False albacore will test your tackle and fishing abilities. Try these favorite guide-tested flies for catching these finned greyhounds.
[by Capt. Ray Stachelek]
Rain bait bursts along the surface, and we see streaks of green flashes below. On deck lie coils of fl y line strung out like an abstract painting. The angler slowly lifts his arm. His hand orchestrates the baton in motion, the beginning of a progression he’s done a thousand times before. The fly moves effortlessly through the crisp salty air. With one last aggressive stroke, the rod arcs forward, straining each and every fiber near the breaking point of elasticity.
The Scotty Fly
HOOK: Mustad C70S D, size 1.
THREAD: Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon, white.
BODY: White bucktail, six strands of chartreuse flash, chartreuse calftail, or bucktail, four strands of peacock herl, ¼ Corsair Tubing, and epoxy.
ACCENTS: 1/8-inch-wide reflective self-adhesive strips.
EYES: 1/8-inch-diameter silver prismatic eyes and a second light coat of epoxy
The fly line accelerates, gathering momentum as it zings through the guides. The fly is propelled toward its final destination. Seconds seem like minutes. Every thought, every imaginable emotion seems pent up and suspended in time. The angler eagerly waits for his fly to land. Now, in deep anticipation, his eyes focus toward the center of action. Will this be the cast? He needs the line to get tight!
What’s So Special about False Albacore?
False albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus), also called little tunny, are the smallest member of the Scombridae tribe. They are the most prolific of the tuna species found along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. These swimming torpedoes migrate from southern New England (as far north as Cape Cod) all the way south to the Florida Keys. Preferring warmer water, “albies” arrive in New England during the early part of September when the water temperature is near its peak at a mild 70 degrees.
The saltwater fishery normally remains dormant at this time of the season. It’s a transitional period for most gamefish like striped bass and bluefish; it will take a series of colder nights before water temperatures drop and improvements take place. The return of the little tunny fills this angling void. These tackle-busters have a rare combination of speed, agility, and endurance second to no other species. Albies, with their torpedo-shaped, streamlined bodies and powerful rudderlike tails, can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour. The average fish weigh from 7 to 14 pounds here in New England. False albacore are perfect for light-tackle enthusiasts, especially fly rodders.
The Mighty Whitey
HOOK: Mustad C688SZ, size 1/0.
THREAD: Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon, white.
BODY: Blended white bucktail and a few strands of silver Mirage.
HEAD: ¼Corsair Tubing and epoxy.
EYES: 3 /16-inch-diameter silver prismatic eyes and a second light coat of epoxy.
Want to catch false albacore? Then get ready to rock and roll; I mean that in the true sense of the words. Conditions must be somewhat dicey if you expect a good day of catching. Wind, current, and copious amounts of bait are a lethal combination. In some locations, the nastier the sea conditions, the better the bite. Therefore, most boats head for areas where there are mixed currents and submerged structure. These produce stronger rip lines and standing waves suitable for active fishing. It’s almost as if you are white-water rafting with a fly rod in hand. Once you know what to expect, you begin to feel comfortable again. New anglers to the false albacore game need to get accustomed to boat movements, but they start to feel in control once they figure out their equilibrium; most experienced mariners call it sea legs. Still, no matter what the skill level, you’ll go home with black and blue marks and some sore body parts.
Albies often get into a selective feeding mode when chasing smaller bait such as anchovies. We can’t duplicate the natural scents of this oily forage and still call it fly fishing, but false albacore seem attracted more to the scent than to the look and movement of the fly; if they key into the taste of their quarry, the fishing is over. On some days, three fish over the rail is a good trip. This requires a lot of casting for eight hours when fish are seemingly busting all around the boat, but you never know when they are going to accept your fly.
Anchovy Bucktail Deceiver
HOOK: Tiemco TMC811S, size 2.
THREAD: White 6/0 (140 denier).
TAIL: Four small white saddle hackles and several strands of silver Mirage.
BODY: Silver Bill’s Bodi-Braid.
UPPER WING: Sparse amounts of white, lavender, and tan bucktail.
LOWER WING: White bucktail.
EYES: 1 /8-inch-diameter silver prismatic eyes coated with Clear Cure Goo
Hang on Tight!
Panic sets in on the first explosive run. Emotions run high. A lot of small mishaps happen all at the same time; snarled coils, knotted lines, and standing on running line are all common glitches. Getting the fish on the reel is of utmost importance, and the window of opportunity is small, maybe five seconds or less. Nerves play a part. Frustrations mount. Learning to stay calm while albie fishing is achieved through years of trial, but all those mistakes make the payoff more rewarding.
“Reaction fishing” is the best way to describe false albacore fishing. Remember Whac-A-Mole? the arcade game where an animal would pop up in one of several empty holes, but you never knew which hole? You tried to smash him with a mallet before he vanished, but he was usually too quick. That’s false albacore fishing. It’s a fast-paced game of hide-and-seek played out on the high seas in real time. Your reactions and movements must be quick and precise, and your success rate will be directly proportional to your ability to make fast casts.
Northeast Hot Spots
In recent years, the most productive locations for catching false albacore in the Northeast have centered on Martha’s Vineyard, Watch Hill, Montauk, and New York City.