New Jersey is blessed with some of the best surf fishing anywhere, with more species found in the waters there than are found in most other parts of the country. Of all the game fish found in the New Jersey surf, none is more challenging to catch than the false albacore.
As frustrating as it is to catch false albacore in the surf, fishermen accept the formidable task because they know that if they succeed, the thrill will be worth the effort expended.
If you catch one false albacore, you will be addicted. False albacore – also known as little tunny and Fat Alberts – are a member of the mackerel family, even though they resemble many small tuna species – like Atlantic bonito and skipjack.
Although false albacore rarely exceed 15 pounds, they always fight like much larger fish. The majority of these southern speedsters caught in the surf average four to 10 pounds. If you’ve never seen a false albacore, they have a tuna profile and tail. Their bodies have a bluish dorsal surface and a silver belly. The posterior portion of their backs is marked with wavy stripes and they have several black, irregular blotches below the pectoral fin.
Their muscular bodies enable them to swim incredibly fast. This skill, coupled with discerning eyesight, makes them efficient but fussy feeders.
Warm water and large schools of bait draw albacore into the late summer surf where they use their blinding speed to feed on migrating schools of peanut bunker, bay anchovies, sand eels, and spearing to fuel their energy needs. They prefer these small baits that can be swallowed whole since they lack cutting teeth.
Labor Day signals the beginning of the false albacore run. They can be caught anytime after this date until the end of October (when bait availability dwindles and the ocean begins to cool down).
At the beginning of the surf run, more false albacore are seen than caught because they tend to be particularly cautious feeders when they first arrive. Many of their early surf appearances are in the form of spectacular leaps out of the water while in hot pursuit of fleeing baitfish.
The extraordinary eyesight of false albacore makes them a species that is exceptionally wary of any kinds of lures. As the run progresses and the energy needs required for their migration become more pronounced, they become more numerous and somewhat bolder in their feeding habits.
Although boat fishermen catch false albacore offshore on bait and lures, they are taken exclusively on metal lures in the surf. The most attractive lures are those with small profiles and finishes resembling the baitfish that albacore normally feed on.
Fat Alberts use their keen vision to closely scan any prospective meal so lures must be presented in the most natural way. Direct-tie lures – those designed to be tied directly to your line – help to present convincing illusions to these cautious feeders. The use of snaps, swivels, shock leaders, heavy line, and other hardware are almost always counter-productive.
Another important element in an effective presentation of lures to false albacore is to use thin, clear line that cannot be easily seen. Fluorocarbon line and shock leaders are virtually invisible underwater.
Setting your reel’s drag correctly is another critical element in being able to successfully fight a false albacore. Adjust your drag loosely enough so the fish can make their spectacular runs without breaking your line, but tightly enough so they pay a price in the energy they consume in doing so.
With the gear that I use, I’m able to use lures as light as 1.5 ounces for most of my albacore fishing. I get the distance I desire as well as the ability to present the smallest possible profiles to fish that normally feed on small baitfish. When casting into onshore winds, I often switch over to 2-ounce versions of my favorite lures to get greater distance from my casts.
Once the false albacore run has started, you’ll find them feeding along the New Jersey shoreline wherever abundant bait is found. Inlets are especially productive areas where albacore wait as the tide flushes vast amounts of bait seaward to them on each outgoing tide.
Dawn and dusk are the optimum times to power cast for false albacore. Their ordinarily sharp eyesight cannot function as effectively in the lower light levels present at those times.
False albacore are noted for their explosive strikes and impressive initial runs. While the strength of this species is simply incredible, they cannot sustain the tremendous bursts of energy they expend when hooked for very long.
After their initial run, expect at least a couple more mini-spurts of energy before their strength begins to fade. Wait until you sense that they’re tired before you try to land them, and hope that they get tired before you do.
Fooling a false albacore into striking a lure is a tremendous challenge to surfcasters. The thrill and excitement associated with the fight is what surf fishing is all about.