Most albies that hit Long Island Sound are between 3 and 8 pounds, with some larger 10-pound-plus fish caught each season.
When the days start to get a little shorter, the mornings a tad colder, and the air leaves a crisp taste in your mouth, it only can mean one thing—Albie Season! False albacore are here, and more are on the way.
False albacore, better known as albies, are part of the mackerel family. For New Englanders who do not venture offshore, these little speed demons bring a taste of tuna fishing close to the coast. Every fall in Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, we have a migratory run of stripers, bluefish, and bonito, but the only fish that makes my blood boil are albies.
An albie is the ultimate light-tackle gamefish. Its body resembles a small rocket, which gives it the crown as the fastest fish in Long Island Sound. An albie can exceed speeds of 40 miles per hour, and it has the agility to stop on a dime and change direction so fast that an angler hooked into one thinks he’s lost the fish.
I caught my first albie more than 25 years ago, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was late August, and my father and I had been out earlier in the week catching nothing but a few fluke and a small bluefish. We were geared up for fluke fishing, but we were prepared with topwater gear. As we exited the channel under the Four Mile Marina bridge, I looked out at the North Brother and could see birds for miles. When we motored up to the school of blitzing fish, it was the most intense one I had ever seen. There was white water everywhere, with peanut bunker and silversides jumping sky high out of the water. At first, we couldn’t tell what type of fish was creating such a crazy scene, so we started casting big poppers and Kastmasters into the school. We made perfect casts into the middle of the school, but nothing was hitting our baits.
After about 15 minutes of chasing and casting, a friend from our marina motored over to us and yelled, “You’re never going to catch them!”
My dad yelled back, “What are they?”
This was the first time I had ever heard of the fish. My father knew of them, but he’d never seen or targeted them. He’d heard they were finicky, so he knew we would be lucky to get one. I was determined, and I told dad we weren’t leaving until we caught at least one.
We rifled through our tackle box, trying every lure we had, fresh or salt. Finally, after a few hours of casting, I tied on a Deadly Dick, tossed it into the school, and it got smashed. Before I could even say “I’m on,” line was peeling off my reel. I looked at my father and neither of us could believe the run this fish was taking.
After that first run, the line went limp. I was devastated, thinking I’d lost the fish. I started reeling in the line and suddenly the line started ripping out again. I said to my dad, “I’m on again! I got hit by another!” Next thing I knew, the line went slack again and I couldn’t believe I’d lost the fish. I put my head down, slowly reeling in the line. My dad then realized that the line was still moving and coming right at the boat very quickly. The fight was back on! It was then that I realized these fish could swim faster than I could reel, meaning I really needed to stay on them.
After a 4- or 5-minute fight, I finally got the fish in. It was bright silver with green, yellow, and blue hues. Dad tied on a Deadly Dick, and he quickly caught an albie himself. We picked away at them for the rest of the day, and we were both hooked.
Over the next few weeks my father, brother, and I all had albie fever. All we could think about was catching albies, albies, and more albies. During those weeks, we observed that fly fishermen were really dialed in on these fish because they were able to match the hatch much better. None of us fly-fished at the time, but a friend of ours began using a snapper popper ahead of a fly to be able to match the hatch while casting far enough with spinning gear. This was a game-changer for us, and our catch rates went from 2 to 3 fish a day, to landing 8 to 10 fish each.
If you have ever chased false albacore, you know they are some of the most highly addictive fish out there. Albie fishing causes anglers to act erratically, in some cases blowing off work to chase them. Some anglers might even lose their jobs over these fish.
I, for example, lost my first real job due to albies. It was the summer right after I graduated from college. I had spent the entire summer looking for work and finally got one as a healthcare recruiter. My first week on the job went great. I showed up 15 minutes early each day, ate my lunch at my desk to make sure I was always available, and did the job to the very best of my abilities. Over the weekend, I went fishing and found a motherlode of albies. I fished them hard for 12 hours each day, catching them until I ran out of hooks or soft plastics. But I still wanted more!
My second week on the job was less productive than the first. On that Monday, I woke up, got dressed for work, and out the door I went. Little did my parents know that I had my Yankee shirt, shorts, and sunglasses in the car, and had already called out of work, saying that I was sick. I did this for three days straight, and on the fourth day, when I finally back to work, my boss asked me to come into his office.
“So, Joe, you feeling any better?”
I replied, “Yes, much better. It was nice to lay low and recoup, but I am ready to get to work.”
“You must have been pretty sick to have been out for three days straight. Just curious though, how did you get that sunglasses tan when you were sick and in the house?”
Before I could reply, my boss said, “Joe, I am sorry, but I don’t think this position is a good fit anymore.” I thanked him for the opportunity, walked out, and the next day, I was albie fishing. To this day, my parents think I got fired for no good reason. Sorry, Mom and Dad!
Part of what drives albie addicts to madness is the finicky nature of these fish. Sometimes, you can be doing everything right, but they won’t bite. Sometimes, albies vanish without a trace. One second 50 albies are going absolutely nuts in front of you, and then the next moment they are gone—never to be seen again.
In 2019, I had one of my best albie trips ever when my clients caught close to 80 albies in 7 hours. The fish ate anything and everything that came in front of them. The next day, we had a strong north blow, and the albies didn’t return to that area for the rest of the season.
