Outdoor Articles

The Skinny on Fat Alberts

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in Saltwater Fishing

The Skinny on Fat Alberts

New Jersey is blessed with some of the best surf fishing anywhere, with more species found in the waters there than are found in most other parts of the country. Of all the gamefish found in the New Jersey surf, none is more challenging to catch than the false albacore.

As frustrating as it is to catch false albacore in the surf, fishermen accept the formidable task because they know that if they succeed, the thrill will be worth the effort expended.

If you catch one false albacore, you will be addicted to repeating the experience. False albacore – also known as little tunny and Fat Alberts – are a member of the mackerel family, even though they resemble many small tuna species – like Atlantic bonito and skipjack.

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They are a schooling species that migrates northward, usually well offshore, in the spring and southward along the shoreline in the fall.

Although false albacore rarely exceed 15 pounds, they always fight like much larger fish. The majority of these southern speedsters caught in the surf average four to 10 pounds. If you’ve never seen a false albacore, they have a tuna profile and tail. Their bodies have a bluish dorsal surface and a silver belly. The posterior portion of their backs is marked with wavy stripes and they have several black, irregular blotches below the pectoral fin.

Their muscular bodies enable them to swim incredibly fast. This skill, coupled with discerning eyesight, makes them efficient but fussy feeders.

Warm water and large schools of bait draw albacore into the late summer surf where they use their blinding speed to feed on migrating schools of peanut bunker, bay anchovies, sand eels, and spearing to fuel their energy needs. They prefer these small baits that can be swallowed whole since they lack cutting teeth.

Labor Day signals the beginning of the false albacore run. They can be caught anytime after this date until the end of October (when bait availability dwingles and the ocean begins to cool down).

At the beginning of the surf run, more false albacore are seen than caught because they tend to be particularly cautious feeders when they first arrive. Many of their early surf appearances are in the form of spectacular leaps out of the water while in hot pursuit of fleeing baitfish.

The extraordinary eyesight of false albacore makes them a species that is exceptionally wary of any kinds of lures. As the run progresses and the energy needs required for their migration become more pronounced, they become more numberous and somewhat bolder in their feeding habits.

Although boat fishermen catch false albacore offshore on bait and lures, they are taken exclusively on metal lures in the surf. The most attractive lures are those with small profiles and finishes resembling the baitfish that albacore normally feed on.

Lures with proven reputations against surf albacore include the Gibbs Minnow (Gibbs/Nortac); Crippled Herring (Luhr Jensen); Slab Spoon (Bomber); Shag-N-Shad (Atom); Mann-O-Lure (Mann’s Bait Company); Deadly Dick (Deadly Dick Classic Lures); Bullet (Yankee Lures); Slammer Jig (Braid); and A17 diamond jig. Most accomplished albacore anglers agree that blue/chrome and plain chrome finishes produce the most albacore strikes.

Fat Alberts use their keen vision to closely scan any prospective meal so lures must be presented in the most natural way. Direct-tie lues – those designed to be tied directly to your line – help to present convincing illusions to these cautious feeders. The use of snaps, swivels, shock leaders, heavy line, and other hardware are almost always counter-productive.

Another important element in an effective presentation of lures to false albacore is to use thin, clear line that cannot be easily seen. Fluorocarbon line and shock leaders are virtually invisible underwater.

Setting your reel’s drag correctly is another critical element in being able to successfully fight a false albacore. Adjust your drag loosely enough so the fish can make their spectacular runs without breaking your line, but tightly enough so they pay a price in the energy they consume in doing so.

In addition to the other elements of your presentation package, you need a rod/reel combo capable of making long casts and fast retrieves. Two surf rods that make great delivery systems are the 9-foot Team Daiwa-S 902MRS and the 10-foot St. Croix Premier Surf PSRS100M2. My combo choices for these rods are Daiwa’s Capricorn 4000 (4.9:1 gear ratio) and St. Croix’s Avid AS3500 (4.9:1 gear ratio) spinning reels. Together, these rods and reels can launch lures great distances and retrieve them at high speed while also having the muscle to successfully fight any fish.

With the gear that I use, I’m able to use lures as light as 1.5 ounces for most of my albacore fishing. I get the distance I desire as well as the ability to present the smallest possible profiles to fish that normally feed on small baitfish. When casting into onshore winds, I often switch over to 2-ounce versions of my favorite lures to get greater distance from my casts.

Once the false albacore run has started, you’ll find them feeding along our entire shoreline wherever abundant bait is found. Inlets are especially productive areas where albacore wait as the tide flushes vast amounts of bait seaward to them on each outgoing tide.

Dawn and dusk are the optimum times to power cast for false albacore. Their ordinarily sharp eyesight cannot function as effectively in the lower light leels present at those times, giving an advantage to anglers.

Nearly all the false albacore I catch every year are hooked blind: when there is no bird action or any visible signs of fish feeding in the vicinity. I don’t move around a lot because the fish eventually come to me. Random casting-and-retrieving is a laborious but effective technique that eventually triggers strikes.

The more water you can cover with your lures and the more speed you can add to your retrieves increase your odds for a hook-up. Keep changing lures and varying your retrieve rate until you find the combination that triggers a response.

False albacore are noted for their explosive strikes and impressive initial runs. While the strength of this species is simply incredible, they cannot sustain the tremendous bursts of energy they expend when hooked for very long.

After their initial run, expect at least a couple more mini-spurts of energy before their strength begins to fade. Wait until you sense that they’re tired before you try to land them, and hope that they get tired before you do.

One reason false albacore are becoming so numerous in that there is little or no commercial fishery in our country directed at the species because they are not well regarded as food fish. For this reason, practice catch-and-release with these southern speedsters so that they can live to fight another day.

Fooling a false albacore into striking a lure is a tremendous challenge to surfcasters. The thrill and excitement associated with the fight is what surf fishing is all about.

Anglers who hook their first albacore become addicted to repeating the experience.

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