Lil Tunny, football, blood bucket and Euthynnus alletteratus are all names for false albacore, which will be here soon. These little speedsters are among my top three fish to catch (tarpon, red drum and false albacore). They are fast, powerful, are mostly caught sight casting but are not very good fare for the table. False albacore are often mistaken for Atlantic bonita which are usually here in the spring. Bonita is mighty fine on the table, but falsies — not so much. The easiest way to tell them apart is their teeth. Bonita have them and falsies do not (really teeny small ones that are of no consequence). Bonita possess teeth like a Spanish, which can cut ya good. I have eaten falsies as sushi and boiled fillets to make tuna salad, but they are best as a catch and release fish.
False albacore produce blistering runs of 200 yards sometimes and then the circling starts. They will sometimes charge the boat and you think they have spit the hook, but keep reeling. New River Inlet in the fall will see a great run of false albacore. They are not hard to find if the day is right. Look for birds diving and dipping and you will usually find the false albacore. The way they feed is much like other pelagics. The school of falsies will circle around minnows packing them tighter and tighter while driving them close to the surface. The false albacore then rocket through the school with their mouths open gulping down minnows. Once they have driven the minnows to the surface you will see the fish rocketing out of the water. Your heart starts pounding, your eyes get squinty and your hands start shaking at the possibility of a good take and the fight that is about to unfold between man or woman and fish. Do not, and I will repeat: Do not drive your boat through the middle of a school. This will scatter the minnows and disperse the albacore. Motor up to them slowly (if you’ve got a trolling motor use that) and cast into the middle of the chaos. If you are trolling for them, pick them off of the outside of the school. I have seen fish stay in the same place for 30 minutes, getting hooked up one right after the other and then some knucklehead drives right through the middle of the school and spooks them. Size of your lure usually matters more than color. These fish key in on one size bait and will usually hit nothing but a bait of that size. This goes for falsies, bonita, Spanish and, at times, striped bass. I have a good story about catching a 30-pound striper on a No. 4 (that’s teeny tiny) Clouser Minnow while my buddy throwing a big ole Bunker pattern couldn’t get a sniff.
There are a few ways to catch these guys, but fly fishing is my favorite and at times the best way to catch them. Eight to nine weight rods spooled with a floating, intermediate or full sinking line. All of these lines are needed at different times. If I had to choose one line it would be an intermediate line, which sinks slowly. Fly selection should vary in size more than color. White and No. 4 to No. 2 chartreuse clousers or bucktail deceivers work well. Make sure your fly line is clear after and before the cast or you will be dancin like a cow hand on the Saturday after the drive. When the fish takes the fly make sure you strip strike to set the hook. I always mash the barb on my flies to be able to set the hook better.
My second favorite method is light spinning tackle. I use a 7-foot rod spooled with 15-pound test braid. Make sure you have at least 200 yards of line. Fluorocarbon leaders are almost always a must as these guys have great eyesight. I use 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon for my leaders on fly, spinning and trolling leaders when pursuing falsies. Again, size matters so make sure you have some lures of all sizes. Diamond Jigs (especially the electric chicken one I had made up for the shop), but gold and silver work too. Don’s Jigs, small Clarkspoons and Gotcha Plugs all work too. Make sure you have your drag set right before the take or you will be busier than a flyin’ squirrel in a wind tunnel. Change the cadence of your lure to find out how they want it. If you are really in the fish you usually do not have to do anything but let the lure fall. If you do not get bit right away I have found that faster is usually better. Remember the bigger fish usually hang around the bottom of the school waiting for chopped up pieces to fall to them.
My least favorite method (which I do not suggest doing) is trolling for them. If you must troll for them, do not — I repeat, do not — troll through the middle of breaking fish; try and pick them off the outside of the school. Troll for them just like you would for blues or Spanish but use a lighter leader. I suggest 40-pound Fluorocarbon for blues and Spanish but 20-pound for falsies.
I hope this season is better than the last two, which have not been the best. But with a little luck these bad boys will be knockin on our door in a matter of days. I have already heard of a few being caught, but it has not been on fire.
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Tight lines and fair winds.
Capt. Chris Medlin is a third-generation tackle shop owner and charter captain. He makes his home on Topsail but loves fishing all over. Most of the time you can find him at East Coast Sports in Surf City or just contact him through his website at Eastcoastsports.com.