September 12, 2019 15 min read
For many fly anglers Fall means only one thing: False Albacore. With Striper numbers down and Bluefish tough on gear, False Albacore (or Albies as they commonly referred to) have become the marquee fly rod fish during the Fall run. Powerful, explosive, and finicky, these fish have everything you could want in a gamefish. They require legitimate angling skill and understanding to catch. Once hooked they offer the angler a fight well worth the time and effort expended chasing them. They get big, blitz the surface in huge numbers, and test both tackle and angler. Not to mention they are an absolutely beautiful fish. Their signature black vermiculations are backlit by emerald green that fades into silver with highlights of blue that conceal vertical stripes emphasized by subtle hues of champagne pink. It's stunning. When you get one in the sun just right, they are one of the most beautiful fish to behold.
So what does chasing Albies entail? The fish show up around the 1st of September and hang around until the end of October. As a general rule of thumb, the last week of September and the first week of October are typically the peak of the run. This two or three week window will have the highest concentrations of fish, but really from September to the end of October is our season for the Northeast. As we wrote in last week’s fishing report, they are showing up in a few places already.
The style of fishing is also a big draw for many anglers. Despite being a highly migratory, pelagic member of the tuna family, False Albacore can often be found crashing bait right on shore. They are very much a coastal fish when they migrate along the Northeast and make for a great light tackle gamefish that is easily accessible to a wide variety of anglers. As with many saltwater species, where they are on any given day depends on a wide variety of factors: bait distribution, water temperature, tide, water clarity, and wind direction are all influential. These fish can be quite difficult to locate on days when the weather is poor. Of course, on nicer days it is common to see thousands. They are known for corralling bait to the surface and slicing through the ball at blinding speeds. It is not uncommon to have them flying out of the water amid a spray of bait while the terns cackle above - an exciting and very visual style of fishing. To those seasoned Albie anglers, we don’t have to sell you on this incredible natural phenomenon. But if you have never pursued this amazing fish on the fly, all we can say is that it is one of the most exciting fish to target in the Northeast.
Getting started Albie fishing can be challenging, as there is quite a learning curve. It takes time to figure out the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of these often perplexing fish. However, when it all comes together and fish are being brought to hand, these are some of the best fishing trips of the year. Below, we’ve compiled a few things that we’ve learned over the years, some general tips and guidance to get you going. As with any fishing, there is no substitute for spending time on the water and learning the ins and outs of your particular area. But taking the information below and applying it to your existing knowledge base will hopefully help you make the most of your time on the water chasing Albies.
To have any chance of catching an Albie, you must find them first. That is pretty self explanatory, but many anglers are at a loss when just getting started. Questions like “where do I find them?” or “what should I look for?” are common questions we field here in the shop. Without going deep into the reasons why Albies have an affinity for certain areas (something you should definitely learn) here are some of our favorites that offer pretty consistent fishing during the migration.
Montauk Lighthouse, NY
Point Judith Lighthouse, RI
Watch Hill Lighthouse, RI
Greens Ledge Lighthouse, CT
Bonito Bar, MA
Monomoy Point, MA
Fishers Island, NY
Plum Gut, NY
Block Island, RI
East Beach, RI
West Wall, RI
Port Jefferson, NY
The Race, NY
Norwalk Islands, CT
Mouth of the Housatonic, CT
The common thread running through all of these locations is that they will hold bait, and in turn, False Albacore. Keep in mind these fish move quite a bit. The most consistent spot on this list has to be Montauk Lighthouse. This has been the epicenter of the Albie action for years and the rip that forms right off the lighthouse is renowned for giant schools of busting fish. These schools can at times be 50 yards long and contain hundreds of fish. It seems that the triangle from Orient Point up to Point Judith, and back down to Montauk (including Block Island and Fishers Island) is where most of the action is. Now, that is not to say it is not good on the Eastern side of Long Island or in the Western Sound. It can very good in these areas as well, but in our experience the triangle tends to have more fish that are concentrated in larger schools. This makes them much more accommodating to fly anglers. The Eastern Long Island Sound (including Groton, Niantic, Mystic and Horton Point) is also a good area to fish on the fly. If you look up all these areas on Google Maps you can get a feel for the general area that I am talking about.
