In the early 1990s I got my first look.

The wind honked out of the north on the first chilly day in Septem­ber. It just felt fishy. Run­ning to­ward the birds, I thought at first the boils were stripers. But when the fish came up, I knew this was some­thing dif­fer­ent: Stream­lined mus­cu­lar fish with

Sport Fishing - - ALBIE ADDICTS -

Com­po­sure lost, heart pound­ing, adren­a­line level through the roof, I made sev­eral casts, which went un­no­ticed. About an hour and 30 casts later, I fi­nally came tight, and it felt un­real. Line peeled off the reel so fast I didn’t know what to do. I cranked down the drag a quar­ter turn and the reel lit­er­ally blew up, fall­ing to pieces on the ground.

Didn’t mat­ter. I was hooked. This was well be­yond any­thing I had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. Straight-up tuna in­shore. Mind blown.

Albie Al­lure

I am not alone. All along the coast, false albacore (tech­ni­cally, lit­tle tunny — also known as al­bies, bonito, fat al­bert, hard­tails and funny fish) have been blow­ing in­shore an­glers’ minds, par­tic­u­larly those light-tackle ad­vo­cates who fa­vor sight-cast­ing rather than trolling or bait fish­ing.

“They’ve de­vel­oped a steady fol­low­ing up here,” notes Capt. Paul Dixon, of Mon­tauk, New York. “We’ve got a fleet that thrives on their ar­rival ev­ery fall.”

That’s be­cause they’re what many hard­core light-tackle an­glers de­scribe as the per­fect quarry, of­fer­ing an of­ten awe­some vis­ual sur­face feed, a high but not im­pos­si­bly high level of dif­fi­culty, and drag-burn­ing runs that cre­ate in­stant mem­o­ries. And for fly-fish­ers? Rarely do you catch one that doesn’t bring you into back­ing al­most in­stantly.

“The vis­ual el­e­ment is unique,” notes Capt. Ian Devlin, of Con­necti­cut, who char­ac­ter­izes al­bies as ram-in­duc­tion feed­ers (con­sis­tent with tu­nas). They don’t just chase bait, they tear through it. “It’s a quick, spec­tac­u­lar burst and then they’re gone, and you’ve got to get up and run af­ter the next pod.”

“It’s def­i­nitely about the hunt … the chase,” says Capt. Gene Quigley, of New Jer­sey. “That’s what makes it ex­cit­ing.”

But albie fish­ing is more than just the high-adren­a­line run-and-gun. “My fa­vorite part is see­ing the look on a guy’s face when he first hooks up,” notes Capt. Doug Jowett, of Cape Cod. “These fish just go and go.”

“What we’re talk­ing about here is ac­cess to a strong,

fast pe­lagic,” says Dixon. “A straight-up tuna, some­times a stone’s throw from the beach.” And they can be caught with fairly light gear, in­clud­ing flies. In that con­text, the albie run is pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary.

“They are chal­leng­ing,” notes Capt. Brian Hors­ley, of North Carolina. Al­bies are no­to­ri­ous for be­ing very finicky and boat shy. “Some­times we fish ’em all day and only catch a few.” In­deed, you have to make good, fast casts un­der pres­sure. That takes skill and com­po­sure — of course, that’s part of the albie draw.

Be­cause the schools gen­er­ally show up around the same time and places each year, the an­tic­i­pa­tion builds. An­glers gear up in ad­vance. And when the first al­bies show, word spreads like wild­fire.

When and Where

While false albacore cer­tainly don’t gen­er­ate the avid fol­low­ing in Flor­ida that they en­joy in the mid-At­lantic and south­ern New Eng­land, the fish do swarm the Sun­shine State dur­ing late spring and sum­mer.

“The south­east wind brings them in,” says Capt. Dino Torino, of Jupiter, Flor­ida. “We have them from late May through Au­gust.” It’s a dif­fer­ent fish­ery, though: no run­ning and gun­ning, or chas­ing fish. “You stay put, and chum them up.”

In south­ern New Eng­land and the north­ern mid-At­lantic, where un­doubt­edly most of the tar­get­ing oc­curs, al­bies can be found 20 to 40 miles off­shore, in depths of about 180 feet, pretty much any time from June on, mixed in with other pelag­ics,


such as skip­jack, bluefin and yel­lowfin. In­shore — within a mile of the beach and in har­bors and bays — they’re most cer­tainly a fall-run fish.

“We catch a few in Nags Head [Outer Banks, North Carolina], in Au­gust,” says Hors­ley. “But we don’t re­ally fo­cus on them un­til they show in Septem­ber off of Hark­ers Is­land [far­ther south, near More­head City].”

These smaller fish, in the 5-pound range, gen­er­ally ap­pear right near the beach. As Oc­to­ber ap­proaches, big­ger fish mix in. “Novem­ber is when the real big­gies show . ... All fish over 18 pounds,” he says.

Mov­ing north: Al­though al­bies are caught off Vir­ginia, Mary­land and Delaware, for some rea­son they don’t set up there, and thus few an­glers fo­cus on them. The fish an­glers do en­counter don’t seem to stay long, and are likely just pass­ing through.

