Finding False Albacore Around Cape Cod
I have noticed over the years how focused anglers have become on reports, even to a point where it might be counterproductive. Here are a few thoughts on how anglers chasing these reports are going about it in the wrong way:
- For starters, where the albies are is anybody’s best guess when they first show up at the beginning of the season. Someone has to be first! If you don’t head out and look, the best you’ll know is where they were yesterday! Keep in mind early fish are movers too.
- A report just tells you where they were yesterday. Albie move fast and the ability to find your own fish is frequently needed. I would say this is the case at least 75-percent of the time, at least to some degree. The fish may have moved only 10 miles but if you are too hung up on “the spot” you’ll miss valuable time sniffing around to find your own fish. I can’t tell you how many times I have scrambled based on a good report only to discover that the fish had moved.
- A report might take you to where there is unpleasant boat traffic or mediocre fishing. By running your own playbook, you might find a bigger and better situation. It’s a fact — boats put fish down. There may have been a good bite at 8 a.m. but by 9 a.m., it’s over. Have you ever pounded a spot with the fleet all day only to end up getting skunked? I never regret picking up and moving out of a crowded fishing situation with less than par fishing.
- It’s simply badass to skip the reports and find your own fish. After all, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us coming back. The fact is, the most efficient way to get albies is at the fish market.
Break Down The Situation
The key to success is to know when to stick around and when to run. The sharpies know how to break down the situation and make calculated decisions based on experience, rules of thumb and common sense. Here’s how I have learned to break down the situation over the years that I have been albie fishing.
- Seasonality: Here on Cape Cod, you should be ready to make these loops by early June. The bite can happen earlier, but mid-June is a good starting point. The bite in this region can run hot and cool throughout the whole season. Like all albie friendly locales, albie baits in this area can be herring, pogies, mackerel, sand eels, half beaks, butterfish, bottom fish and small bluefish. My sense is you most frequently see sand eels and half beaks, but I have never tracked my findings. In any event, you should be prepared for any of these baits throughout the season.
- “Yesterday”: If you have good reports, start there. Replicate as much as possible and work from there to adapt to the new days’ conditions. Many times, the playbook remains unchanged, but many times, a new day in the same spot calls for a few small adjustments to fully capitalize. If the fishing is not happening, look at what has changed.
- Tide: If you know what time the fishing was good yesterday, consider adjusting for the timing of today. Often, the bait, and consequently albie, move with tide over the cycle. The fishing can move as many as a couple of miles over a couple hours of fishing. If you are fishing without a report, use this same concept to your advantage. The stage of the tide at hand might help suggest where to “put lines in.”
- Slack tide is the best time for peak albie fishing. During this time, bait will rise to the surface and this is when the action can really heat up, especially for top water action. Big moon periods have the shortest tides and are often considered less desirable. A note here; tides can be difficult to look up offshore. Once you identify slack, and record it, you’ll be able to extrapolate future times by adding about 50 minutes per day and four hours per tide cycle.
- Time of day: Obviously a non-issue if you are replicating a report, but there’s a few good rules of thumb here. Early morning fish and sunset fish tend to be far more aggressive. Albie can bite all day and slack is always king.
- Radar: If you have high power radar, you can use it to find birds. Most units today have “bird mode” but if yours doesn’t, you can tune yours by turning the gain all the way up and removing the clutter.
- Size: For starters, bird size will likely tell you what size bait you’re dealing with. Any birds, including stormy Petrels, are a good sign. But the bigger birds, such as Shearwaters, Gannets and Large Gulls are usually a great sign and tend to be the best indicators of albie.
- Activity: You’ll want to identify the birds intentions. Obviously, the Holy Grail is tightly vertexing birds with lots of aggressive contacts with the water. What is happening here is a predator(s) is pushing up bait, allowing the birds to capitalize on the distracted and easily accessed bait. This is a no-brainer situation to put lines in. Slightly lower on the spectrum is lots of birds diving, in a fairly defined area. The bigger the better. Still worth investigating. Lastly, the weakest of the bird activity is a series of terns “kissing” the water. This often occurs from terns feeding on very small bait without any help from predators below. Ask yourself, are there any other signs?