As far as gear is concerned, there are few things you need to maximize your success on the water. Your fly rod is the most critical component to this whole equation. A faster action 9 or 10 wt is imperative. Often the Albies pop up and disappear very quickly. They can be up and down like that all day. It is not uncommon for you to only have one shot at the school at a time. They also have a tendency to move away from boats immediately. That means you will often have to get off one quick and accurate cast before the fish go down. A rod that can shoot far and quickly is a must. In the Fall we generally have a bit more wind and with these longer shots, an 8 wt is just too light (sure, it will work if there is no wind, but an 8 wt is also a tad light in terms of fighting the fish). Albies will fight like any other tuna, and have a tendency to go deep and circle. Having good lifting power is very important, so you will be able to get these fish in much faster with a 9 and even quicker with a 10 wt.
A heavier rod will also allow you to pick up more line faster, especially if we are using any type of sinking line. This will enable you to get in another shot if the fish stay up. If you are worried about being a bit overpowered, rest assured that even the average 5 pound Albie will keep a deep bend in that rod the entire fight. And lastly, there is the conservation angle here as well, in that Anglers fishing 8 wts will often burn the fish up and kill them. Since these fish are being released anyway using a heavier rod will increase the odds of survival. So if you had to choose one, we would generally recommend a 10 wt.
Below are rods that, in my option, are the best current Albie Sticks out there:
Having the appropriate size reel for a 9 or 10 wt line and plenty of backing seems obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of guys with like 50 yards of backing and 10 wt lines on 8 wt reels trying to get in on the Albie fishing with their Schoolie Striper setup. Have the right sized reel with at least 150 yards of backing. There is the possibility that a big False Albacore could spool you on reel with 50 yards of backing. Their first initial run is no joke and the second run can be just as long, sometimes longer. So, have enough backing and make sure all your backing knots are perfect. Double check everything before your trip. These fish are unforgiving and all connections in your system will be tested. As far as brands of reels, we have our favorites, but really all you need is something with a smooth drag and with minimal risk of accumulated wear and tear costing you an Albie. If you are fishing from shore then your reel will take more abuse from the elements and a sealed reel is much more beneficial in the long run. If you are lucky enough to be fishing from a boat then a sealed reel is not critical as long as you consistently keep up with maintenance and rinsing. We are often using light tippet for these fish so your reel doesn’t need 30 pounds of pressure. It just has to be silky smooth. That will protect your light tippet and prevent break offs.
These are the reels I would recommend for False Albacore:
There is a bit of debate surrounding fly lines. Some guys use full sinks, others use intermediate, and some like a floating line. We think there really isn’t any right or wrong here. The line depends on where you are fishing more than anything. For example, if you are fishing the rips off Monomoy then a full sink is nice to have. It will keep that fly down even when double hand retrieving. On the other hand, if you are fishing small poppers you want a floating line. We have come to the conclusion that an intermediate sinking line is the most versatile and most of our customers agree. We sell more intermediate lines for Albies than any other option and they work great (the only drawback is that you can’t really fish poppers with a sinking line obviously). Having all three would be ideal in a perfect world and having 3 set-ups would be even better, but it is not necessary at all. An intermediate line will be a great option, especially if you are starting out. They cast easier than a full sink and will allow you to fish a wide variety of flies excluding poppers.
Our favorite here at the shop is the Scientific Anglers Titan Sonar Full Intermediate Sink or Titan Sonar Triple Density in the Hover/Sink 2/Sink 3 or Intermediate/Sink 3/Sink 5. These lines cast beautifully and are punchy enough for all Albie situations. Other decent options are the Rio Outbound Short Intermediate, Rio InTouch Striper Intermediate, or Airflo Cold Salt Intermediate are all perfect lines for this type of fishing.
