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Albies: A Guide to the Fun and Fury of these Tiny Tuna

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Do you like giant blitzes of fish? How about sight casting to those blitzes knowing at any moment you could come tight to a fish that could burn 100 yards of line off your reel within a few seconds? If you’re a sport fisherman I find it hard to believe you would answer no to either of those questions. If you answered yes then you’re in luck, because the most plentiful and most easily accessible Tuna species in the Atlantic is out there and eager to please…. enter, the False Albacore. 

False Albacore or Albies as they are commonly called, are the most plentiful Tuna species available for our enjoyment here in the Atlantic. Ranging from north of Cape Cod to Brazil and from England to South Africa, there isn’t much of the Atlantic that won't see the Albies at some point throughout the year. For this overview we will be focusing on the Albies throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the USA. 

While there are always Albies around in some capacity off the coast of the Carolinas, the prime time for these fish takes place in the Spring and Fall. At these times the fish are migrating through the near shore coastal waters following baitfish as they are heading north or south respectively. Peak Albie season most would agree is definitely in the Fall to early Winter months.  During this time Albies converge on the North Carolina coast from multiple directions. A large portion of the population is heading South, leaving their northern reaches as the waters cool and bait begins to migrate. Another chunk of the population moves in from offshore as the inshore baitfish populations begin to move out in search of more stable water temperatures. This large migration creates a massive mixing bowl of both bait and predators all centered around the Harkers Island/Morehead City region of North Carolina creating the perfect storm of conditions for a couple months of epic fishing for both spin and fly anglers alike. 

The Gear:

These fish can be fairly demanding in terms of gear requirements. While they can reach sizes upwards of 20lbs, the average Albie you tangle with will likely range between 6 and 10 pounds. That may not sound very large, but you must remember these are a species of Tuna and if Tuna are one thing and one thing only… that one thing, is STRONG. These little footballs pack a punch. Typically making a few long surging runs usually 30+ yards in length. It’s not uncommon for even a small Albie to make a 75+ yard run absolutely dumping your reel.  My ideal set-up for Albie fishing on spinning gear would be a 7 foot fast action heavy power rod paired with a 4000 size spinning reel with a nice drag. 15 or 20 pound test braided line with a matching fluorocarbon leader will handle most Albies just fine.  Spinning reels are HIGHLY recommended due to this species speed which a spinning reel tends to handle best. As for the fly-fishing side of the gear, I typically choose a 10 weight rod paired with a full intermediate or intermediate head fly line and a large arbor reel with at least 200 yards of backing and plenty of drag pressure.  The intermediate lines tend to shoot into the wind better than floating lines and make casting much easier when quick shots are needed at fish that are being finicky. 

The lure category for these fish can vary. Most baitfish colored smaller spoons in the 3-4” length range will work. I like to make sure they are atleast a half ounce so they can cast long distances easily which makes a big difference when trying to snipe a school that is only staying up for a few seconds.  Other options that I’ve had success with include small swimbaits on jigheads, small pencil popper style topwaters and weightless soft plastic jerkbaits such as Albie Snax or flukes. 

Flies for these fish just like the lures can vary.  3-4” clousers, decievers, surf candies, finesse game changers, SF minnows or EP minnows will get the job done. It’s important to bring various colors and sizes to be able to figure out what mood the fish are in. 

The Fishing:

Most Albie fishing is done from a boat. These fish are typically in fast moving schools are need to be chased down. That doesn’t mean it cant be done in a kayak or on the beach, hundreds of Albies are landed both of those ways each year… the chances are just much higher with the ability to chase them down in a boat. Albies are easiest to catch when they are chasing and busting on schools of bait. The birds are one of the biggest tools for the angler in these situations. The birds tend to be the best indicator and first sign that Albies are around. It’s always worth investigating tight groups of birds working along the surface of the water. During the Fall months, this is usually a sign that Albies have pushed a school of bait to the surface and the feed is on. Albies feed into the wind just like all other species of Tuna. Once you identify a school of Albies busting on bait, it’s important to set your boat into position up wind of the fish to let them come to you. You will be fighting a losing battle trying to follow behind them to predict their next move. Typically, if you see them busting, just set your boat up 50 to 100 yards upwind of them to drift and wait. The fish will likely pop up within casting range and you’ll be able to deliver you lure or fly to the target.  Retrieves for these fish aren’t too complicated. They like it fast most of the time. On the spinning gear I will typically cast past the school and burn it through them while twitching the rod constantly. You can’t fish it too fast; these fish are capable of swimming over 30mph... the will catch up if they want it. A similar strategy is used with the fly as well. If possible, I like to cast past them and two-handed strip the fly as fast as possible through the school. If they dont respond, my next retrieve is to not retrieve it at all. I will often plop a fly right into the middle of a busting school and let it sink. This imitates a wounded baitfish sinking to the bottom and a hungry Albie is usually unable to resist that easy meal.

The Fight and Release:

The fight for these fish can really get your adrenaline going.  The drag screaming runs will leave you shaking and wondering if you even have enough line to stop the creature you’re attached too. Its best to wait out the powerful runs and gain your line back as they take a breather between surges.  After 2 or three good long runs, they are usually spent in terms of distance and they will go deep and begin the “tuna twist”.  This is the nickname many anglers give the later stages of the fight when they have a tendency to swim in wide circles under the boat as you bring them closer. If you’re fishing fly gear, be careful during this stage. This part of the fight is very up and down and a sudden surge from the fish could result in that long fly rod getting folded a little too sharply leading to a broken rod.  Landing these fish is easy with a net or if you choose not to use nets, they have a hard tail which can be gripped directly in front of for a solid hold. One thing to remember with Albies is they typically serve no food value. 99% of all Albies caught are released so it’s only fair to show these fish some respect and keep them out of the water for the shortest amount of time possible. If you want a picture, as the fight comes to an end, have a buddy ready to snap one quick so you can get the fish back as soon as possible.  The release method is just as important as the speed at which it takes place. The best way to release Albies is the “torpedo” method. This method involves holding them vertical with their head pointing towards the water and essentially throwing them back into the water headfirst like a torpedo.  This method gives them a burst of oxygen to their gills and will energize them for a quick return to the school. 

These fish are an absolute blast to target. I hope this quick overview of the species and our Mid Atlantic fishery leads to many people discovering what could soon become their favorite fish to catch. Whether it's the fast-paced run and gun style of fishing, or the even faster paced runs the fish make once their hooked...there isn’t much a sport fisherman wouldn’t love about the False Albacore. 

Grant Alvis

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