False Albacore Feeding Habits
Among the scientific community, little research exists on the false albacore. For this reason, it’s important to consider anatomical design and feedings habits to identify useful characteristics. Albies commonly range between eight and fifteen pounds (the U.S. world record is 36 pounds). They grow quickly, but are believed to live about five years.
Their straight digestive tract and lack of swim bladder means that albies must continually swim, despite quickly digesting food. Their diet consists of bait fish, squid, and occasionally crustaceans. They are schooling fish, and typically feed by trapping bait fish in an area near the water surface.
When nightfall approaches, they will move to deeper waters. I have never heard a confirmed account of this species being caught via hook after dark, though one method used for research involved netting them in the night. Their eyesight does not adapt well to darkness, which explains why they must work so hard to feed during the day.
False albacore caught using a 2oz. epoxy jig
False Albacore Migration Habits
During colder months, false albacore reside in deeper Atlantic waters. When the south east winds blow in May, albies are more common in Florida. By late June, albies can be found offshore along the Atlantic coast, twenty to forty miles out. While they are not uncommon from Virginia to Delaware, New Jersey is where they begin to really show up in size and number. I can only speculate that when summer temperatures begin to drop, small bait fish move out of coastal estuaries to warmer waters; combined with winds from the south east, the false albacore have an easy opportunity to trap bait fish – it’s the perfect storm. In New Jersey, August is when the action begins. In my home state of Massachusetts, the beginning of September is when “albie fever” kicks in. With fluctuating warm & cold weather and sunny skies, the bite continues sometimes until November, when they reside into the depths of the Atlantic once again.
Gear to Catch False Albacore
False albacore can be caught both inshore and offshore during daylight hours. A seven or eight foot medium-fast rod and reel (preferably with a higher retrieve speed) is par for the course. I would also recommend twelve to twenty pound braid, direct tied to a three to six foot leader of the same strength. You can drift or float live/dead bait; though most prefer using epoxy jigs (flutter jigs) or spoons ¼-3oz. Hollow-bodied swimmers are also favored, such as the SP Minnow or Hayward Pickle. What fisherman can resist a big fight on lightweight tackle! When using a fly rod, I recommend surface flies or poppers of bright color, and preferably some flash.
Epoxy jigs handmade by Brian McCarty
How to Catch False Albacore
Finding the right location can be a challenge, and even then, having personal space to fish can be a challenge – groups of false albacore feeding at the surface tend to draw a crowd. Areas worth trying are jetties, estuary outlets, points, or coves than would make it easy for baitfish to get trapped. In personal observation, I have noticed that schools of albies tend to make large circles of an area throughout the daytime.
When the pack gets close, you may only have one or two casts because they move fast. They will most likely come back, so I would not encourage shore fishermen to relocate. It’s important to lead your casts rather than cast into the school, as this may detour their feeding. Your drag should be set tight so that you are barely able to hand-pull line. This is important, as you want enough tension to allow the fish to run, but not enough that you risk having it spit the hook loose.
You should try to present your lure near or on-top of the water. Since most people use metal jigs, it can be quite easy to exhaust yourself by retrieving at high-speed. Again, it’s not important to retrieve fast, but merely keep your offering near the top or subsurface. Retrieve your jig with the rod pointed down toward the water, with a periodic twitching motion.
When you feel an albie strike your jig or lure, a quick hookset and constant tension is important. False albacore tend to take line, followed by a run in your direction. I would be willing to bet that this species spits out more hooks than most others, and this type of defeat can be painful after all of your invested time and effort!