From cen­tral to north­ern New Jer­sey, the fish con­sis­tently set up, and that’s where an­glers re­ally start tar­get­ing them. “We have fish off­shore a bit, on the lumps ear­lier,” says Quigley. “But in­shore it usu­ally hap­pens in Septem­ber, al­though it seems to be hap­pen­ing later and later ev­ery year.” (The cur­rent all­tackle-world-record lit­tle tunny weighed in at 36 pounds, caught in Novem­ber 2006 at Wash­ing­ton Canyon, New Jer­sey.)

Off the Long Is­land side of New York Har­bor, the mi­gra­tion ap­pears sim­i­lar. Ten years ago, a first run of fish might oc­cur off Breezy Point, New York, in late Au­gust, and the num­bers would es­ca­late into Septem­ber. But now, the fish­ery doesn’t seem to get go­ing un­til Oc­to­ber. “We’ve ac­tu­ally had pretty good runs in early Novem­ber these last few years,” says New York Har­bor Capt. Danny Re­ich.

Al­bies show up in­ter­mit­tently along Long Is­land’s south shore, but it’s re­ally that area from Long Branch, New Jer­sey, to Breezy Point, New York, and in­side New York Har­bor that tends to hold the best con­cen­tra­tions of fish in the re­gion.

Out east, false albacore tend to set up in some pretty spe­cific lo­ca­tions. Shin­necock In­let, New York, is a well-known albie spot, par­tic­u­larly for those fish­ing from the jetty.

And then there’s Mon­tauk, pos­si­bly the best albie spot on the coast. They show up, some­times in spec­tac­u­lar num­bers, off of Mon­tauk Point Light­house, and can be found crash­ing through bay an­chovies at any point all the way west to town.

“Usu­ally, some­one sees them off of the point in Au­gust,” says Dixon. “But once Septem­ber rolls around, they fill in and can be found in pretty good num­bers all the way back to Plum Is­land.”

The North Fork of Long Is­land sees a good run too, and the en­tire Rhode Is­land and Con­necti­cut coast­lines host al­bies at some point. Cape Cod seems to be the north­ern ver­sion of Mon­tauk, al­though less con­sis­tent. And we can’t leave out the fish that show off Martha’s Vine­yard and Nan­tucket in Septem­ber.

Fall Bait Blitz

Where the al­bies show varies some year to year, but cap­tains agree that bait gen­er­ally drives the con­gre­ga­tions.


Al­bies can be found feed­ing on many species: sil­ver­sides, sand eels, ju­ve­nile men­haden, glass min­nows, squid, small shrimp and crabs. Yet, with­out a doubt, the fish key in on bay an­chovies in the mid-At­lantic. In Cape Cod, Martha’s Vine­yard and Nan­tucket, they fo­cus on sand eels.

“Yeah, they blitz on sil­ver­sides, but for sure, they come into the Sound with the an­chovies,” says Con­necti­cut’s Devlin.

Bay an­chovies usu­ally mea­sure 1 to 3 inches long, with a sil­ver un­der­belly and a red­dish, cop­per­col­ored back. The cop­per color only be­comes ob­vi­ous when the bait­fish school up in the hun­dreds. Hors­ley calls them “red bait.”

These prey fish spend warmer months in the bays and es­tu­ar­ies of the mid-At­lantic. But the first cool night of­ten sig­nals an east­ward mi­gra­tion in which they flood the in­lets and beaches, bring­ing al­bies right up to the surf line.

“Mon­tauk’s en­tire ecosys­tem re­volves around bay an­chovies,” says Dixon. “Some years we get sand eels, but an­chovies cre­ate the big albie blitzes.”

Start­ing the Feed

“Well, they cer­tainly aren’t easy,” says Cape Cod’s Jowett. “Ev­ery once in a while, you’ll get a day where they feed reck­lessly, but the stan­dard is you maybe catch a few.”

Whether you hook up or not is some­times about the ap­proach, says Hors­ley. “You’ve got to come in slow, off plane, mak­ing sure you don’t wash them out.” In­deed, big boats that push a lot of wa­ter seem to catch fewer fish than the smaller, lighter ones.

“The an­gle of your ap­proach is real im­por­tant,” says Quigley. “Turn the boat par­al­lel to the fish so that af­ter the cast, the an­gler can stay tight to the line.” Be­cause they’re up and down so quickly, get the lure or fly mov­ing as soon as it hits the wa­ter.

“Ag­gres­sive guys don’t help the sit­u­a­tion,” says Dixon. “Run­ning too fast spooks al­bies and breaks up the bait­balls.”

It’s un­der­stand­ably hard for ex­cited an­glers to avoid chas­ing ev­ery pod of bust­ing fish, but guys who take the wait-and-see ap­proach score the high num­bers. “Sure, I chase fish some­times, but I also try and stay put, and look for pat­terns,” says Re­ich.

If you can calm down, ob­serve and put your­self in the right place, you’re more likely to find your­self in the mid­dle of a blitz rather than halfway down the beach fol­low­ing a pod that will sound be­fore you can get there.

