Speed up your retrieve when the speedsters show.
No one can deny that false albacore fishing is some of the most exciting and intoxicating angling one can expeeience in the Northeast, especially when done on the fly. When watching those tunoid-shaped silhouettes race and slash through the water, making a quick and accurate cast is the key to success. Once you place that cast ahead of the school, a solid take seems imminent. Then it happens, a slashing strike, the line races off the deck and whistles through the guides in what seems like less than a second! Then your reel handle spins into a blur as the rest of your line and then most of you backing melts into the deep blue sea. Your drag singing the ‘albie concerto’ is music to your ears for sure, and is something you’ve been waiting for all season, and that time is finally here!
To help you with your albie season, I’ve thought about sharing some insights about some retrieves which have worked well for me and other successful anglers.
The most consistent situation you may encounter, with the highest chance of success, is when the school of albies has just run through a school of baitfish and is now attacking the bait from all directions. All you have to do is cast the appropriate fly beyond the concentrated bait school and retrieve directly through it, or cast directly into the middle and retrieve. If you have the right fly, your chances of hooking up are very high. This situation offers such a high degree of success that it’s worth running around specifically looking for it.
The retrieve I recommend using here, (which is the one I use for most of my albie fishing), is the two-handed retrieve. That’s the one where you put the rod under your arm and use both hands, hand over hand, to retrieve the fly line and fly. Securing the grip in your armpit allows you to use both hands freely, gives you the ability to retrieve faster if needed and provides more control of the fly and presentation. I learned this useful retrieve at a presentation given by striper fly icon Lou Tabory at the then “new” Orvis store in NY City, and it’s one of the greatest “tips” I’ve ever learned in fly fishing. It’s since become a common way to retrieve the fly in saltwater, so I’m still so surprised, after all these years, that so few fly anglers use this retrieve for albie fishing. The overwhelming percentage fish the one-handed strip. The two-handed retrieve simply has so many advantages over the other.
One of the basic tenets of streamer fishing is keeping in touch with your fly. You have to do this to manipulate the fly (give it action), and second, to feel (and be aware of) the fish’s take. If you don’t do the first, not only will you not be able to do the second, but you often won’t be able even to get a take in the first place. Keeping tight is crucial. More of your “stripping” probably goes into taking slack (or keeping slack) out of your line than you may be aware of, perhaps much more than you think. You’ll often be stripping to take up slack at various times during a single retrieve, too (in between manipulating and moving the fly). You may have to do this at a noticeably faster pace than during the parts of the retrieve where you’re actually working the fly. This is part of the “streamer game” and, in turn, part of the albie game.
In fact, I think many “one-handers” spend much of their albie fishing time without moving the fly, although they believe they’re doing so. You simply can’t take up the slack (and stay in touch with your fly) anywhere near as well as you can with the two-handed retrieve. Being able to keep constantly tight and in touch with your fly and being able to move the fly when you want to move it means more fish landed.
Often you have to “strip” (retrieve) faster than you think you have to because of rips, turbulence, changes in tidal movement, boat movement, and besides that, that little baitfish (say a bay anchovy) often swims faster than you think it would, especially when it’s trying to avoid being eaten. The two-handed strip is perfect here and will give you a better chance of hooking up.