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The Need for Speed
Written by Bob Maehrlein   
Saturday, 21 September 2013 18:50
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As the night air starts getting cooler and the kids go back to school in September, my thoughts turn to those little speedsters – bonito and false albacore. Although it was probably 25 years ago, I still remember the first bonito I ever caught.  I was fluke fishing with my father and my next door neighbor.  As I started reeling in my line to get ready to move to another spot, something hit my white bucktail like a freight train.  Instantly, what seemed like miles of 10 lb. test line began to melt off my little Berkley reel.  Eventually I worked it along the boat where my neighbor was waiting with the net.  Once aboard, I was amazed at the sight of this mini-tuna that almost spooled me.  It was probably only around 4 or 5 lbs., but from then on, I was hooked!

ABOUT THEM

Whether you call them bones, bonita, little tunny, albies, or fat alberts, these little pelagics are just a blast to catch on light tackle!

They are often spoken of or written about in the same sentence, as in, “I’m going to try to catch some bones and albies today.”  While they are often caught together as they migrate down the east coast in the late summer and early autumn, they are in fact, two distinct species.   The bonitos that frequent our area are Atlantic bonito (sarda sarda).  They are most easily recognized by the dark angled lines on their backs and their sharp little canine like teeth.  False Albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) have squiggly lines on their backs and, while they have teeth, they are set further back in their mouths and are not very noticeable.

Another major difference is their food value.  While the bonito is sought after for its delicious meat, the false albacore is not.  A party boat mate once described an albie’s flavor to me by saying, “If you want your cat to hate you, feed it one of those!”  While that may be true, (I don't have the courage to try one) I do know people who have eaten it and liked it.

Whatever their food value, the real reason I target these two fish is for their fighting abilities on light tackle.  Once hooked, they are capable of making blistering runs up to 40 miles per hour.  Put simply, these fish make drags sing!

TACKLE & TECHNIQUES

Rods and reels will vary depending on whether you are pursuing these fish from boat or land, trolling, casting or chumming.  As a general rule, you want to keep it as light as possible.  Line test should stay under 20 lb. mono or 30 lb. braid.  Rods should be from medium light to medium action.  Avoid targeting these speedsters on overly heavy tackle.

On a private boat, I like to use a 7’ medium light to medium action rod and a 3000-4000 size reel loaded with 15 or 20 lb. braid.  I will add a 5 -10 ft. section of 12-20 lb. fluorocarbon line before attaching my lure or bait.  Most party boats do not allow braided lines.  In this case I use the same 7’ rods with a 4000-5000 size reel and 12-14 lb. mono or fluorocarbon line.  

If I have monofilament as my main line I will again add a 5 -10 ft. section of 12-20 lb. fluorocarbon.  If I am using all fluorocarbon main line, I will tie direct.

If you’re trolling for bones and albies; cedar plugs, Clark spoons and scaled down daisy chains will catch them as well as other scaled down tuna baits.  Speed is the key.  Trolling speeds of 5 to 7 knots are just about right.

From the surf, where distance is a factor, slim metals from ¾ to 3 oz. such as AVAs (with and without tails), Deadly Dicks, Gibbs Minnows, Acme Need L Eels and Kastmasters, Cripple Herrings, and Seastriker Jigfish (similar to the old Megabait Live Jigs) will all catch.  Cast ahead of the school and fish these lures fast and high, sometimes even breaking the surface of the water.

If the fish are in closer, soft plastics such as, Zoom Flukes, Fin-S Fish, Sluggos, Bass Assassins, RonZ baits and Tsunami Split Tails can be dynamite.  These are my preferred lures when fishing from a boat (with the Tsunami Split Tails being my all-time favorite).   Fish these lures in a “walk the dog” fashion.  After a long cast, count the lure down from 5 to 10 seconds (depending on the current).  Then, holding your rod tip down, begin a moderate to fast retrieve, all the while whipping the rod in a rhythmic manner.  Pause occasionally, for a second or two, to let the bait sink a little (trying to make it look injured) before continuing your retrieve.   Many times this is when you’ll get bit.

Not to be overlooked in this long list of bonito and albie lures is the plain white bucktail.  Countless numbers of bones and fat alberts have been taken on these simple lures, including (as I stated before) my very first bonito.  Fish these in the same manner you would fish the soft plastics.

PARTY BOATS

While this section refers to party boat fishing, which is how I mostly fish for bones and albies nowadays, these same techniques will work for private boaters as well.  The difference is mobility.  The bigger party boats really don’t have the speed to chase the fast moving schools, so chasing is really only an option for the private boater.

Party boats will anchor up and chum with a very thin soup of bunker and other oily fish.  Fresh or frozen spearing are added to the slick to spice it up.  The trick is to use just enough to entice the targeted species, but not so much as to attract bluefish or sharks.  Bait is the same whole spearing.  You will need to use small (size 1/0 to 2/0) live bait or octopus style hooks in order to hide the hook from the bonito or albacore’s sharp eyes.   Place the hook in the mouth, out the gill and then back into the body of the spearing.  When done correctly very little of the hook will be showing and the bait will hang straight and look natural.

Keeping your bail open, drift the spearing back into the chum line.  You want your bait to be moving through the slick at the same rate that the other spearing are moving.  Usually this will mean using no weight at all.  However, there will be times, such as when the current is very strong, when you will need to add a small weight, such as a rubber core sinker or split shot on your line in order to get your offering down where the fish are feeding.  When the line starts peeling off your reel, pause for a second or two, point the rod at the fish, close the bail, set the hook hard and hold on!

Once the slick is established, casting the aforementioned metals, soft plastics and bucktails and working them back through it can be very effective.  It’s my absolute favorite way to catch them.

LOCATIONS

Bonito and Alberts favor lumps, humps and ridges.  As they move inshore in the late summer and early fall you may find them as close in as right off the beach.  Usually the beach action occurs best in low light conditions, such as first light, dusk, or during the day with an overcast sky.  For boaters, popular spots are places like Manasquan Ridge, Barnegat Ridge, Tolten’s Lump and the Klondike.

If it’s September or early October and you’re fishing, you should always have a rod rigged up for these speedsters.  At this time of year you never know when they might pop up.  If they are on the move you may not have but a few seconds to get a cast off to them, so being ready for any opportunity is key.

Good luck!  See you out there.

 

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