. While their arrival in certain areas varies, when they do show up we enjoy an inshore angling bonanza.

Autumn is prime time for false albacore fishing. The length of their stay is based on the temperature and clarity of the water. Albies do not like dirty water, and they do not like particularly cold water. They may hang around New England for upwards of two months beginning sometime near the end of August, but they usually remain for about four to six weeks.

Look for large schools of false albacore around Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to Point Judith and Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Follow their migration as they head south to the waters off New York, New Jersey, and points beyond. Look for big schools of hungry albies around Block Island (Rhode Island), Montauk (New York), and Sandy Hook (New Jersey).

False Albacore

The best false albacore fishing in the country is along the coast of North Carolina. Ground Zero for fly fishing for albies takes place near the sleepy little fishing village of Harkers Island, North Carolina. Located at the southern end of the Outer Banks, Harkers Island draws anglers from across the United States to enjoy the fantastic fishing.

Angling writer Tom Earnhardt helped popularize the false albacore fishing on Harkers Island starting in the early 1990’s. Every year he and Jones Brothers Marine put on what they call the Tuna Melt. At the Tuna Melt, which occurs the first weekend in November, hundreds of anglers come to Harkers to fish, enjoy a pig roast, and commiserate with one other. Anglers trailer boats, hire guides, or take a ferry out to Cape Lookout to fish an area called “the Hook.” False albacore show up along North Carolina starting in September and remain through December if the water remains clean and the temperatures are relatively mild.

Finally, look for false albacore from South Carolina to Florida and into the Gulf Coast. The fish show up at different times in Florida. On the East Coast, the fishing seems best from July through September, while on the Gulf Coast the best fishing is from late winter through early spring.

Gearing Up

Tackle selection for false albacore varies depending upon the size of the fish. A seven- or eight-weight rod is ideal for catching juvenile albies in the four- to six-pound class. For fish in the seven- to 12-pound class, a nine-weight rod is the best choice. When you get into the big boys weighing up to 20 pounds, a 10-weight rod will be fine but might not feel stout enough!

Once you battle with Albzilla, you will realize just how mean and tough these fish can be. The choice of reel is simple: it must be capable of stopping a pickup truck pulling onto the freeway. Select a large-arbor reel with a smooth drag, and it must have the capacity to hold at least 200 yards of backing.

I am always prepared with several fly lines. I always take a slow-sinking intermediate line and a fast-sinking integrated shooting head. Today, all the fly line companies make nice lines for false albacore fishing, but the RIO Outbound Short F/I is my go-to line when fishing from a boat or the beach. This line has a floating running line with an intermediate slow-sinking head that allows me to quickly pick up and change casting directions. If you are fishing a beach with a lot of breaking waves, however, a full slow-sinking line might be a better choice; the wave action can pull your line back onto the beach, so a line that is completely underwater can help prevent this.

As for terminal tackle, I always prefer a 9- to 10-foot-long fluorocarbon leader because there are times when the bait is so small and the water is so clear that a stealthier, longer leader yields a few extra strikes. When the fish weigh 12 pounds or less, a 12- to 15-pound-test leader works just fine; if the albies are bigger, I use a 20-pound-test leader

Fly selection is the final piece of the puzzle. Like any other fishery, the available forage determines which patterns work the best. The bait varies from region to region; at times, it can even vary from beach to beach. I remember albies eating tiny bay anchovies at Watch Hill Light, Rhode Island, and the anglers just down the road at Weekapaug Breachway, in Westerly, Rhode Island, were seeing fish tearing into silversides.

Do some research before packing your fly box. Call a local fly shop or do on online search to obtain up-to-date reports. One thing is for certain: false albacore feeding patterns can change on a dime. During one tide the fish might be gorging on glass minnows, and after the change of tide they will be ripping through peanut bunker. Silversides (glass minnows), bay anchovy’s (rain bait), peanut bunker, sardines, small mullet, and even squid are all common foods for albies. These fish are opportunistic feeders, so you might even see them eating small crabs and sand eels. There is even super-small bait in the Carolina’s the locals simply call snot bait.

Using a very fast retrieve is the key to catching false albacore. The water is crystal clear so they can get a very good look at your fly. Long quick strips, short quick strips, or even a two-handed retrieve (with the rod tucked under your arm) work most of the time. Your fly should look like it is fleeing or panicking. Everyone has his favorite flies, but this varies from region to region. Anglers in New England through the mid-Atlantic use smaller flies measuring 1 ½ to 3 inches long. Folks fishing the Carolina Coast carry flies measuring 1 ½ to 5 inches long. Florida anglers, however, prefer larger patterns measuring 3 to 6 inches in length.

