This was all new in 99 but this info is still good today-
Some people will tell you that the best fishing on the east coast is to be found in places like Florida or in the Chesapeake Bay or off of Cape Cod. The best fishing that attracts the most high profile anglers is right here in North Carolina for two months in the fall! The awesome run of false albacore off of Cape Lookout is unequaled anywhere in the country from the middle of October to the end of November. Nowhere else can you reasonably expect to see a tuna species running bait in water less than 30 feet deep (and often less than ten) with the kind of consistency you can here. Top it all off with clear water and you have a sight fishing opportunity that is unparalleled for a fish of this type. So I say you can take your Florida flats fishing. Give me the waters off of Cape Lookout and a school of fat alberts any day and I will be happy!Prime time is from the middle of October to the end of November but good action can often be found both earlier and later. I have caught alberts around the Cape Lookout jetty on Labor Day and also in December. It is a long season. When the fish move inshore in early November, many anglers will report hookups well in the double digits. That is enough to tire you out. You may be wondering at this point what is so great about albacore? Have you ever hooked a fish from 8 to 15 pounds (on average) that will take off and run over 200 yards of line off your reel in just a few seconds? All this while using medium weight spinning tackle or flyrods! That is what false albacore fishing is all about.
Let me give you some background on this fish. This is not the true deep water albacore that can be found in a can at your local market. The official name is little tunny. You could also call it Euthynnus Alliteratus, but only if you really need to impress your friends. It is not a bonito. It is not a bluefish. These misidentifications lead to much confusion. You will hear many reports on the radio of bonito being caught. That is usually king mackerel fishermen. People who are trolling do not want to catch false albacore for the most part and do not know how to identify them. They are not good to eat and tend to tear up carefully prepared trolling rigs. The surest way to know if you have a fat albert is to look for the black spots around the pectoral fin and the squiggly markings on the back. The Atlantic bonito has no black spots and strong horizontal bands and more prominent teeth.
Now let me tell you a couple of things about how to get one of these baddies on the end of your line. I am a flyfisherman. I would rather catch one fish on a flyrod than ten any other way. However if you are a first timer and not a flyangler do not despair because these things will hit small jigs as well as, if not better than, any fly ever invented. The best lure I have found yet is the Tsunami Split Tail 3 incher in any color that looks like a natural minnow. They are available in just about any tackle shop anywhere in North Carolina. Tie the lure directly to your line. You do not need a leader unless spanish mackerel are present. Use a reel that is capable of holding a minimum of 200 yards of 20 pound test super braid, such as Spiderwire or Power Pro and a 7 1/2 or 8 foot rod to match. Don’t go too light on these fish. It will take too long to bring one to the boat. Then they tend to die because they fight all the way in. No rolling over and giving up for the little tunny.
For flyfishing I prefer a ten weight rod. This is heavy enough to cast into the often strong winds that blow out of the north at this time of year and fight the fish. It is also light enough to cast all day without wearing yourself out. Use a Scientific Anglers floating saltwater line for the calm days and an intermediate line, like the SA Striper line, on the windy days. Use a leader about 8 to ten feet long with a 20 pound flurocarbon tippet (Some guys go as long as 12 feet. I don’t find this to be necessary). Any nice baitfish fly tied on a size 1 or 2 hook will do the job most of the time. In fact, that is usually the first fly I tie on the end of my clients line. Don’t make it too thick. The glass minnows that are the predominant prey species are about the size and shape of a mans middle finger. Add some flash material to catch the eye of a fast (40 mph) swimming albert.Many false albacore have been taken on it. I also love to fish with Crease Flie when the fish are on top.
Now that we are rigged up let’s go after them. Usually the easiest way to get out to the fish is from Morehead City or Beaufort. When you get out to the inlet there will often be albacore blasting at glass minnows right there. If that is the case there will be a bunch of boats chasing them. In this situation the first thing you need to think about is courtesy. Don’t pay attention to the people that are racing back and forth chasing surfacing schools at warp speed. Figure out which way the fish are moving. It will often be very obvious. Get in their line of travel and drift into them from uptide or upwind. Another boat may get in your path. Try to keep cool. People tend to act funny when there are big fish in shallow water. If you are spin fishing keep casting around the boat. You will often hook up even if there are no fish showing on the surface. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there. When you finally get a chance to cast into breaking fish get your fly or lure as far into the melee as possible. Start a moderately paced retrieve. You don’t have to rip it in as fast as you can. Keep it in the strike zone! Glass minnows do not swim at Mach 1 but albacore do. They may not see your first presentation. Get it in there again! There may be hundreds or thousands of fish in front of you right at this moment. One is going to see it. When he does you can bet that fly or jig will be inhaled.
Now is when the fun begins! Your hook is in the mouth of a fat albert. The fish will then take off at top speed.If you have never fished like this with casting or fly tackle before you will be amazed at how fast a fish of this size can swim. There are some who say they can go over 40 mph! The first run will often take close to 200 (or more) yards of line and or backing. Be calm and let it go. If you are running out of line you may need to start the engine and keep up with your rapidly depleting spool. An albacore may then double back and swim right at you. Keep the line tight and your rod bent, and retrieve line as fast as you can. Be prepared for another run at any time. Sometimes the big ones (18 pounds and up) will come all the way in and then do the whole thing all over again.
When it comes to landing a fat albert, no fish could be more accommodating. He has a built in handle. The tail is very hard and easy to grab. Grab hold of it and lift the fish into the boat. Work quickly at this point. Have your long nose pliers available. Get the hook out as fast as you can. I have even switched over to barbless hooks to make it easier to release these great gamesters. If the fish is out of the water too long it will definitely die. They are a proud fish and fight to exhaustion. They are also not camera shy. When the hook is out you can take a couple of quick photos. Then drop the fish headfirst into the water from about waist height. Don’t swish it back and forth like a bass or a trout and don’t throw it down with an exaggerated movement. Simply dropping the fish in the water from waist height will allow it to get a fast burst of water and oxygen over its gills and allow it to swim off quickly.
One final note, don’t let your fish run too far away from you on that initial run. I had a couple taken off of my line by sharks last year when using an antireverse flyreel that I could not pressure the fish properly with. I had never used that type of reel before and I could not slow the fish down, but the sharks could. Needless to say that there are other creatures that enjoy the pursuit of false albacore just as much as you and I do.