Albies used to carry this enigmatic aura; articles about catching them talked about wary, leader-shy fish with eyesight like a bird of prey. They were often touted as one of those empirical fish of a thousand casts, too wise and too fast for the clumsy newcomer. Fly fishers latched on to this stigma and made it much worse, like only hardcore fly guys can (I say this with love and affection, but you’re the guys that will pay a princely sum for ‘urine stained fox hair’, supposedly the perfect mimic for the Hendrickson mayfly). This kind of jeweler’s loop attention to excruciating detail only served to make them seem even more unattainable, causing me to label them as ‘hoity-toity’. As much as I adore a challenge, I didn’t want to catch a fish that cared what kind of shirt I was wearing!
So I pushed these green torpedoes to the back of some cluttered closet in my mind and stuck to my obviously comparably stupid striped bass (I don’t really think that!) I have lived at the coast for 21 years now and for 14 of those years, I brushed off albies in the same way I might brush off an invitation to play croquet or to attend a polo match, I don’t have the clothes for that kind of stuff!
Then, on a September day in 2017, I took a ride to a popular albie spot and, somewhat reluctantly, joined the group of guys standing on the jetty. To my surprise, most of these anglers were dressed like me, t-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap. I even knew a couple of the spin fishermen from the Canal! There was one fly guy and he didn’t disappoint; he had some kind of scarf around his neck and a wide-brimmed, finely woven straw hat, complete with a colorful ribbon that matched his scarf! I really don’t mean to pick on the fly guys, but sometimes you take it to a whole other level.
I wasn’t there 10 minutes before a fray of albies flared up to my right, I fired a little ‘epoxy style’ jig made by Spro into the school and hooked up immediately, the fish started to run but broke me off almost instantly. My drag was too tight, I guess I over-prepared for those blistering runs.
I retied and went back to blind-casting. It was a while before the fish showed again, but I came realize that this was truly a social event. Lots of talking, ribbing and discussion about where friends and internet heroes had caught fish the day before. Before I knew it, I was enjoying myself – I even hit it off with the fly guy! It was kind of like when I decided I hated mustard at age 6, even though I had never tried it, and then when I was like 16 I ate some accidentally, and discovered I loved it!
The conversation was cut by another blowup of albies; I made a good cast and hooked up right away. I’ll never forget that first solid hookup. The fish ran so hard and so fast that I almost felt dizzy, like your first ride on one of those high-speed elevators. It was such an indescribable moment that combined 99.9% pure adrenalin together with a nagging question, “why haven’t I been doing this all along!?”
Luckily, nothing went wrong and I landed the fish. It was no record-breaker, probably a 7-pounder if I had to guess, looking at that perfect tuna body with all those little recesses for fins and those crazy iridescent colors, it was very special fish for me. One of the Canal guys took a quick photo for me and I then released the fish with a very clumsy plunge-release. Luckily the fish swam off at a high rate of speed. After that, I found myself stricken with this burning need to hook another one.
I’m not sure which moral is the one I meant to highlight with this editorial. Don’t judge a book by what it paid for urine-stained fox hair. Don’t let a stigma keep you away from a good time. Don’t believe everything you read. Believe in your ability to persevere, even when something is supposed to be difficult. Wide-brimmed hats could save you from sunburn and skin cancer…
Whatever moral you derived from this, take this too: remember that you got into fishing because it was fun, and albies…boy, are they a lot of fun!