Terminal tackle is about as simple as it can get. A 16 lb, 7 foot, mono/nylon leader with 2 or 3 feet of 16 Fluorocarbon tippet is all you need. That is the perfect leader for early morning, late afternoon, or cloudy situations. In lower light conditions the fish are much less leader shy. They also seem to be less selective, eating a wider variety of flies. You can get away with much more when you have lower light and bigger flies, brighter flies, heavier tippet, and even shorter leaders are all acceptable. As the sun comes up however, the fish become much more selective so by 10 or 11am you should consider going with lighter tippet and smaller flies. We recommend dropping down to 14 or 12 lb test by 11am and then to 10 lb from 12pm to 4pm. Some days when there are tons of fish or if they are on larger bait like Peanut Bunker you can stay with 16 lb. But if they are on Bay Anchovies and it is a sunny day, it is advantageous to use lighter tippet. False Albacore have very good eyesight and during the middle of the day they can get extremely leader shy. However, there is a fine line between dropping down and being able to fight the fish ethically. A generally accepted rule is no lighter than 10 lb tippet. Below 10 lb you run the risk of killing a fish by fighting it for a prolonged period of time. Really all it takes is 15 minutes - any longer than that and the fish will probably die. Especially if you are taking photos or the fish is bleeding. So, we personally draw the line at 10 lb and are often reluctant to go that light if bigger fish are around.
There might be a million False Albacore flies out there - maybe even more. There are certainly millions of combinations of different colors, patterns, and sizes to choose from. But when you boil it down, there are two schools of thought: Match the Hatch vs. Attractors. The fly fishing community is basically split down the middle on this. Some anglers tie hyper-realistic, perfectly executed microbait patterns that looks more like a piece of taxidermy than it does a fly. Others go the opposite direction completely and use all sorts of colors, flash, and materials on larger flies that are not even close to what the fish are actually feeding on. Both approaches have merit and both styles catch plenty of fish. So where do you start? First off, you need to know what the fish are feeding on that particular day. And for most of the season it is one of three forage fish - Bay Anchovies, Sandeels, or Peanut Bunker. Sure there are exceptions in certain areas, such as Silversides or squid, but for the most part you can safely assume that it is one of the three. So having patterns that resemble these three baitfish is key.
Now in terms of choosing realistic or attractor flies, what has been successful for us has been using a combination of both. Having a bunch of flies, some realistic and others attractors, will give you options. We’ve found that in the morning, evening, on darker days, during cloudy conditions, or when it is a bit choppy, fish will whack larger and brighter flies. On sunny days, when it’s really calm, and when the sun is high, the opposite tends to hold true. Fish can get really picky when it is bright and will want that hyper-realistic microbait fly. So, having a little bit of everything can’t hurt. It seems like everyone has their favorite fly and here are some of ours that are readily available at most shops.
Alfs Nursery Schooler s1/0
Kure’s Rabbit Zonker s2-4
Shinecock Silverside s2-4
Bonita Bunny s2-6
Jersey Turnpike s2-6
Veverka's Albie Special s2
Popovic’s “Pop Fleye” Silverside s1-4
Popovic’s “Pop Fleye” Bay Anchovy s1-4
Popovics “Pop Fleye” Sandeel s1-4
Surf Candy s1/0
Softy Sandeel s2
These flies in a couple of different colors will work all over the Northeast. The go-to colors are olive, white, and tan. These colors imitate all of the baitfish Albies will be feeding on during that time of year and will give you a wide range of imitations to choose from. These flies are easy enough to tie and materials can be found in any good shop. If you don’t tie, they will be easy enough to find at your local shop or online. That being said, colors like pink and chartreuse are also very effective on some days. Every once in a while, the fish will refuse anything other than a bright fly, so make sure you have at least a few brighter flies in your box.
There is no fancy retrieve when it comes to Albies. Get the fly into the frothing mass of fish and strip the fly back fast. A lot of anglers swear by the double handed retrieve which is certainly effective, but I don’t think it is critical. If the fish like what you have tied on they will hit it regardless of the retrieve. I would say that as long as you keep that fly moving as fast as you can, you are in good shape. That being said, I have had fish hit the fly at a dead stop when I was letting the fly sink.
A few more miscellaneous tips about your approach. There are places where it is more of a “run and gun” fishery and others that are not. The Western Sound for example, is a fishery where the fish are a bit sparser and tend to move quite a bit versus setting up on a particular location. So, in the Western Sound you want to get right up on the fish, stop about 50 to 70 feet away and immediately kill the engines. Once the boat stops then make the cast. If you make the mistake of getting too close you will put the fish down. It seems like a lot of anglers have a tendency to get too close and put the fish down. This happens quite a bit when there are a lot of boats on one school of fish. It can get crazy. “Albie fever” takes hold and people fly into the middle of the school. Doing this will only ruin everyone's chances, including yours. The best approach it to move above the fish, kill the engines and drift silently into the school. Or let them come to you. But regardless, you do not want to get too close. 50 feet is about as close as you should get under power (with the occasional exception). Once you are in position with the engines off they will often come right to you.