Pa­tient an­glers get bites by blind-cast­ing too. “When crowds get bad, I go to points of land, depth changes, out­flows or just ar­eas I’ve noted bait con­cen­tra­tions, and we blind-fish,” says Devlin.

John Skin­ner, a New York an­gler and au­thor of sev­eral books on surf-cast­ing, notes that from shore, you usu­ally don’t get shots at bust­ing fish. “Just about ev­ery fish I catch is blind-cast­ing. You re­ally just need to find likely spots and then put in the time.”

Lures and Gear

Be­cause al­bies can be finicky, baits and their pre­sen­ta­tion count. Gen­er­ally, you won’t get

them with striper tech­niques.

The go-to albie lure for some time has been the Deadly Dick — lo­cally called a tin, a small, slen­der metal lure with re­flec­tive tape — in the ½- to 3-ounce ver­sions. For sure, it catches.

Skin­ner uses all sizes: the windier, the heav­ier. But he throws the 2-ounce ver­sion more than any­thing. “You gotta reel in as fast as you can,” he says. “You can’t out-reel them.”

Most of the strikes he de­scribes as “spec­tac­u­lar,” right on the sur­face, as the tin skips across the wa­ter. “If you’re fish­ing them right, it’ll be too fast for stripers and blue­fish.”

Boat an­glers also use Deadly Dick lures. Their weight and wind re­sis­tance al­lows quick, long casts. How­ever, any small, slen­der metal lure can catch fish; ones with re­flec­tive pris­matic tape tend to work best.

On the other hand, the new­est gen­er­a­tion of albie an­glers swears by soft plas­tics, such as a 6-inch pink or white Slug-Go-type bait. “It flies in the face of all of us match-the-hatch ad­vo­cates,” says Re­ich. “But they do draw vi­o­lent strikes.”

Soft plas­tics need to be worked much slower than metal, and with an er­ratic, twitch­ing mo­tion. If you want them to swim right, you also have to fish them on a weed­less hook with no weight, which makes them tough to cast, par­tic­u­larly in any stiff wind. Albie Snax soft baits re­cently came to mar­ket and have de­vel­oped a fol­low­ing. They’re heav­ier, so cast­ing is less of an is­sue.

From a boat or the beach, most an­glers use a 7-foot medi­umheavy spin­ning out­fit. While they aren’t ter­ri­bly big, al­bies are quite strong.

Choose a se­ri­ous reel with a smooth drag, ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing at least 250 yards of 20-pound braid. I’ve seen lesser reels blow up. Use 4 feet of 20- to 30-pound fluoro­car­bon for a leader.

For fly an­glers, Bob Popovich’s “surf candy,” in tan or cop­per over white, and other epoxy bay an­chovy pat­terns seem to work the best. How­ever, in re­cent years, some have moved away from real col­ors to more flashy ones such as char­treuse and pink. Which flies work, and when, re­ally de­pends on the mood of the fish.

Many an­glers go with a 9-weight for tackle, but some move up to a 10 so they can land fish faster. The reel should fea­ture a good drag sys­tem and hold at least 250 yards of back­ing with a clear in­ter­me­di­ate fly line. Lead­ers vary, but a lot of guys sim­ply use 6 to 8 feet of straight 20-pound fluoro­car­bon. For finicky fish, try 15-pound-test.

Don’t Eat the Al­bies

Up un­til the past sev­eral decades, false albacore didn’t garner much at­ten­tion — from any­one. That’s likely be­cause they’re mostly ined­i­ble.

I found that out the hard way when I brought one home and tried to cook a cou­ple of pieces. The smell lin­gered for sev­eral days; my cat wouldn’t even eat it.

The meat on a false albacore is dark red. Some folks claim to eat it, but I can’t see how.

Such a trait might be a bless­ing. Nasty fla­vor could be the rea­son these fish re­main so abun­dant and re­li­able in­shore at par­tic­u­lar times of the year. Some com­mer­cial pres­sure ex­ists, but re­mains min­i­mal, at least for now.

That leaves albie ad­dicts an avail­able source of their par­tic­u­lar drug. From the sur­face feed to their hard, fast run, these fish keep us jonesing for more.

Al­though al­bies oc­ca­sion­ally feed reck­lessly at the sur­face, they prove no­to­ri­ously boat shy and finicky. An­glers must ap­proach slowly and at the cor­rect an­gle, turn­ing par­al­lel to the school.

Top: Blessed with beau­ti­ful lu­mi­nes­cent color and dis­tinc­tive mark­ings, al­bies have be­come an an­gler fa­vorite for many East Coast an­glers. Right: When seabirds flock to feed on balls of bay an­chovies, an­glers slide in and join the melee, cast­ing flies,...

Top: Soft plas­tics must be worked more slowly than metal jigs, and with an er­ratic twitch­ing mo­tion. Right: Con­ven­tion­al­tackle an­glers pri­mar­ily choose one of three go-to baits (top to bot­tom): Albie Snax, Deadly Dick or SlugGo-type soft plas­tics.

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