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Shooting the Suds, Albies on the Fly
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

hen it's Fall at the Jersey Shore and most of the crowds have left and gone home. The air is crisp, clean, and permeated with the aroma of wood burning stoves. Children are playing in the fallen leaves and a distant roar of excited football fans can be heard as the hometown hero dashes into the end zone. A secluded trout angler flyfishing in a babbling brook paints a picture of solitude and tranquility. The flyrodder delights in ten to fifteen-inch rainbow and brown trout coming to net. This is a bit of New Jersey's autumnal bliss and this scene can be found in any of her many counties.

But visualize now not ten to fifteen inch fish but ten to fifteen pound fish on the flyrod. This is saltwater flyfishing in New Jersey in the fall. The opportunities abound for the fly fisherman to do battle with bluefish, weakfish, striped bass and our prized trophy the false albacore.

The false albacore has for many reasons replaced the allure of hooking into a burly linesider for most flyrodders when late September and October rolls around. These pelagic speedsters can quickly strip two hundred yards of line in a reel-screeching, arm wrenching, lightening fast run. Add to this the visual component of being able to see your quarry before the strike and your adrenaline levels will surge to a boil. Commonly referred to as the "Little Tunny" there is nothing diminutive about them when it comes to their robust fighting ability. And doing it all on the flyrod will only magnify this gratifying sensation especially when it is in the surf.

Jim Freda with client Alan SandfeltBut not all surf flyrodders are successful when it comes to hooking into the hard tails. It can be very frustrating to see these fish, strip right through them, and draw no strikes. Many anglers walk away with an initial impression that these fish are very difficult to catch. Equally as demoralizing is to have a big school of fish cruise right by you before you have a chance to shoot a cast. So were does the landlocked long rodder go and what methods does he use to hit these fish with some consistency.

Where to Go and When: In central New Jersey one place to be is at Island Beach State Park's North Jetty. From the middle of September until the end of October false albacore can be caught along both sides of this lengthy rock pile. Since Barnegat Bay empties into the ocean at this landmark you will find that both the ocean and the inlet will hold vast amounts of bay anchovies. This bait is drawn by the currents on one side and trapped by the rips and the jetty on the other. These are ideal conditions for voracious advantage seeking albies.

There will be days when the albies will literally stay along the jetty for hours ambushing these tasty morsels. You will see the albies circling from the ocean to along the sides of the rocks and into the inlet and then back again as they corral the bait. These fish will gouge themselves gluttonously until they head for deeper waters later in the day retreating as their name would have it-Fat Albert.

What to Expect: Your typical false albacore will average in the five to eight pound class but larger fish upwards to thirteen pounds are not uncommon. Even so these smaller football shaped torpedoes will blast off and end up at or near the first buoy can on their initial run. At times hundreds of fish can be seen on the surface putting on an aerial display of parabolic flight. Along with these an equal number of subsurface fish submarine the bait schools from below.

Expect to find a abundance of long rodders along with the fish on the jetty. At this time of year flyrodding is more the norm than the exception. More hook-ups will come by way of the fly than your more traditional heavy hardware or metal. Since albacore have very keen eyesight the flyrodder is at an advantage to match the hatch.

What to Use: Your first consideration should be the flyrod and reel that you will be using. With the right fly these fish can be caught on any weight rod but landing them is another story. Equipping yourself with an eleven-weight rod and large diameter reel is the way to go. The eleven-weight rod will provide more of a backbone in the butt section to deliver the necessary power and leverage to subdue the fish quickly. Nine and ten weight rods will land these fish but if the albie is on the large or fat side the fish will be near exhaustion when it comes to the rocks. Since the blood red meat of the albie makes it inedible is best to land these fish as quickly as possible to increase their chances of survival.

Your reel should be a high-end disc drag reel with a large diameter spool. It should have the capacity to hold three hundred yards of thirty pound backing. When it comes to albies more backing is better and safer. If one of those fat alberts is in the teens and hits your fly, believe me you'll be thankful for the reserve. The added backing will also help to retrieve more line with each turn of the reel.

I have caught albies on floating, intermediate, and even sinking lines. This is because for every albie you see on the surface there is an equal number or even more below. Most flyrodders will opt for a clear intermediate sink rate line to cover effectively the water column from top to bottom. When it comes to your leader a good quality fluorocarbon tippet is a must. Since albies have very keen eyesight you will notice a marked increase in your hook-ups when you switch from hard mono to fluorocarbon. Many times the lack of hook-ups can be attributed to this one missing piece when everything else is done correctly. Since the refractive index of fluorocarbon is almost identical to that of water it will become virtually invisible. Twelve-pound test fluorocarbon is ideal. The use of a clear fly line also gives you an added advantage.

False albacore will hit a selection of different types of flies. Since they can feed on anything from crustaceans, sandeels, juvenile fish, and tiny baitfish it will be best to match the forage in the area. At this time of year the predominant bait at the Island will be bay anchovies. Flies should be on the small side and be dressed with white bellies and flash. Green, blue, grey, blonde, white, root beer, and even purple body colors are effective. Clousers, surf candies, cone heads, glitter head epoxies, and bunny flies, will all produce fish.

How to do It: A properly set drag before hand will be one key to your success and is something you will learn how to set as you develop a feel for catching albies. A drag that is set too tight will result in a break-off and one that is to loose will send the albie screaming away with your entire line. For the most part shoot your line out from the rocks as far as you can. Your retrieve is the key to hooking-up. Employ what we refer to as a super strip. This would be a hand over hand retrieve stripping the line into your basket as fast as possible. This type of retrieve will account for most of your strikes. If it is not working try a few quick jerks and long strips with a slight pause. Experiment at different depth levels with your retrieve.

A certain level of frustration can develop when albie fishing because these fish are not always easy to catch. You could be stripping right through a good size school and no hook-ups may result. The albies can be highly selective at times. The other factor that also comes into play here is that the albacore is a very fast moving fish. Its crescent shaped hard tail is designed for speed and acceleration. It is not designed for turning. An albie will not turn on your fly like a bass or blue will. At such fast speeds it is next to impossible for the fish to do this. Therefore your fly will need to be right in front of the fish's mouth for a strike to occur.

One of the biggest mistakes a flyrodder will make on a first time hook-up will be to try to put the breaks on a runaway albie. Do nothing except hold on after it blasts off. Enjoy the exhilaration of the run for this is the moment you have been waiting for. Once the albie stops a stalemate will ensue as your rod pulsates in your hand if the fish is on the large side. Try to reel down on the fish gaining back line. Be ready for a second run and just hold on again when it happens. As the fish becomes exhausted you will be able to bring the fish to the rocks. As you maneuver to a flat landing point reach down and grab the fish by its falcate tail. Its hard crescent shape will make for an ideal place to grab a hold of the fish. Remove your hook, snap a kodak moment, and quickly shoot the albie back into the water headfirst. This will cause water to flush through its gills usually reviving it. Now check your fly, load up your rod, and get ready for another mid-Atlantic express. End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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