Southern New England experts share tips for targeting albies from shore.
False albacore, nicknamed “apple knockers” because they arrive as apples ripen and drop, are accurately named “little tunny.” Not long ago, they were regarded as a trash species suitable only for shark bait. Now albies are a highly prized light-tackle gamefish commanding much attention from sporting anglers each fall. Lifelong saltwater angler and albie expert Vince Battista shared one of his memorable encounters with apple knockers:
“One fall day a couple years ago, I reached one of my favorite local spots about a half hour before sunrise—the first and only car in the gravel parking lot—determined to catch a decent striper. The sun broke the horizon, the tide swung, and I heard fish feeding but couldn’t see them. Unknown to me, I was a short distance from a school of albies corralling peanut bunker near the jetty.
“Within seconds, fish were slashing the surface almost within range. I half-waded-half-swam out to waist-deep water and watched an albie jump straight out of the surf at eye level. At that point, I was a complete mess. Shaking from excitement, afraid that I’d miss the bite window—or worse—that somebody would show up and watch me flub this opportunity. The closest-matching lure I had was a large, blue-and-silver Kastmaster, which looked one size too big. I made a dozen casts before an albie took the hardware. It put up a blistering fight before I revived and released it. By then, the school had moved out. The only reason I landed that remarkable fish was because I was flexible. I knew I’d have to get wet, I knew I’d have to cast far, and I knew I’d have to cover as much water as possible. Some of the hardcore albie anglers I know wear flippers and swim out to rocks to cast from, towing their gear behind them. Once you catch apple-knocker fever, it dies very hard.”
More On Albies
Birds are a sign of the presence of these little tunas gorging on baitfish near the shore, and it’s key to be patient and not become frustrated when you see boat anglers catching outside your reach. Albies often move into range while chasing prey. Bonito and Spanish mackerel tend to require boat access, whereas false albacore frequently crash baits against beaches and shoreline boulder fields.
“Working birds are a good and easy indicator of albies,” says Capt. Ned Kittredge (retd.), a southern New England pro with 40 years’ experience, adding “but they aren’t always necessary.” Many times, false albacore are present, and the only signs are fish slurping tiny baitfish on top. So, you must look carefully.
“Their feeding behavior is different from bluefish, a result of their extremely fast swimming ability. If you study them, you can tell the difference. Albies create ‘slashing’ breaks with forward motion, often partly or fully breaching the surface. Bluefish and stripers show as more ‘circular’ breaks that tend to stay in one spot.”
But for consistent success, albies typically require you to “get out” as far as you can, according to Battista. This means casting from a tombolo, spit, jetty, or rock outcrop whenever possible. Such geographical features not only help corral and hold baitfish, but they serve as ambush points for predators. “Moving water is the best, but it often makes for precarious fishing conditions when wading off structure. If I can access them, I have the best luck working these areas during the shoulders of high tide.”
“Fishing either at first or last light is key when casting from shore,” added Battista. “I’ve found this is especially true in the hours leading up to a storm. If you see thunder clouds in the distance, the baitfish are usually heading toward cover, which can send predatory fish into a feeding frenzy.
“The key to success with albies is speed. They’re exceptional at splitting tightly-packed schools of baitfish, and they can devour a section of a baitball within seconds and then vanish. This means you must cast quickly, accurately, and often. But sometimes you’re only presented with one clean shot at them, so make it count.”
In October, Battista says that it’s not uncommon to reach a fishing spot such as the tombolo off Hammonasset to see schools of albies gorging themselves. Unfortunately, by the time you wade or walk into casting distance, the feed shuts down. Whether using conventional gear or throwing flies, you need to be flexible and have Plan A, B, and C. The most seasoned anglers focus their attention on jetties, outcrops, and tombolos, and plan to fish at highest-likelihood times corresponding with lunar phase, flood tide, and appropriate wind. This sometimes means doing a couple shifts a day, when and where you can, and being willing to try a variety of tactics.
Unfortunately, 70 percent of the Connecticut shoreline is privately owned. Individuals owning car-top watercraft such as sea kayaks can find places to launch using the Connecticut Coastal Access Guide provided by Connecticut’s DEEP (www.depdata.ct.gov/maps/coastalaccess/index.html). Although public access for those fishing by foot is limited, there are still plenty of good spots to target albies in Long Island Sound if you don’t own a boat.
“In southwest Connecticut,” says Capt. Chris Elser (ct-fishing.com) an albie pro with over 38 years of experience, “the lower Housatonic River in Stratford and Milford are good options to look for albies and bonito from late September through the end of October. The access on the Milford side is through the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point, and you can access the Stratford side via Short Beach. I’ve seen albies as far north as the Merritt Parkway Bridge, but they will normally stay near the mouth of the river and are very targetable from the above-mentioned access points.”
Both points are better fishing the last 2 to 3 hours of the falling tide into the first hour of the incoming, according to Elser. This will allow casts into the deep river channel after carefully wading out to knee-deep water. When the tide turns, the water depth rises fast, so stay safe and start backing out within the first hour of the flood.