Tips for Albie Fishing
Go Light and Long for Leaders
Growing up, Dad and I sometimes used straight braid to our Deadly Dicks or soft plastics. We caught fish this way, but it wasn’t until my buddy, Christian, came on the boat and showed us how important a light and long leader was to fooling albies. That day, I struggled to get a few bites, but Christian was crushing them every cast. He was up probably 8 or 9 fish on me, so I asked him what he was doing differently. We both had 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders, white Albie Snax, and were working them at a very similar speed. The one difference: Christian was using a 5-foot leader compared to my 2-foot leader. As soon as I put a longer leader on, I started catching albies at the same pace.
Typically, I use a 15- to 20-pound leader when the fish are not being picky, but when my lures are being refused over and over again, I go down to a 10- or 12-pound leader. Yes, you will lose some fish due to chafing, but I’d rather get risk losing fish than not get hit at all.
Upon seeing a school of blitzing albies, the first impulse is to reach the fish as quickly as possible. Most fishermen motor up to them as fast as possible in hopes of getting one or two good casts at them. While this does work when you really need that one fish, it is not my preferred approach.
I have had better success watching the school to see what they are doing and try to either get ahead of them or set up a drift that allows me to intersect with them. This allows me to be much stealthier and get multiple casts off instead of one or two before they sound.
Albies tend to move in big circles as they switch from one bait ball to the next. You can see them hitting one pod, then another, and another before they reach the original pod they were blitzing on. If you can figure out the pattern, you can set yourself up in the best position to cut them off and catch even more fish.
Match the Hatch
Unlike stripers and bluefish, blitzing albies won’t eat just anything thrown in front of them. With albies, you need to match the hatch. The best time for targeting these fish is when they are on a larger bait like big peanut bunker and larger silversides; you won’t need to throw small stuff.
When albies are on small bait, like bay anchovies, peanut bunker, and sand eels, they can become super finicky and next to impossible to catch. In these situations, you have to make sure your casts are dead-on and right in front of their faces so they’ll eat your offering.
Find the Right Retrieve
When fishing for albies, make sure you are presenting your offering with a fast retrieve. A striper is an opportunistic fish that doesn’t necessarily want to work hard to get its food. Bluefish seem to like a medium-fast retrieve. Albies, on the other hand, lose interest if the lures aren’t approaching Mach 5.
I ensure I work my lures fast. With a Mariastyle jigs, like the JoeBaggs Resin Jig, I work it a few different ways. I do a straight, fast retrieve with the rod tip just high enou
The Shimano Colt Sniper is another very effective bait for albies. I work it super-fast on a straight retrieve. Since this lure is a bit heavier than most other baits, it can cast extremely far and get to those albies that are out of reach of your other baits. I vertically jig this lure when albies are under the surface. I drop the Colt Sniper to the bottom and do a straight, fast retrieve up to the surface. This can be a very effective method when you know there are albies around, but they aren’t showing themselves.
Lastly, I love my soft plastics when fishing for albies. I use weightless Albie Snax and Zoom Super Flukes. With these baits, you don’t want to rip them across the surface as fast as jigs. Instead, move them fast enough to make them skip out of the water. When fishing an Albie Snax or a Zoom Super Fluke, use a medium to medium-fast retrieve and keep your rod up and twitching very slightly to get that bait to jump out of the water. This drives albies absolutely nuts.
There are a few different situations that I look for when chasing albies. The first one is bait! If you find bait from early September through late October, you are likely to find albies. They are always on the feed.
Structure is next. Rips are great areas for albies because they set up on them and use the rocks below to trap bait and drive it to the surface. The current doesn’t have to be a super-fast-moving rip or slow-moving rip. Any area where there are rocks and the fish can drive the bait up to the surface is all that matters.
Beaches are another great area to find albies. Typically, beaches are loaded with bait and albies can push it to the shore, where they ambush an easy meal.
Lastly, warm water outflows are also possibilities for finding albies, especially in the later part of the season when the water is getting colder. Albies love hot water, they love bait, and they love moving water. Warm water outflows have all of these key attractants and can hold albies until the last part of the season.
With all types of fishing, there is etiquette that an angler should follow when fishing for albies. Unless you find a school all to yourself, remember that there are other fishermen out there trying to catch them too. Don’t run full speed into a school of fish that other boats are already working. At best, you’ll only get a single cast into the fish. More often, you’ll put them down and ruin the fishing for everyone. You’ll have better luck by anticipating where the fish will be and positioning your boat to intercept them. This gives you the opportunity to get the best cast off at these fish while showing courtesy and respect to the other fishermen, who will then be more likely to return the favor.
If you are fishing a rip, don’t drive through it to where the school is blowing up. Instead, go around the school and drift into it. This will also keep those fish in the same area and give you and the other fishermen around you more chances to catch them.
Finally, one of the most important tips that I can offer is to turn off your motor. I don’t care if you have the quietest engine in the business, sound travels much further and louder underwater than it does above water. These fish know what a motor sounds like, so I can assure you that by turning off your engine, you are going to find more fish willing to bite.
Over the next month, you will see the days become shorter, the air get cooler, and the humidity lessen. For me, this all culminates in one thing: albies are coming and it is by far my favorite time of the year.