A Look Back: Albies In 2023 - The Fisherman

A Look Back: Albies In 2023

Capt. Pete Romano of Rising Tide Fishing with a solid 2023 albie.

Four anglers share their 2023 albie experiences.

Ah, albie season… one of the biggest sources obsession for so many light tackle anglers in the Northeast. It’s really a trendy fishery, and with many new anglers coming into the game it can be hard to parse well-experienced knowledge from new-found excitement. This rings especially true with what each angler thinks a season was like. We don’t all have the same idea of what constitutes a good albie year. My own criteria are very specific: it needs to feature prolonged, widespread fishing for most of southern New England, whether that be good spells in each area or a season-long (or close to) bite in spots stretching from Monomoy to the Norwalk Islands or even further.

If the season is only good in one area, it may get anglers who don’t need to travel fired up but leaves others wanting. It also concentrates the pressure when the phone game gets going and those that can travel pile into the one zone that has fish. You just can’t rate it a ‘great’ season if only the obsessive hardtail chasers are catching. A good season features enough fish in enough places for everyone to get in on a bit of the action, including weekend warriors and anglers like myself who usually target false albacore as an aside to striper fishing.

On a scale of 0 to 10, then, a 0 is a year where they don’t show at all for most or all of New England (and that has happened), and a 10 is a year where everyone gets to get in on fishing close to home for a good stretch of time whether they are stuck on shore or have boat access. In the middle, a 5 is a year where a few parts of the coast see great fishing but others are left wondering where the fish are.

Reece McDowell called 2023 below average overall for albies in Rhode Island, but there were some bright spots.

Albie Aspects

The conditional factors that make a great albie season are much contested. Fishermen are prone to theorizing what makes fish tick. Stand around a busy tackle shop in the early season and one is likely to hear ideas that sound like crackpot sorcery mixed in with full blown scientific dissertations. I myself spent much of the summer of 2023 telling anyone that would listen why it was going to be a terrible albie season. Southern New England was getting biblical amounts of rain, and in the past I’d noted that generally; the drier the year, the better the albie run. This does stand up to logic: being very pelagic and oceanic fish, albies prefer higher salinity. Heavy rains also usually have an impact on the bait abundance and contribute to turbidity and pollution. I was wrong, as 2023 ended up being quite good, but only partly wrong as the areas around certain larger river mouths did see much less consistent fishing.

Other anglers believe that albie fishing is cyclical, peaking on a 4- or 5-year timeframe; building gradually from a low or no show year to one or two epic years then abruptly dropping back to poor again. Given the fact that false albacore have only been targetable in the Northeast for about 35 years and there is no standardized assessment on the quality of every season, the jury is still out on that. Others suggest that a big offshore storm is needed to push them in, and indeed some years a hurricane out in the Atlantic does seem to coincide with the first big push of albies. But some years don’t follow that model. Really, none of us know, but it is fun to try to decipher it. What is definitely true is that there needs to be a lot of small bait around for good albie fishing, and 2023 certainly had that in many areas with huge clouds of both bay and striped anchovies, both favorites of the funny fish.

A wolf pack of albies chasing bait off of Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

Home Turf

To fully break down the 2023 season, I’ll start with my own observations. Fishing for albies mostly from New Haven to Point Judith, I cover sort of a quarter of the southern New England hardtail territory. The fly rod is my tool of choice. The fish showed early island Rhode Island and Block Island, at first as modest numbers mixed in with bonito in August, then with larger numbers hitting the popular shore spots going into September around the same time as they pushed into Long Island Sound. The numbers and spread were good, though the area west of Hatchets Point to New Haven saw few fish near shore. Some big schools were out a few miles ram-feeding on small bait, but it seems the freshwater plume from the Connecticut River probably did have some negative effect.

Further east though, around Fishers Island and the eastern Sound shoreline, the fish made very strong and prolonged feeds in areas that are famed for the species but haven’t had as good a showing in recent years. There were spells of really good, widespread action and big schools of albies early September right into mid-November. There were some lulls further east in Rhode Island but usually a few fish to be had there as well. I didn’t fish terribly hard for albies, making about a dozen or so trips, but caught fish almost every time.

Because the fish were so widespread, when I was stuck on shore I opted to target areas I hadn’t caught albies before. Some of the best opportunities of my season came while fishing sand beaches. False albacore raiding schools of anchovies in the trough is a blast to experience. As with other recent seasons the fishing pressure was fairly heavy but the widespread fish also spread people out. Although “spot campers” who post up on the same rock for 8 hours and run-and-gunners in boats plowing headlong into small schools and putting them down caused some moments of frustration, there were always enough fish to go elsewhere and have some to yourself. The fish were around for a good long while. There were certainly patches of more sporadic feeding and lesser numbers, but when isn’t there?