“Another good shore spot in southwest Connecticut,” says Elser, “is Penfield Reef. Once again, the best fishing here is on the falling tide into the first hour of incoming. Access is located in Fairfield, and parking is located at Veteran’s Park on Reef Road—but there’s no public parking on site so it’s a little bit of a walk in waders. The east side has a bowl effect and can hold fish for hours when bait is trapped tight to shore, and areas like the Shark Bar on the west side can be very productive as well.”
Albies are much more consistent along Connecticut than bonito but if we have a strong run like 2019 the bones typically show in our area weeks before the albies so by late August you can start the hunt. Albies start filtering in by mid-September, give or take a week, but the best fishing for both species can be late September through late October.
The stretch of shore from Hammonasset Beach in Madison to Cedar Island in Clinton produces fish from the surf during strong albacore years, according to Battista. Farther east along the Connecticut coast, Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford traditionally draws fish. Located on Goshen Point in Waterford, the park is a stunning 125-acre complex that’s open from 8 a.m. until sunset. Fishing along the beaches of sand and rock is permitted because it’s closed to swimming.
A short distance west of Harkness in Waterford is Jordon Cove, a moderate-sized bay located between Seaside Park and Millstone Point. On the south side of the Jordan Cove boat launch is a small breakwall and riprap area open to public fishing (although flanking Pleasure Beach to the east is private). Fishing the launch’s riprap is one of the spots in the state where you have a legitimate chance at false albacore and bonito while casting from shore, especially just after sunrise, thanks to deep water right up to the shoreline structure and the bait-corralling effect of the bay.
New London County offers a couple of other good easements for access. Bluff Point State Park in Groton is one such spot. This 800-acre reserve lies between the Poquonock River and Mumford Cove. The park—one of the largest natural areas in Connecticut—offers a barrier beach and tidal wetlands.
Heading east from Connecticut, Battista recommends Watch Hill, Rhode Island, which can be excellent if the winds are brisk and coming up-Sound. Woods Hole and Nobska Beach in Falmouth are great choices, too, but parking can be hit or miss, he noted.
Also in southern Massachusetts, Kittredge recommends trying Horseneck Beach. The west tip of Horseneck is called Cherry and Webb Beach, where the ocean and branches of the Westport River meet. But it’s a long hike in to get there. Cast from anywhere on the point, and you’ll reach the deep water of the channel. On the opposite side of the river is a point called Elephant Rock, and it traditionally draws bones and albies along the rocky ocean side.
“Some early recon trips this season” says Battista, “have me looking beyond Westport towards the beaches on the west side of Falmouth, some of the state parks in southern Massachusetts, and possibly even doing a 24-hour session on Martha’s Vineyard.
“Just like trout fishing, the key to catching albies and bonito is to cover lots of water. If the fish aren’t around, don’t waste your time. Make a candidate list of beaches to hit. Focus on places with a mosaic of habitats like edges, river mouths, rocks, bowls, and other structure, and also check recent reports.”
When albies queue in on specific prey they’ll usually refuse whatever you cast unless you have the exact imitation. “Being sight-feeders,” says Kittredge, “their vision is impeccable for what they want to consume. Little tunny key on five major bait species in the Northeast—juvenile squid, sand eels, silversides, bay anchovies, and baby bunker—so it’s helpful to determine what they’re eating.”
Traditional lures can be flat and elliptical, like 3/8- to 3/4-ounce Kastmasters and Hopkins Shorty jigs, or the 3/4- and 1-ounce EXO Jig by Game On! Lures, which imitate peanut bunker, baby butterfish, and squid. Or lures are long-and-thin metals like Deadly Dicks and Need-L-Eels, which imitate silversides, bay anchovies, and sand eels.
Elser recommends a 10- to 20-pound fast-action spinning outfit matched with a high-quality reel spooled with 20-pound braided line as an ideal outfit for distance casting.
For those targeting hardtails on the fly, Battista says “size up your schoolie-bass fly gear to a 9- or 10-weight rod with a large-arbor reel. For anglers fishing beaches or boulder fields, I recommend using a 9-foot, 9-weight rod with an intermediate or floating weight-forward line. Determine your ideal leader length and pound-test by the fly, but I prefer an 18-inch section of 30-pound mono tied to a 4- to 6-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon. A stripping basket is a must.”
“For flies, you need slim profiles that mimic silversides and sand eels, as well as full-bodied flies imitating tiny bunker, butterfish, anchovies, and shad. I mostly fish flatwings because they’re fast to tie, easy to cast, and can take a beating. Cordeiro’s Albie Dart’r in hot-pink or shrimp is an excellent choice, as are hard-bodied flies such as Surf Candies in the 1 to 1/0 range. Other options include the Crease Fly in 2/0, Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow saltwater version, or the Umpqua Gummy Minnow in chartreuse or blue over white, or silver over pearl.”
Says Battista, “When the stars align and anglers are properly rigged and have a strategy, they’re greeted with explosive albie takes and lightning-fast runs they won’t soon forget.”