I love fall in the northeast! The temperature drops, the humidity clears, and the scenery changes from dull greens to beautiful confetti of reds, oranges, and yellows. But more importantly, football is here, above and below the waves! Just listen as the drums and trumpets wail to the familiar tune. It must be Sunday night. But for those who manage to stray away from the TV, football season means something else for fishermen. Along with the cool temperatures, the water clears, and loads of baitfish begin their mass exodus from the bays into the surf. The bait moves out, and the big fish move in. Multiple species come in to feed, but one, in particular, gets the heart pumping, the false albacore–aka the footballs of the sea. As I said, football season is back! No drums or trumpets on the beach, only the sweet tune of screaming drag.
In the northeast, the last week of August is when the first albie usually makes an appearance. Come September and October, expect them to be all over the place. This year, they are right on time! These speedsters, along with bonito, really know how to haul some butt and are the apex of fall fishing! And on the fly, it is even more heart-pounding. But don’t think it will be easy; the false albacore can be a real challenge to catch. I’ll clue you in on some of the ways I’ve failed and how to succeed at catching these picky fish!
Find the bait and match the hatch.
Albie fishing is usually very visual. If you can find the birds and bait blitzing fish, there’s a good chance there will be albies under them this time of year. Easier said than done on most occasions. But at this moment, fly anglers finally have the upper hand. Typically, albies are keyed in on extremely small bait that spin anglers have a hard time matching. Epoxy jigs or small soft plastics might get the job done for spin guys but they are sometimes a hair too big for often snobby and finicky albies. Clousers, gummy minnows, surf candies, and “Albie Whores” in various colors are the go-to flies for tricking these picky fish.
I would suggest worrying more about the cast and presentation than the flies in albie world. Anywhere from an 8-10wt will work for inshore albies. A 10-weight is preferred to help punch through the wind while providing some lifting power to finish off the tuna spins that happen boat side. Where fly guys have the disadvantage is with the speed and distance. Everything is fast-paced in albie hunting. They pop up randomly for a split second and then disappear. Make the most of every opportunity and be ready. Spin fisherman can fire off a cast in seconds. Fly anglers do not have this luxury. Keep the line stripped off the reel in an orderly fashion, and be ready to go in an instant.
Now after watching Youtube and Instagram, I’m sure everyone is thinking they are going to go out and find albies crashing the surf or blitzing everywhere. Add in the amount of bait pouring into the sea and you would think it should be a shoo-in. The reality is that it more often does not happen that way. What do you do when the action slows? Look for alternative clues. The majority of the albies I have ever landed have come from blind casting at a single bird looking suspicious. They tend to fly in a particular flight path following behind feeding fish. Alternatively, look for bait and oil slicks from the mayhem below. I cannot stress enough how a shimmer in the water can indicate what is going on in the depths. The slick of oil albies leave behind is one of the best ways to save a day when the albies are being shy and not showing themselves.
Be the fish, be the fish! Predict their movements!
This is where I personally mess up almost religiously. I finally found the fish and it is an all-out blitz. The engine starts, and it is full throttle over to the fish for what I think is going to be a sure catch. One cast in and nothing. I look back in my wake and there they are blitzing away back from where I just was. Curse words ensue followed by “how does that happen every time!”
The run-and-gun method of chasing albies certainly can be effective at times. But I promise, you will be more successful the moment, you take a step back, see which way the fish are moving, and just get in front of them. Bait and albies are notoriously boat-shy. The minute a boat steams up, they typically abort and vanish. If you are on the east coast, this happens even faster as a fleet of boats quickly swarms the feast. Move away from other boats as the albies do and you will be 100% more successful.
And lastly, as my good friend Joe Diorio always says, “NO ENGINE!” This is probably the main reason, motoring up moves fish quickly. They not only see you coming, but they hear you. Get in front and turn the engine off. Idling only hurts your chances of success (especially at these gas prices). If you feel up to the challenge, one of the best ways to stay under the radar is to try chasing albies in a kayak. You will not have to worry about scaring fish away but getting to them fast enough becomes your challenge.
False albacores have a large spot in the hearts of nearly every inshore saltwater fisherman in the Northeast. We know that they come inshore every year to feast on the plethora of bait. But what else do we know? Unfortunately, not much. Arguably the most misunderstood fish in the ocean, we know almost nothing from a scientific and management standpoint, but The American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) hopes to change that reality. By teaming up with several key partners, ASGA has an acoustic tagging project underway to get a better understanding of migration patterns, post-release mortality, and more. Currently, there are no regulations on albies, which is why ASGA is pushing the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to develop precautionary management for the species. Check out the ASGA Albie Campaign page to find out how to get involved.
Get in on the action!
It is still early in the fall run and many talented captains offer fly trips to catch a variety of species. Below is a list of guides, from all over the east coast, that have false albacore dialed in. Feel free to reach out to them on Instagram or the provided contact info and get in before the albies disappear!
New Jersey – Capt. Jimmy Freda (Shore Catch Sportfishing)