Put yourself in a position for success.
So you’re all rigged up and ready to go find some albies, what’s next?
First, let’s talk about locations.
False Albies are usually found anywhere from right in the surf on out to several miles offshore. They can pop up off any stretch of beach along Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, the Crystal Coast, Onslow Beach, Topsail and all the way down towards the mouth of the Cape Fear.
They'll also come into the inlets to feed and will occasionally wander a good ways back behind the islands.
Most anglers keep an eye open for fish when coming through the inlet, and then head down the beach until they see fish pop up. I usually run parallel to the beach about a half mile offshore, and keep my eyes peeled to the left and right for breaking fish and flocks of birds.
A lot of times, schools of feeding fish will be followed by flocks of seagulls, terns and pelicans all waiting to get in on the action.
Terns and pelicans don’t mind working for their own live food, so it’s not always a guarantee that there will be albies under them.
Seagulls on the other hand are pretty lazy, and prefer to wait and pick up the leftovers from blitzing albies. Gulls will zig-zag through the sky over schools of albacore and wait for them to intercept a school of baitfish. When the albies find the bait, the gulls will frantically work over the water picking up the leftovers.
Depending on how many birds there are, you can usually see them at a pretty good distance away as you scan along the horizon. As you make your approach, start looking below the birds for the whitewater from the blitzing fish. A school of marauding albacore is a sight to behold as they rip across the surface in every direction with their backs out of the water.
This is the point where many fishermen lose their cool and blow the shot.
It can be hard to calm your nerves when there is so much action and you know you may only have a few seconds to take your shot. This combined with waves, wind, a moving boat and a moving target can make the situation really tough for someone who’s new to the game.
I can promise you one thing — one good cast is always worth more than three poor casts.
Take your time and wait until you are in a good position before you make your cast. Oh, and make sure you practice your double haul before you come down.
Albies rarely stay put, even when devouring a large school of bait. They also have a tendency to feed moving into the wind.
Once you see which direction the fish are moving, have your boat driver position the boat ahead of them and let them come to you. This is always more successful than following behind the fish trying to keep up with them. Get ahead of them and prepare yourself to make a cast as soon as they get in range. If you can’t get out in front of the fish, approach them from the side as they move across the bow of the boat.
One technique that I’ve found to work really well for fly fishermen is to turn the boat sideways to the fish as you come off throttle.
If you come straight up to a school of fish and cast as you come off of the throttle, the boat will continue to drift toward your cast and there's no way to keep your line tight and your fly moving.
If you turn the boat to the side and the angler casts off the side of the boat, you don’t have the issue of the boat drifting towards your line and you can keep your fly moving the whole time.
Wait until the boat is in neutral and turned to the side of the fish and then make your cast right across the school.
As soon as your fly hits the water, immediately get it moving through the school. If you don’t get an eat, pick it up and shoot it right back across the school.
Fast strips can definitely produce bites, but don’t be afraid to slow your strip down as you work it through the school. The albies will cue in on anything that looks injured so slower strips can work as well as fast ones.
When you get an eat, it will feel like you just strip struck into a cinder block.
When the fish takes off, your only job is to clear the line of any cleats, trolling motors, or body parts it could wrap around until it's off the deck and your reel’s drag goes to work.
Most albies make an initial fast, long run of more than a hundred yards, then allow you to fight them until you’ve almost retrieved your backing and then take off on a second run.
Once you get them near the boat, they usually head straight down and swim in tight circles. This is usually the point where someone high-sticks their rod and snaps it trying to lift the fish, so be careful to fight the fish with the butt of the rod and not the midsection.
When the fish breaks the surface, have your boat mate grab the leader with one hand and grab the fish by the tail. Albacore tails were designed to be perfect handles so grab hold and don’t let him shake loose.
Albies don’t do well being revived in the same manner as most fish, the best way to release them is to hold them at chest height and drop them straight into the water headfirst.
They’ll speed off like a bullet as soon as they hit the water.
Boatless but not hopeless.
If you’ve just read this article and you are not a boat owner, there's still hope.
There are several spots along the coast that you can fish from the sand that albies frequent.
The downside is you lose the ability go looking for fish; you have to sit and wait for them to come to you.
Most of the shore points near inlets can hold fish. Cape Lookout Spit is one such place, and can produce good numbers of fish as they pass through Barden’s Inlet crushing bait. They can pop up along any beachfront, so keep your eyes peeled for working birds down the beach. There will usually be enough bluefish and small jacks to entertain you until the albacore arrive.
There are also several very talented albacore guides in Coastal North Carolina that can put you right on top of fish and coach you through all the steps to catching your first one, and several more.
The Cape Lookout Albacore Festival.
Since 2014, the Cape Lookout Albacore Festival has been promoting the sustainable, recreational, fall fishery for False Albacore on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Over 120 anglers, and many more friends and families, have visited the Cape Lookout area in search of our target species. Each year we’ve experienced additional growth, bringing visitors from further locations to our lovely home.
Despite the success of the tournament, and presentation of the coveted copper Albacore trophies, the highlight of the event has unquestionably been the support of our Veterans. The festival chose Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., who provides fly fishing, fly tying, and rod building to Disabled Veterans and wounded Active Duty Service members, as our charity. Over the past three years, in excess of $50,000 has been donated, of which half has been earmarked for support of the local Crystal Coast Program in Swansboro, NC. Equally impressive, over 50 of our local area guides and fishermen have donated their boats, fuel, equipment, and time to take nearly 100 Project Healing Waters participants on the water to chase our beloved Albies, Spanish Mackerel and Bluefish.
This year the festival is making a change to include a more diverse group of anglers. An inshore tournament is being added, allowing those who enjoy the pursuit of Redfish, Speckled Trout and Flounder to join the festivities. We hope to provide more opportunities for our Project Healing Waters participants during the event, and to attract more support for our charitable endeavors. Anglers may compete in either or both categories in this year’s Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival.
Follow us on Facebook to learn more about the changes, events, and special guests at this year’s festival. We continue to work towards making the Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival the premier fly fishing tournament/festival on the East Coast. We hope to see you this Fall!
This years Festival is coming up soon. October 19-21, 2017 in Atlantic Beach, NC.
Visit us at www.CapeLookoutAlbacoreFestival.com for the most up to date information.