Speedy Gamefish: Targeting Both Albies and Bonito - The Fisherman

Speedy Gamefish: Targeting Both Albies and Bonito

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This false albacore or little tunny was caught on a homemade blue Deceiver fly, the author’s favorite. It was fished off the back of a wooden egg float.

If you are after one, you are also after the other; this is because false albacore or albies and Atlantic bonito often are found in the same areas at the same time of year. They also will hit the same lures. They even look similar although the experienced fisherman has no problem telling them apart.

Their fighting abilities, too, are similar with both fish earning the reputation as two of the best-fighting fish for their size that the ocean has to offer. In fact, both fish are so alike that many fishermen simply refer to both of them with one name, “little tunny.”

While they are similar these two gamesters are different species of fish. Albies are the most plentiful of the little tunny along our southern New England Coast. Their distinguishing features are a bluish back with black squiggly markings. Additionally, they have dark spots under their pectoral fins. It looks like someone dipped their fingers in black paint and stuck them onto the sides of these fish.

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Steve Pickering, the author’s brother, holds a good-size September bonito that was taken by boat just off the beach.

Atlantic bonito, or just bonito, are somewhat different. Their distinguishing features are a greenish color and straight black lines on their backs. Sometimes they also have dark shadowy bands along their sides. They have sharp teeth and are far less abundant than the albies.

Both fish have the reputation of being about the best fighters you can find in our neck of the woods. That is why they are highly targeted by sport fishermen, especially light-tackle enthusiasts and fly fishermen. They are also the ultimate catch-and-release fish. Your cat wouldn’t dare to eat a false albacore so it has little food value. Some fishermen will eat bonito, but I have tried them and did not care for their oily quality.

September is the month to catch these fish from both shore and boat here in New England. There are some years that they stick around into mid to late October but that longevity is dependent on bait and weather. Big storms and very rough conditions tend to move them away.

Most of my experience at catching these is along the Rhode Island oceanfront where I target them every year. They become my main focus in the daylight hours in September, and they can appear anywhere along Rhode Island’s oceanfront from Sakonnet Point down to Watch Hill, but certain types of places attract more than other spots.

If you are a shore fisherman, think deep water. Jetties bordering breachways along the south shore that jut out into the ocean are great spots to look. Deep-water drop-offs like you find along Narragansett, Jamestown and Newport are also good bets. They are rarely found along low-water beaches, and if they are, they will be a long cast away.

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The author holds a shore-caught albie that was landed near a deep-water drop-off. Note the squiggly black lines on the fish’s back and the dark spots under its pectoral fin, both distinguishing features of an albie.

Boaters have so much of an advantage when finding these fish. They have the mobility to drive around until the fish are found, and they can be found anywhere that deep water (say over 20 feet) exists. While I have found a few good spots to catch them from shore, I can tell you I have caught them all over the place from the boat in water that ranges from 10 to 80 feet. They key on bait, so find the bait in September and you often find albies and/or bonito breaking for the bait.

The bait that often triggers these fish to feed on top with their fast, torpedo-like surface bursts are bay anchovies for the most part and sometimes peanut bunker. This is a tough bait to imitate because of its small size and slender profile. Albies and bonito that feed on this bait can be very selective.

Here is the hit parade of my best lures to catch them. By far, if you are a spin fisherman, the float and fly is your number one tunny catcher. I use a wooden egg float that is through wired, and run about 3 feet of 30-pound test mono off the back of the float. A Deceiver fly is tied at the end. The Deceiver I tie is made with blue saddle hackles for the tail, a chartreuse wool body, white bucktail over and under wings and a little chartreuse bucktail over-wing on top of the white. Other light-colored Deceivers or slender flies like epoxy flies also work. Not a fly tier? In place of the fly I have also used 4-inch flukes in a light color like white. The flukes can be simply threaded onto a barbed hook. Far back as a second choice in lures would be skinny metal. Lures like Deadly Dicks and Kastmaster XLs are the best skinny metal lures. Next, in the line of effective lures are small plugs like swimmers, small poppers and even plastics on jigheads.

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A boat-caught bonito that fell for a Kastmaster XL that was reeled quickly along the surface.

Regardless of what you use, the strategies are about the same. You want to cast ahead of breaking fish and to work your offering fast. Using the float and fly, I reel it fast and pop it as I retrieve to give the fly added action. With skinny metal, I reel so fast the metal is on the surface at times. Fast retrieve with the plugs is also recommended. These fish are so quick and explosive that they can track down anything with laser-like deadly efficiency.

There is no question about the hit. It will be explosive, and the line will melt away from the spool at a frenzied pace on the initial run. Hold on because these fish are fast as lightning. On many fights, I have been fooled into thinking I lost the fish only to find it was coming in on me. I could not reel the line fast enough to keep up with the fish’s swimming. On one occasion when we were into a bonito blitz from the boat, I thought I was busted off way out on the initial run, but as I began reeling in the slack line, I looked down in the water and there was the bonito with my float trailing going right under the boat. I frantically reeled in the slack, moved the line under front of the boat and held on for a surge of drag that followed. It was just wild, but very typical of what you are tangling with when you hook these fish.

If past years are any indicator, there should be good numbers of albies and bonito along the Rhode Island shoreline between the first and second weeks of September. Note that the initial surge of fish is often epic. Last year on September 11, my very first outing of chasing albies, I landed 10 of them from shore in an all-afternoon feeding frenzy. That day I saw at least 70 other albies landed by a picket fence of albie chasers. My first 10 days of fishing for them last year was excellent from both shore and boat as I landed over 50 fish in that period of time.

If you are looking to tangle with the wildest and best fighting gamefish that September has to offer, you get two for one on this deal. Albies and bonito are the hottest gamefish of early fall along the southern New England coast.

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Not a fly tier? Try using the float with a fluke that is threaded onto a barbed hook. This is also a very effective combo artificial for both false albacore and Atlantic bonito.
Make a casting egg!
If you’re wondering how to make a casting egg of your own, be sure to check out the Surf Fishing column that appeared last week in issue #25 of The Fisherman as New England Editor, Toby Lapinski lays out the simple process. Casting eggs can be used to deliver a fly or weightless soft plastic to albies and bonito, and they are also a great way to deliver a bucktail over shallow, rocky shoreline to striped bass and bluefish.

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