Sunday, October 14, 2012

Little Tunny

Just as I'll always remember the first little tunny I ever caught back in 2009, I'll never forget my first one on the fly rod either. During a marathon day last fall, two seasoned anglers reintroduced me to the insanely addicting tug of false albacore. This year they were determined to get me out again under more favorable circumstances and I was hellbent on landing one on the fly. A few weeks ago, as the bite picked up in the waning days of summer, it was time for round two. 

On a crisp Monday morning, the three of us launched in Blaine's boat from Niantic and made a beeline eastward under a brightening sky. It didn't take long to find the telltale signs of false albacore feeding on small bait tight to shore. We were treated to quick glimpses of their green backs arching out of the water like porpoises. Unfortunately, gorging albies doesn't always translate into tight lines. They can become so dialed in on a specific food item like bay anchovies that anything but the real thing can go neglected. Downsizing offerings and tying them on light fluorocarbon lines can help, but it's far from a guarantee as we eventually accepted before moving to find less finicky fish.

Next we motored out to the waters around Fisher's Island and started making long drifts in rip currents adjacent to the island. Small pods of little tunny were popping up here and there, but never in the same place twice. They were up and down so fast that we only had one shot per encounter if a well-placed cast was made. Heavier offerings like Deadly Dicks, Shimano Waxwings and Sebile Magic Swimmers were able to reach fish busting on the far outskirts of the rip, while lighter, more erratic soft-plastic baits like Albie Snax and Zoom Super Flukes worked wonders when they were close to the boat. It's nice having a half dozen fishing rods on the boat, all rigged with a slightly different offering, to help figure out what the albies wanted most.
We caught more false albacore in that first hour on the water than we did during the entire trip last year. It was not what one would consider a hot and heavy bite, but we came across surfacing fish at nearly every spot we visited. Like the little tunny, we did a lot of moving around that day, eventually putting over 100 miles on the boat by day's end!  

(Photo credit: Blaine Anderson)

(Photo credit: Blaine Anderson)
(Photo credit: Blaine Anderson)

Every time we cut the engine and drifted close enough to a patch of boiling water, I reached for the long rod and tried like hell to place a fly into the melee. I am far from Lefty Kreh when it comes to casting a fly line, but it's not just about distance in this game, accuracy is important too. I had to guess what direction the albies were moving and attempt to lead the fish with my fly. Many times frustration ensued and I picked up the spinning rod again and joined my partners in the feeding frenzy. After a while of that, I stopped reaching for the crutch.

At the very last stop of the day, we were greeted by hundreds of fish smacking bait on the surface with birds working overhead. The problem was that the vast majority of them were bluefish around two pounds each. Every so often, you could make out the more pronounced splash of an albie mixed in, but getting to them before being whacked by a bluefish was difficult. I sacrificed several flies to their sharp teeth before coming tight with my prize. There was no mistaking what I had hooked, as it ripped line of my reel at a dizzying rate and had me into the oh shit! backing in seconds. It was a long fight, much longer than it took to wear them out on spinning gear, and at times it felt like my rod could snap as the albie bulldogged towards bottom under the boat. 

The most dangerous part of the fight came near its end, when I reeled my long leader through the guides of the rod. Another run could have spelled trouble at this point, but Andrew tail-grabbed it perfectly. I clenched the rod in my teeth and cradled the still-pulsating fish in my hands before firing it like a dart back into the water. I'm sure little tunny are fun to fight no matter what tackle you choose to catch them on, but battling one on the fly rod was the ultimate sense of accomplishment for me. It was something I am still proud of and will be for a long time to come.

(Photo credit: Blaine Anderson)
(Photo credit: Blaine Anderson)

It's not hard to comprehend the fascination that certain anglers in the Northeast have with these speedsters. For a fish that makes poor table fare and rarely surpasses 20-pounds, it's the false albacore's amazing fighting abilities, coupled with their brief stay here each year, that has earned them their popular reputation. As soon as an albie realizes it's hooked, an unearthly power is exerted from its aerodynamic body and a hard tuna tail propels it through the water at torpedo-like speeds. If you ever want to test the drag of a fishing reel, this is a good candidate for the job. They are a fish purely unmatched in speed and strength for its size. 


  1. Kierran: Congrats on the fly caught albie. I've been lucky enough to have caught quite a few on the fly. I've even hooked two from shore, Harkness Memorial Park and the mouth of the Niantic River.