I’d rate the season, at least for the area I fished most, a 7 out of 10. There was definitely some room for improvement and the metal-shaving sized bait the fish were focused on for long portions of the season made catching them a challenge many days, but it was probably the best albie season we’ve had in that area since 2018. The highlight of my season was a day under Watch Hill Lighthouse, famed water that has given me the short end of the stick for years. Under bright blue skies with my good friend and long-time hardtail chaser Mark Alpert, we were privy to a well behaved small fleet of other boats and even better behaved little tunny. The fish were hammering flies on the surface that day, and fish were caught both blind casting and out of huge surface feeds. Visuals were spectacular; I spent almost as much time with my camera in hand, as I did with a bent fly rod.

One of the many albies landed by the author casting in ‘uncharted’ waters.

Outside Observers

Western Long Island Sound

Further west the fish made good showings as well. The reliability for the shore-based angler isn’t as notable in Western Long Island Sound, and in 2023 it wasn’t much to write home about. It was quite a bit better for the boat guys. I made one foray out west with my friend Captain Pete Romano of Rising Tide Fishing and we found a few fish late in the day both on the Long Island side of the sound and out in the middle, though the bite had slowed substantially from the previous days he’d had fished. Romano’s take was that the season in – his waters – was good but not great, “False albacore fishing in the western sound started off early and strong with great numbers of fish which then lulled out due to some weather for a week or so and finished extremely strong with fish being caught into November…fish were located up and down the coast on both sides of the pond and people were finding them very far inshore after some October storms.” Captain Pete’s rating of the albie season in Western Long Island stands at 6 out of 10. Of the day we fished, he remarked “a lights out year we would have found a lot more shots”, and that 2022 was a notably better season in his area.

Rhode Island

From the viewpoint of a traveling angler on the Rhode Island shoreline, 2023 was not quite as good as the previous year. Reece McDowell drives from central Massachusetts to fish for albies and has schedule limitations, much like many anglers. The perspective of a weekend warrior is important to gauge the quality of a season. According to McDowell, “I’d give it a 3 or 4 out of 10; scattered fish around, very sporadic brief feeds that didn’t last long. But I know guys who got into them pretty good as well.”  This compared poorly to 2022, which McDowell rates as an 8 or 9: “Most trips resulted in numerous quality shots from shore and I expected multiple fish to hand each day.” Though luck plays more of a roll with an angler that can’t pick and choose conditions or go frequently and on a whim, a really good year generally still provides more opportunity than 2023.

Cape Cod & The Canal

Going further east still, Greg McSharry from Red Top lends his perspective. “This year the albie season went from mid-August to till first week of November with the peak of the season [from the] second week of September through mid-October.” He says the fish favored Hyannis to Falmouth early on.  “Then some of the biomass shifted into upper Buzzards Bay and into the canal, after that they eventually made their way out into Cape Cod Bay and all the way up to Plymouth Harbor. My favorite place to target them is still the canal!” It seems that, while the duration of the season and distribution were pretty good, numbers weren’t exceptional that far east, especially for those one foot: “It was a tougher year from shore, but I did manage to see amazing feeds and as frustrating as they are it’s the thrill of the hunt that I like the most. I’d give this season an 8 out of 10.”

Pink flies fished slowly among schools of feeding fish was a deadly method for the author in 2023.

Open To Interpretation

While talking about the 2023 albie season, naturally, the topic of hottest lures came up…

Greg McSharry: “For me, the hottest lure always tends to be the same; my go-to 7/8-ounce Hogy Epoxy Jig in ‘silverside’ color.”

Pete Romano: “The 1-ounce GameOn Exo Jig in gold color did great for me this year, along with my go-to 3-inch Hogy Epoxy Jig in ‘olive’. I remove the treble and replace it with a VMC inline hook in size 2/0 or 3/0.”

Reece McDowell: “I, pretty much, only throw flies for albies and surf candy variations were my best producers in 2023.”

Rowan Lytle: “My best-producing method was leading the tight, unidirectional feeding schools with a bright pink fly and retrieving it at a slow and steady pace.”

That’s four different anglers in four different areas with different modes of operation all lending their piece… and the thing is, I’m positive many of you are thinking “that’s not how my season went at all!” That’s the thing with albies, they’re fickle critters with a propensity toward a there-and-gone lifestyle. On the whole, it seems 2023 was a good albie season for most of Southern New England. Averaging the ratings gives it about 6 out of 10, which is fairly appropriate. There were some improvements, with Eastern Connecticut, Fisher’s Island, and The Race returning to their former glory after a number of years of below average action. Other areas held their own with good fishing but also left some anglers wanting.

Fishing pressure was significant and does still seem to get worse every year, however the albies were wide spread enough throughout most of the season to find some away from crowds. Though I myself had better fishing for longer than 2022, it was also fairly apparent that – region-wide – it was a slight step back, mostly looking at Rhode Island and Long Island Sound west of Niantic. The small bait feeds in deeper water that have become so much more prevalent in recent years, made for hard-to-feed fish but are also dynamic and can be cracked; I was able to tune a fly pattern throughout the season that seemed to work when the fish were at their pickiest. If the fishing is good enough to experiment and come up with new patterns and tactics, it certainly isn’t a bad season. Though it’s a long way out, it’ll be exciting to see what 2024 brings us in the way of these electric and gorgeous little speedsters!



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