Fishing for False Albacore, Pro Tips and Techniques
Many inshore saltwater anglers enjoy fishing for false albacore. They are a hard-fighting species that resemble tuna. There are techniques anglers will need to know in order to be successful.
False albacore are a pelagic species and are a member of the Scombridae family. Pelagic species spend their life in open water and do not relate to bottom or shoreline structure. False albacore migrate along the entire coast of the United States from Texas to Maine. They are also found in the Mediterranean Sea. False albacore are also known locally as “bonita” and “little tunny”. They are a terrific game fish when hooked on light tackle!
False albacore are most often encountered in large schools. In many cases, they are seen feeding ferociously on the surface. This visual aspect of fishing for false albacore certainly adds to the excitement! They are also found over and around structure such as reeds, wrecks, and oil rigs.
False albacore fishing tackle
Anglers fishing for false albacore will find that medium spinning tackle is the best choice in most situations. Anglers often need to cast fairly small lures at schools of feeding fish. Spinning tackle works very well in this situation. A 7′ to 7 ½’ medium rod with a fast action paired with a 4000 series reel is a good all-round combination.
Anglers can certainly use conventional tackle as well. This is most often used when chunking with cut bait around structure. Basically, conventional gear works in situations when casting is not required. Saltwater baitcasting outfits are excellent for experienced anglers, especially when casting heavier lures.
Anglers fishing for false albacore can certainly be caught by anglers fly fishing as well. In fact, when they are keyed in on tiny bait, flies can often be the most productive offering. 9 wt and 10 wt outfits with floating lines work best. A quality reel with a smooth drag and 200 yards of backing is required.
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False albacore have excellent eyesight. They also feed on small bait at times. Combine that with the fact that they are often found in very clear water and anglers face a predicament. Lighter and longer leaders will produce more strikes. However, toothy game fish such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel are often feeding alongside the albies. Light leaders can result in a lot of cut-offs and expensive lures lost.
The best approach is to go with a 3′ to 4′ length of 20 lb flourocarbon leader. There will be times when dropping down to 15 lb leader will draw more strikes. However, 20 lb is a good all round strength, unless bluefish and mackerel become too much of a nuisance.
False albacore fishing techniques
As mentioned above, anglers fishing for false albacore often pursue them when they are feeding on the surface. However, by no means does this mean that they are easy to catch! While some species such as bluefish and mackerel will stay up on the surface for a long time, false albacore often pop up for a few seconds then move on several hundred yards.
Patience will pay off when fishing for false albacore. It is better to sit quietly in a good area and wait for a productive shot than it is to tear around chasing fish every time they surface. Usually, the fish will move in a pattern and anglers can set up in front of them. Sitting on “bait balls” can also be an excellent strategy.
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False albacore are most often found in open water, fairly close to the beach. The area from a mile to twenty miles out is usually best. Rarely will false albacore move into inshore bays. In most cases it is a “find the bait, find the fish” situation. As always, birds can be a great aid in locating feeding fish.
Top false albacore fishing lures
Most anglers fishing for false albacore do so using artificial lures and flies. It really is more practical as anglers are usually casting to breaking fish. The top artificial lures include spoons, metals, jigs, and plugs. For the most part, false albacore feed on bait fish and the most effective lures imitate wounded forage.
False albacore can be extremely fussy at times. They become keyed in on a certain bait fish, and lures that do not closely imitate that bait will usually be refused. This can be a challenge when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows as most lures are larger.
Small spoons that are dense and heavy work well. The Kastmaster is a prime example. Spoons are a great choice when fish are popping up for brief periods and moving fast. They cast well and can be allowed to sink deeper into the water column as fish drop deeper. They do an excellent job of imitating small bait fish. Metals such as Crippled Herring fall into the same category.
Plugs are excellent lures for false albacore fishing. They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, making it fairly easy to “match the hatch”. These plugs have a lot of flash and an erratic action, which imitate wounded bait fish. Plugs are excellent trolling as well.
Jigs are another effective false albacore fishing lure. They are versatile and are a good choice when false albacore are lower in the water column. White is the most popular color, especially with some type of silver flash.