Now in Montauk on the Lighthouse, running and gunning is simply not acceptable. If you are new to the scene, sit back a watch for a bit. The locals will motor upcurrent, drift down to the light (with the engines on but out of gear for safty) and allow the fish to come to them. Some drifts will have you covered up and others will be a bust. At the end of the drift, the boats will swing wide of the action and stack back in the upcurrent queue to begin another drift down. This process is repeated for the entirety of the tide. With the number of boats on the lighthouse (especially on nice days or weekends) this is the only way to safely fish. It also keeps the fish up and happy. Away from the Lighthouse it is a more “run and gun” situation, but remember that being cautious in how you approach fish makes a big difference. Also keep an eye on other boats and be safe out there. If everyone plays nice, the fish will stay up. All it takes is one guy who flies into the school to ruin it for everyone. Don't be that guy. There are plenty of fish around. Approaching these fish cautiously and being mindful of other boats increases your odd of success exponentially.
In terms of casting, only get as close to fish as you need to make the cast. If that is closer than 50 feet, practice your casting. I can’t stress that enough. And if another boat is on a school first, give them space. They have priority and running in like a banshee is poor etiquette. It will put those fish down and ruin both of your chances. Creep in slow and keep those fish up. There are plenty of Albies out there. Finding your own school is the best way to have spectacular fishing. Especially out East, there will be plenty of fish in a lot of different spots.
Weather is a key factor when it comes to False Albacore. Conditions will dictate where the fish are, how many fish are up and feeding, and the distribution of bait. Late September and October can get pretty nasty with cold fronts continuously moving through. Planning your fishing around those periods of ideal weather will keep those rods bent. Staying off the water when it gets nasty gives you time to tie flies and prepare for the next trip. What most anglers tend to focus on is avoiding a West or East Wind. An East wind generates waves with an obstructed fetch along the entire Northeastern Coast, which will oppose the falling tide. This will make things really choppy out there. A West wind is not great either, but Long Island will shield most of the Sound and Northern Connecticut. You will still have choppy and confused conditions as the Westerly opposes the rising tide, but the effects tend to be a bit less severe. If you can get in the lee fishing can still be alright. So, why is chop bad? What these conditions typically do is keep the bait down and scattered. There are a lot of different reasons for this, but basically it boils down to the fact that the fish are unable to corral the bait up to the surface. Without the fish blowing up on bait on the surface it’s very difficult to locate them. I am sure they still feed down below, but it is essentially an exercise in futility trying to get one on the fly when you have no visual cues indicating where the fish are.
In Long Island Sound, an East or West wind will also increase turbidity. False Albacore are very visual feeders, relying solely on their eyesight as they attack bait. The bait that they are focused on in the Fall is quite small and when the water gets turbid, they just can’t see it - especially if it is down deep and spread out. Fishing really shuts down in the Sound during these conditions though this seems to be less of a problem out East (the water tends to not get nearly as turbid, so the fish can still see and corral the bait). For that reason, if the conditions are marginal, it is best to head East - Niantic, Watch Hill, Montauk, anything out there. You have a much better shot at finding happy feeding fish than you would in the Sound. If we have a maximum gust of 8 knots or less then wind direction is not as critical. If the wind is sustained at 8 knots or better then it’s time to head East. A South or, even better, a North wind at 4 knots is ideal. A slight breeze will keep an unconfused chop on the water and make it a bit easier to creep in on the fish. Even if the wind speed picks up, the wind direction will not oppose any tides keeping it relatively calm out there. This will also be conducive for rips to form, bait to ball up, and fish to see the bait by keeping the turbidity down. All of this adds up to great fishing. Not to mention it will be much easier to spot fish at a distance. So, keep all of this in mind. East and West winds are bad when they are greater than 8 knots. North and South winds are ideal. And head to Easterly locations when it is marginal. Paying attention to weather will greatly improve your chances of success.
So there it is. That’s the down and dirty on fly fishing for False Albacore. Hopefully you can take away something from this that will improve your fishing this coming season. If you pay attention to the weather and make the necessary preparations, there is a good chance you will have a great Fall. Be respectful of other anglers and do your best to release the fish in the best possible condition. If you have any other questions feel free to reach out to us at the shop. Good luck out there!
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