August 9, 2016 Leave a comment
By Nick Curcione, TFO Advisory Staff
Here is the second part of an article published last week by TFO Advisory Staffer Nick Curcione.
Similar to pursuing billfish on fly, fly rodding albacore requires teamwork.
Because trolling functions as the principal means of locating fish, you need a strategy from the moment the first fish is hooked. Particularly with albacore, it’s important to bring fish hooked on a trolling line to the boat as quickly as possible. If that fish is lost, there’s a good chance the remainder of the school will swim off despite chumming efforts. Therefore trolling tackle, which can be as simple as hand lines, must be stout enough to efficiently subdue the fish. Depending on the size of the boat, as a minimum I like to troll two lines. Whatever the number, someone must quickly clear the trolling lines so a fly can be cast without the likelihood of costly tangles. Casting strategy depends on the size of the boat, but generally, it’s most effective to have only one angler cast after the initial hookup. According to your casting arm, cast from the stern corner where the line will pass outside the cockpit. If one angler is right-handed and another a lefty, with the trolling lines cleared, it’s possible to have both cast at the same time. Two casters are also possible if one angler makes a backcast presentation. Otherwise, establish a rotational pattern where one angler casts and moves out of the corner so a second angler can slide in and cast from the same spot. Another variation on the rotation theme is to have only one angler fly fish until he or she hooks a fish, whereupon a second angler steps into the corner and begins making presentations.
Regardless of the option chosen, to effectively fly fish under these conditions, the one auxiliary item I would not forego is a stripping basket or bucket. You might get lucky and have the line simply fall on deck, but it’s almost inevitable someone will eventually step on it. Equally frustrating, eventually it will catch on something causing you to lose precious casting time.
Though albacore can put on some mind-blowing surface blitzes when they decide to annihilate a chum line, more often than not your best shot will occur at least several feet down under so it’s best to outfit yourself with a fast sinking line, preferably a shooting head setup. Typically when fishing live bait or casting jigs, the presentations that sink fastest consistently draw the most strikes, so assume the same thing when presenting flies.
Since albacore feed primarily on the likes of anchovies and sardines, you can’t go wrong with baitfish patterns like Clousers, Deceivers, Sar-Mul-Macs and Jiggies. For color combinations, I rely on the formulas that have worked for decades on the trolling rigs. As a general guideline, in low light conditions like you find in the gray dawn hours and on overcast days, darker colors like black, and green and yellow are good choices. As light increases you may want to change to red and white and red and yellow combinations. When the sun is brightest at midday, blue and white is my first choice. Size wise, try and simulate the baits that will be thrown as chum. For anchovies and sardines, this will generally range from 2 to 6 inches in length.
As members of the super strong tuna family, albacore will challenge you and your tackle. This is one style of fishing where the reel plays a vital role in the fish fighting stage so go with a top quality mechanism like the Atoll series. Long scorching runs are the norm so the drag should remain absolutely smooth. In the course of making several sprints, albacore sometimes veer toward the boat, which can create slack in the line. I’ve lost a number of fish when this happens, but with the advent of large arbor spools I can now pick up line faster and it’s no longer much of a problem.
The simplest leader setup is a straight 3- to 4-foot section of class tippet (I usually fish 20-pound test). I tie a bimini loop in one end, twist it, fold the loop over itself, and tie a double surgeon’s loop and interlock this to the loop in the tag end of the fly line. The fly is tied directly to the tag end of the class tippet. Over the years I’ve used both loop knots to allow the fly more action on the retrieve and standard ties like the improved clinch and palomar knot, but really haven’t found any difference between the two. Just be sure to tie your knots properly, because if there is a weak spot it will soon spell disaster with fish of this caliber.
Contrary to some misconceptions, it isn’t necessary to try to burn the fly through the water to draw strikes. I do use a fairly rapid retrieve, often with two hands for more positive line control. When I get a strike, I simply apply resistance by holding the line firmly. Given the speed they’re traveling when they take an offering, there’s no need to strike back violently. If you do there’s a good chance you’ll pop the leader. When they feel that initial shock of resistance, they’re going to accelerate and you have to make it a priority to be sure that any remaining line clears the rod guides. When that is accomplished just hang on and relish the awesome display of power emptying line from your reel.
If you missed part one, here it is, So Cal. Albacore (Part 1).