So Cal. Albacore (Part 1)

By Nick Curcione, TFO Advisory Staff

If the conditions are right, and they swim to within range of the sport boat fleet, a seasonal affliction, locally referred to as “albie fever,” suddenly seizes a sizable number of Southern Calif., saltwater anglers.

During the last few years a growing number of fly anglers are also beset by this phenomenon.

On the west coast they are referred to either as long fins or albies, not to be confused with the little tunny, (false albacore on the east coast). This west coast version is the white meat member of the tuna family, Thunnus alaunga, and in large part spawned the development of Southern California’s offshore party boat fleet.

Unlike their yellowfin cousins, albacore typically do not venture close to shore. They swim from Japan across to the mid-region of the Baja Peninsula, up the Calif., coast, sometimes heading as far north as British Columbia and then they head back towards Japan.


The author holding one of many Albacore landed not far from San Diego. Photo by Nick Curcione.

A publication from Scripps Institute in La Jolla indicates that during this 5,300-mile trek, they travel an average of no fewer than 16-miles per day. Food, (primarily in the form of anchovies, sardines and sauries) and water temperatures, (62 to 68-degrees is their preferred range) will determine their swimming routes, but it’s a generally accepted fact that you seldom find big schools of albacore within 20-miles offshore. Thirty-five to 40-miles would be considered a short run, while trips of 100-miles or more are not uncommon. So if you’re setting your sights on these blue water nomads, you need a true ocean-going craft. If you don’t own one or have access your best alternative is a private charters for up to six anglers on sport fishing boats.  Aside from safety considerations, a critical factor in choosing a boat for albacore fishing is the ability to carry a significant amount of live baits.

A typical experience was a trip on my friend’s sport fisher he used primarily for marlin fishing.  About 80-miles southwest of San Diego’s Point Loma we ran into roving schools of skipjack. These speedsters of the tuna family glowed like neon lights as they ripped through traumatized pods of anchovies. When skippies are on the feed like this it doesn’t take much finesse to hook up.  Practically any streamer you slap on surface will be attacked instantly. In fact, as I discovered then, when albacore are mixed with skipjack, it can be difficult to get a fly to them because the skipjack often tend to be much more aggressive and simply beat the albies to the fly. Both will rip line off your reel with incredible speed but albacore typically make a more pronounced dive for the depths. In this straight up down tug-o-war your rod better have plenty of lifting power. For that reason my go to fly fishing sticks for this type of fishing are the TFO Bluewater series.

To locate albie schools modern electronics like depth sounders and radar are an absolute must. But don’t neglect the age-old practice of keeping your eyes peeled for activity like diving birds or surface disturbances. The most efficient and direct way of locating a school of albacore is by trolling. While you can take fish by immediately casting a fly after a fish hits a trolled lure, to draw the school to the boat for consistent action you need to chum with live bait, primarily in the form of anchovies.  It’s a great help to have someone aboard who knows how to chum effectively.  When and where to throw out another ‘chovie’ is not random and a mate who knows how to pitch baits to keep albies close and in a feeding mood is worth his weight in gold.

Check back next week for part 2 of Nick Curcione‘s article on West Coast Alabacore…





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