- Loitering: A bunch of birds “hanging” out can be a good sign, meaning that something just happened and they are waiting for it to happen again. It could also mean they are just hanging out or a dragger went by. Who knows! One way to test this is to approach the birds. If they are annoyed but try to stay close, that’s a good sign. If they simply take off, they can be written off.
- Bait: Do you see bait on the surface? On the finder? That’s a good sign. Is bait clustered? That’s a good sign if bait is balled up. It might be in defense mode. Lots of bait “paving” the finder could also be a good sign, but could also mean a lot of bait but no predators. This is a good time to rethink the birds. The birds are pretty good at knowing where the is. Do you see birds loitering and bait? That’s a pretty good sign. What do you know about the bait? What kind is it? If you don’t know species, is it big or small? Packed? Scattered? Answers to any of these questions will guide you.
- Funky Water: This may include nervous water, boils or even rip lines that may pen bait fish, making them vulnerable to albie.
- Slicks: Fish made slicks often means something is getting eaten. Hopefully by albie. If you are marking bait, see birds AND slicks, you’re three-quarters of the way there. Investigate the slicks for marks.
- Targets/Breaking Albie: If you see targets and nothing else, you’re in pretty good shape. If you see targets and all of the above, you’re in great shape! And breaking fish! Well, enough said.
- Current Speed: Let’s say you are marking albie and/or bait and they are toward the bottom in 300’. Knowing your current speed is important as it will help you select lure weight and size, line type and boat speed to get down there. Strong currents can also help point to where the fish might end up over the course of the tide. Bait fish often work their way down tide.
- Light: Thinking about the lighting will help you in a couple of ways. On dark, rainy or foggy days, albie often feed closer to the surface throughout the day. Sometimes switching to a darker lure for greater contrast in low light will help increase the lure’s visibility. I default to matching the hatch, but adapting lure color to the light conditions is my first lure adjustment.
- Water Temperature: Since we are talking albie, we’re primarily dealing with cooler water albie fishing as opposed to gulf stream based Yellowfin, albacores, etc. THAT SAID, temp breaks do corral bait and serve as a sort of structure. Pay close attention to temp breaks.
- Wind: I look at wind in three ways when assessing fishing for albie.
- Direction: Did it change from yesterday? If so, where might that wind direction have pushed the fish over the night? Did it change to the East or Northeast? Still seeing marks? Well that just stinks, because that wind kills fishing! In that case, you might be better off grinding it out where you know the fish are. You’ll be in the same boat in any other spot!
- Wind Pull: Make sure you are casting a lure heavy enough to deal with heavy wind with line pull on the surface. If you are jigging, your boat will be drifting faster. Make sure your jig is heavy enough to deal with your target depth.
- Impact on Migrating fish: Are fish following the general direction of the wind? Ask yourself if the past day-to-day variations on where they were was consistent with the prevailing wind direction. If they are moving with the wind, use this Intel to project where you might start.
Developing a Strategy to Find Fish
When you are albie fishing, you really don’t have much structure to anchor fish to an area. You are pretty much at the mercy of the direction the bait is heading, the ability of albie to find said bait and lastly, and most importantly, hoping the fish are in the mood to eat. There are a lot of moving parts to assess, to say the least. Putting together a logical and adaptable strategy before heading out will greatly up your game.
- Gather Intel: List of questions to ask yourself
- Time of bite?
- Time of slack tide?
- Was bite best at slack tide?
- What bait were they feeding on?
- What is the wind direction and speed that day?
- Extrapolate: Compare conditions during last report and today’s weather and extrapolate time of slack tides and extrapolate where wind and current might push fish. If it’s a recent report, tide differences will vary only by a couple of hours. Develop your plan.
- Obviously start where the last know information left off.
- If no fish or inadequate tells, head the direction the wind and tide differences might have pushed the fish.
- If still poor fishing, time to run the spots. It’s handy to have a float plan ready to go so you can gauge how long it will take you to hit the other “known areas” within rang. Sometimes a hot spot just needs a couple of hours to develop. A loop with a return could hedge that bet.
3. Create Back Up Plan: If you don’t have any reports, a simple float plan will help you cover “the spots” efficiently. Here’s a sample plan I use on Cape Cod: