If you’ve been wondering when the false albacore will finally show along the Long Island coast this year, they're here. The feisty little tunny have been putting in sporadic appearances for the past three weeks but are now schooling more tightly and spreading their never-ending search for baitfish to more areas.
Currently, they are showing with regularity at Montauk Point and Shinnecock Inlet. Within the next few days, it’s likely the action will spread to the North Shore and North Fork, then west to Moriches, Fire Island and Jones inlets.
The arrival of Fat Albert, as albies are affectionately known, is cause for celebration amongst local anglers, especially the surfcasting crowd. Small members of the tuna family, they rarely exceed 10 pounds in our waters but are super-fast, powerful and furious when hooked.
They can also be quite challenging to entice as they favor quick-moving but tiny lures and flies worked within inches of the surface. Locally, most anglers target them with small jigs including Hogy or Joe Baggs Epoxy Jigs, Deadly Dick tins, or soft-bodied jerk baits like Albie Snaxs. Fly-casters usually favor small epoxy minnows.
How do you draw an albie strike? Simply cast out ahead of a breaking school and retrieve as fast as possible without having the lure skip out of the water. There’s little in the way of finesse with this approach; pure speed generally triggers the take and the hook-set response results in an instantaneous run that can tear drag off the reel at a furious pace.
With such an explosive attack followed by a mad dash, connecting with these fiery predators is only part of the battle. To ultimately succeed, you’ll also need quality gear including a rod with decent backbone, a sturdy spinning reel with a smooth drag, and hooks that are exceptionally sharp.
An extra dose of patience comes in handy, too. You see, when an albie explodes on your lure and then tries to power away, the natural response is to immediately try to turn the fish back in your direction. This is especially true when novice anglers see the line on their spool vanishing at an alarming rate as fish heads down the beach or toward the nearest rip.
Veteran albie fans realize that first run, while exceptionally powerful, takes a lot out of the fish. If you can hold on and keep calm while the reel’s drag sings out, Fat Albert should eventually run out of steam.
Jeff Lomonaco of White Water Outfitters in Hampton Bays has been on the albies — along with Spanish mackerel, bluefish, bonito and some school stripers — at Shinnecock Inlet for several weeks already. He advises anglers keep casting for the speedsters if they suspect the fish are around, even if you don’t see them breaking on top.
“A lot of albie hook-ups are blind,” he said. “Just because the fish aren’t showing on the surface doesn’t mean they’ve left the area.”
Another tip from Lomonaco is that boaters should avoid racing right up the edge of a surfacing school. “False albacore are easy to spook,” he said. “If you find fish breaking, cut your engine nearby and wait for them to come to you, or for another school to surface within casting range. Driving into the middle of the mayhem is the quickest way to end the action.”