Fishing with live and cut bait
Anglers can certainly go fishing for false albacore with live bait. Bait fish are most often used, though false albacore will take a free lined live shrimp as well. Anglers fishing with bait fish use a cast net or Sibiki rig to catch fresh and frisky live bait. Shrimp can be purchased at local shops.
Live bait is usually free lined on a hook. Anglers simply float a live bait behind the boat, using the least amount of weight required to get the bait down and giving it a natural looking presentation. In most cases, a few split shot will get that done.
Anglers can also use fresh cut bait, especially when chumming. This is most often done when anchoring over structure. However, anglers can drift and chum as long as the wind and current are not too strong. Serious anglers will chum with live bait. This requires a lot of bait, but can be an extremely effective technique.
Where available, frozen glass minnows are used to chum false albacore as well. This is popular off of the Carolinas. Small jigs and even flies are drifted back with the chum as it disperses. This technique is used on tough days when the fish refuse to show on the surface.
Strategies for working breaking fish
As mentioned earlier, one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of fishing for false albacore is that it is often a visual experience. Novice anglers regularly make the mistake of charging around all over the place. This will occasionally pay off. However, in most cases a more patient approach works better.
The fish will be seen feeding on the surface. At times, they will stay up and in the same spot for a while. When this occurs, the boat is idled toward the fish, ideally upwind. The motor is cut and anglers cast in front of the feeding fish. A fast, erratic retrieve is generally the most productive. Hopefully, hookups ensue!
This scenario is the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, albies will pop up, feed ferociously for several seconds, then disappear only to pop up a hundred yards away and repeat the process. False albacore are very fast! This can lead to frustration by the angler. The best approach is to sit in an area where fish are feeding or moving through and wait for a good shot. That patience is usually rewarded.
Another excellent approach is to find bait balls and sit near them. These bait schools are easily spotted mid day when the sun is up in clear water. At some point, false albacore and other species will find them and attack.
Trolling for false albacore
Many anglers catch false albacore by trolling for them. This works especially well in deeper water, further offshore. In shallow, near shore waters, anglers can simply idle around, trolling small plugs and spoons. Most fish will be fairly high in the water column and the lures do not need to get down very far.
Trolling around bait balls can be very productive. Also, trolling can save the day when surface conditions are choppy and it is difficult to see or get on the fish. In deeper water, anglers use diving plugs or planers to get the lure down deeper. However, if fish are seen on the surface, flat lines will work fine.
Shrimp boats attract false albacore
Shrimp boats are false albacore magnets! They will attract tuna, king mackerel, and other species as well. The reason for this is that shrimp boats are basically chumming machines. As they sort through shrimp, smaller fish and other by-catch is shoveled overboard. This attracts the game fish.
Every area is different and anglers need to know the local protocols as far as approaching and fishing around shrimp boats. In some areas, shrimpers will sell a bucket of bait fish cheaply. It never hurts to keep a case of beer on board! Anglers usually just drift chunks of bait in with the existing chum. Anglers can use lures and flies as well. False albacore can be so thick in this situation that anglers pursuing blackfin tuna consider them a nuisance.
Fly fishing for false albacore
Many anglers who enjoy fly fishing consider false albacore to be the ultimate sport. They fight harder and make longer runs that almost any other species. They are also accessible to anglers with skiffs and smaller boats. All of the same strategies apply to fly fishing as it does to casting lures. The obvious difference is that flies will be cast instead.
Boat positioning is more important when fly fishing for false albacore. Most anglers can not cast a fly as far as a spinning rod with a heavy spoon. Also, it is very important to try and position the boat up-wind of the fish, for the same reason. All this means is that fly anglers need to be more patient.
Small bait fish patterns work well when fly fishing for these game fish. A #1 or #2 white Clouser Minnow is tough to beat. Epoxy flies such as glass minnows and surf candy are popular as well. Local fly shops will usually steer visiting anglers in the right direction. Fast, aggressive strips usually work best, but anglers should experiment is takes are tough. Sometimes no movement at all will draw a strike when nothing else will.
In conclusion, this article on fishing for false albacore will help anglers catch more of these terrific game fish!