Matching the Hatch: Best Lures for Albies & Bonito

One of the reasons the fall albie run on Cape Cod is such an exciting fishery is the abundance of bait that floods our inshore waters starting in late August. This time of year, it's not uncommon to find albies bouncing between silversides, sand eels, peanut bunker and butterfish all within a one mile radius. That's why it's important to be prepared to match the hatch depending on what kinds of bait you're seeing pushed up out of the water.

Here, we've put together a photo guide to help you select the correct size and color lure for each baitfish. Also, check out or bonito & albie lure matrix to see a full chart of recommended lures for each type of baitfish.

Atlantic Silversides (Spearing)

Also known as spearing, silversides can be found along the coastline and estuaries on all of Cape Cod & the Islands. A mature silverside can reach about 6inches but are often found in schools out in open water and are frequently between 2 and 4 inches long. Silversides tend to move slowly in large schools. Their silvery lateral line is very distinctive and can be problematic if fish can be too keyed in on them. The best retrieve speed for mimicking silversides is a slow to medium retrieve.

Too Much Bait: If there is an extreme abundance of silversides, so much so that it is hard to get a bass or albie to key in on one, your go to retrieve is the dead drop slow twitch, which will simulate a wounded silverside descending from the school.

Peanut Bunker

You know the fall has either arrived or imminent when peanut bunker show up. Like the bay anchovy, peanut bunker ball up in great numbers just under the surface. Peanut bunker typically range from 2 to 3 inches. Like both the bay anchovy and the silversides, peanut bunker too have a very distinctive color patterns. When they are dead, they appear to be silver as they lose their coloration very quickly. Don’t be fooled! But alive and well in their habitat, Peanut bunker have an olive twinge, with pink colorations. Your go to color patterns will be olive, ideally with a pink twinge.

Too Much Bait: The best retrieve speed for mimicking these is a medium to fast retrieve. If there is an extreme abundance of Peanut bunker, so much so that it is hard to get a bass or albie to key in on one, your go to retrieve is tip in the water fast retrieve, which will simulate a strike response.

Butterfish

Tiny butterfish can be found balled up all over the Cape & Islands in the fall. Butterfish have a unique profile that is hard to replicate and still have a good swimming action with a metal lure. As a result small, fat and round softbaits in a bone or silvery coloration is the way to go. They are slow moving, so a slow to medium retrieve is ideal.

Sand Eels

Perhaps by various different names, I think there are sand eels in every body of water. Sand eels can range from 2 to 9 inches. Nothing drives bass and albies crazier than big balls of sand eels. They can show up in all levels of the water column so be ready with different weights. Sand eels are olive and silver and in like kind, those are the colors you would use. That said, a long narrow profile goes a long way in imitating sand eels as well.

Too Much Bait: The best retrieve speed for mimicking these is a slow to medium retrieve. If there is an extreme abundance of sand eels, so much so that it is hard to get a bass or albie to key in on one, your go to retrieve is tip in the water fast retrieve, the dead drop slow twitch, which will simulate a wounded sand eel descending from the school.

Juvenile Herring

Fall is the time when these small delectables make their way out into the big ocean. Juvenile herring get balled up easily but often separate faster than other schooled baitfish. Blue or silvery lures work best. I personally find that predators keyed in on herring tend to be the easiest to catch. Their silvery tinge is a common color pattern. Juvenile herring are more chubby than not so small softbaits are also quite effective in addition to small metals and epoxy jigs. The best retrieve speed for mimicking small herring is a medium to fast retrieve with lots of twitches with your rod pointed downward.

Juvenile Mackerel

Like the juvenile herring, bass and albies get very aggressive when keyed in on small mackerel. They are fast moving schools, so be ready to be nimble. Obviously green is the top color for matching the hatch for mackerel. As fast to very fast retrieve is ideal for these little speedsters.

Bay Anchovies

Schools of bay anchovies are easily identifiable by the orange or muddy brown appearance of the bait ball in the water. They are typically about 2 to 4 inches long. Like the silverside, their coloration is very distinctive, easily identified by their orange or brownish appearance and silver striping. Also like the silverside, bass and albies can really key in on their appearance, making it hard to catch without the right profile. Anchovy feeds can often be the most exciting as they shower the water. The best retrieve speed for mimicking these is a medium to fast retrieve.

Too Much Bait: If there is an extreme abundance of bay anchovies, so much so that it is hard to get a bass or albie to key in on one, your go to retrieve is skippy retrieve, which will simulate one that has been separated from the school.

Softbait Sand Eels

These tiny soft bait imitators shine on greasy calm days when albies can be seen sipping sand eels off the surface. These surface sipping bites can often be the toughest, as the calm conditions keep albies ultra finicky. The imitator sand eels shine on a lightly weighted, ultra light fluoro presentation. We recommend no heavier than 12lb test when casting on greasy calm days. Paired with a 1/0 or 3/0 lightly weighted or unweighted swimbait hook, these eels can be slowly twitch-paused along the outside corners of a sand eel feed.

Fish The Drop: Work the imitator sand eel with long pauses, allowing the bait to slowly sink through the bait school, appearing wounded and vulnerable. Often times, finicky albies can’t ignore an easy meal drifting slowly to the bottom. Using an occasional short twitch to keep the bait wigging, work pauses as long as 5 - 10 seconds for a unique presentation.

Classic Soft Baits

There’s no denying the effectiveness of well-presented soft baits for targeting pressured or finicky Albies. For over a decade, the 7inch Original Eel Soft Bait has filled a niche when other offerings are ignored. Demonstrating some of the most exciting surface explosions we’ve witnessed, this larger profile bait can seeming produce aggressive Albies out of nowhere.

Pro Tip: Simply paired with a heavy 1/2oz weighted swimbait hook for proper balance and keel weighted action, these soft baits are best worked quite fast, rod tip pointed to the water. An aggressive medium-fast speed retrieve will dance and quiver while drawing in fish from a distance. Color wise, bone and bubblegum have become producers during both sunlit afternoon and overcast skies.