This thumbnail sketch will get you started fishing for false albacore. The fish are spread along almost the entire Atlantic Coast. It is a terrific and exciting way to conclude the fishing season.

Henry Cowen is a regular contributor to this magazine. He is a fine fly designer and expert angler. Henry lives in Georgia.

Fly Box

Photography by Dave Klausmeyer


Albie Blend

tied by Steve Farrar

Hook: Owner Flyliner, size 2.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Belly: UV white SF Flash Blend.
Wing: Olive over misty blue SF Flash Blend.
Eyes: 3-D eyes.
Note: Steve Farrar’s Albie Blend is a great little pattern that mimics a number of baitfish commonly available during false albacore season. Tie this pattern in a variety of lengths to match the saltwater hatch from New England to Florida.


Craft-Fur Bay Anchovy

tied by Capt. Allen Cain

Hook: Mustad C70SD, size 4.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Wing: Root beer craft fur.
Belly: White craft fur.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: Clear Cure Goo.
Note: Capt. Allen Cain designed this wonderful “Surf Candy-like” pattern. Capt. Cain prefers using root beer-colored flies when bay anchovies are the predominant bait.


Cowen’s Albie Anchovy

tied by Henry Cowen

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, size 4.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Shrimp Polar Fiber.
Belly: Shrimp Polar Fiber.
Belly sac: Silver Comes Alive
Body: Medium natural EZ Body tubing.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: Clear Cure Goo.
Note: The Albie Anchovy has been a mainstay during false albacore season for nearly 20 years. Bob Popovic’s Surf Candy inspired the design of this fly.


Blados Crease Fly

tied by Umpqua Feather Merchants

Hook: Mustad 34011, size 2.
Thread: White 3/0 (280 denier).
Tail: White bucktail.
Flash: Flashabou and Krystal Flash.
Body: Closed-cell craft foam.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: 30-minute epoxy.
Note: Capt. Joe Blados’s Crease Fly is my favorite pattern for getting false albacore to eat off of the surface. It has been a mainstay topwater fly for more than 20 years, and the albies never get tired of it.


Minnie Minnow

tied by Capt. Allen Cain

Hook: Mustad C70SD, size 6.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: White craft fur.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: Clear Cure Goo.
Note: Captain Allen Cain, of Wilmington, North Carolina, says this pattern is just what the doctor orders when the albies are eating tiny forage the locals call “snot bait.”


Fish Skull Jiggy

tied by Jonny King

Hook: Varivas 2610, size 4.
Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier).
Wing: Camel, yellow, and anchovy SF Flash Blend.
Head: Coppertone Fish Skull.
Eyes: Fish Skull Living Eyes.
Note: Fairly new off of Jonny King’s vise, this fly is sure to be a hit for future albie seasons. Try it and tell us how you do!


Tutti Fruitti

tied by Henry Cowen

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, size 1/0.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Chartreuse bucktail.
Tail: Hot pink bucktail.
Flash: Pearl Comes Alive.
Eyes: I-Balz or a substitute.
Note: Why false albacore eat a fly tied chartreuse-over-pink is anyone’s guess, but Capt. Brian Horsley, of Harkers Island, North Carolina, says the Tutti Fruitti is his go-to false albacore fly.


Sili Skin Bay Anchovy

tied by Steve Farrar

Hook: Owner Flyliner, size 2.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Body: Sili Skin and woven body tubing.
Wing: Polar white DNA Holofusion.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Markers: Brown and red.
Note: This is another fantastic pattern from the vise of Steve Farrar. Steve is one of the best fly tiers on the East Coast, and his Sili Skin Bay Anchovy is as close to “real” as it gets.


Stryker’s Albie Candy

tied by Scott Stryker

Hook: Partridge Stinger, size 4.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Cashmere goat.
Tail: Cashmere goat.
Body: Pearl Bill’s Body Braid.
Flash: Silver Fluoro Fibre.
Eyes: Fish Skull Living Eyes.
Glue: Tuffleye.
Note: Scott Stryker ties some absolutely gorgeous flies, and this pattern is one of his favorites when the albies are feeding on small bait. The Albie Candy features cashmere for the wing and tail, which is extremely translucent and breathable in the water.


Veverka’s Shinnecock Silverside

tied by Umpqua Feather Merchants

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, size 2
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Wing: Fluorescent blue over fluorescent chartreuse bucktail.
Underbelly: White craft fur.
Tail: White saddle hackle.
Flash: Silver Holo Flash and pearl UV Polar Chenille.
Body: Pearl Mylar tubing.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: 30-minute epoxy and Softex.
Note: Ververka’s Shinnecock Silverside is a sparsely tied Deceiver-style fly, but it breathes much better in the water than a Deceiver.


Walter White

tied by Joe Scandore

Hook: Gamakatsu SL11, size 1.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Tan or white Zonker strip.
Throat: White artic fox.
Flash: Pearl Krystal Flash.
Eyes: 3-D eyes.
Glue: Clear Cure Goo.
Note: Designed by Scott Smith, of Connecticut, this fly is a little-known secret weapon. When the false albacore around eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island get finicky, this pattern cracks the code.


Hoo Fly

tied by Jonny King

Hook: Varivas 2600, size 2
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Tail: Brown and yellow craft fur.
Body: Dark tan and yellow Senyo’s Laser Dub.
Belly: Silver minnow belly and pink Senyo’s Laser Dub.
Eyes: Fish Skull Living Eyes.
Note: Long live the King—Jonny King! Jonny’s Hoo Fly has saved the day many times fishing around Montauk, New York, when the albies seemed to have had lockjaw.


Veverka’s Albie Special

tied by Umpqua Feather Merchants

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, size 2.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Wing: Silver Holo Flash and pearl UV Polar Chenille.
Underbelly: White craft fur.
Tail: White saddle hackles and pearl UV Polar Chenille.
Sides: Black Krystal Flash.
Body: Pearl Mylar tubing and silver Holo Flash.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: 30-minute epoxy and Softex
Note: Bob Veverka has tied flies for catching many types of saltwater game fish for decades. Known not only for his great bonefish designs, his striped bass and false albacore patterns are a must for everyone’s fly box.


Gummy Silverside Minnow

tied by Blane Chocklett

Hook: Owner S12, size 1/0.
Thread: White 6/0 )140 denier).
Base layer: Silver Sili Skin.
Under body: Silver Sili Skin.
Over body: Silver Sili Skin.
Back strap: Mother of pearl Sili Skin
Outer skin: Mother of pearl Live Scale Sili Skin.
Marker: Olive.
Eyes: Clear Cure Goo Real Eyes or a substitute.
Note: The Sili Skin Baitfish hit the fly-fishing scene around the year 2000 at Harkers Island, North Carolina, and it has never stopped catching albies up and down the coast.


Game Changer

tied by Blane Chocklett

Hook: Tiemco TMC600SP, size 2.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Tan Baitfish Emulator.
Shank: 10-millimeter-long Flymen Fishing Company Spines.
Body: Bonefish tan Frizzle Chenille.
Eyes: Clear Cure Goo Real Eyes or a substitute.
Glue: Clear Cure Goo Flex.
Note: Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer has been used to catch fish all over the world. Anglers excitedly toss this revolutionary pattern to all kinds of fish, and it seems tailor made for false albacore.


Stryker’s Albie Baitfish

tied by Scott Stryker

Hook: Partridge Stinger, size 1.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Tan craft fur.
Underbelly: White craft fur.
Body: White Senyo’s Laser Dub.
Flash: Silver Fluoro Fibre.
Eyes: Fish Skull Living Eyes.
Glue: Tuffleye Flex.
Note: The Albie Baitfish mimics several small- to medium-sized baitfish. Change colors of materials to match mullet, bay anchovies, silversides, and even small peanut bunker.


Splayed-Hackle Kinky Deceiver

tied by Capt. Dino Torino

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, size 1/0.
Thread: Fine monofilament.
Wing: Pink Kinky Fiber.
Body: Pearl Bill’s Body Braid.
Belly: White Kinky Fiber.
Tail: White saddle hackles.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Glue: 30-minute epoxy.
Note: Capt. Dino Torino fishes the waters near Jupiter, Florida. This splayed-hackle Deceiver-style fly is one of his go-to patterns for catching speeding false albacore.


Wig-Hair Baitfish

tied by Capt Dino Torino

Hook: Eagle Claw 254SS, size 3/0.
Thread: Flat Waxed Nylon.
Wing: Olive over white wig hair.
Underbelly: White wig hair.
Flash: Pearl Glimmer Flash.
Eyes: 3-D eyes.
Glue: 30-minute epoxy.
Note: Captain Dino’s Wig-Hair Baitfish matches so many types of mid- to large-sized baitfish that going fishing without it would be a mistake.