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Albie Time, Carolina Style

Posted 10/28/2014

November is the time to catch false albacore, and Cape Lookout is the epicenter of the shallow water action

The skiff was slowly moving across the shallow waters along the south side of Cape Lookout, with the 150-horsepower Yamaha engine so quiet we had to look back to be sure it was running. We were at a spot called the “Gun Mounts,” where the remnants of World War II artillery emplacements can still be found on the beach, when the calm surface around us suddenly erupted. Small baitfish were being driven out of the water by ravenous false albacore, the small tuna slashing in all directions in an attempt to corral the school of tightly packed bay anchovies. That group was quickly followed by another, and another until it seemed they were feeding everywhere. With a short back cast and a double haul, the eight-weight propelled the fly into one area of boiling water where it was inhaled on the first strip. Line started melting off the reel as the fish took off, moving rapidly away from the melee. It was a scene that would make any angler’s heart beat faster. Right now you can get in on the action, too, because it’s albie time in North Carolina, and the fishing is anything but lazy. 

Capt. Jake Jordan shows off a typical false albacore caught and released on a beautiful November day.

As the waters around Cape Lookout cool, a plethora of small baitfish pour out of the sounds, bays and tidal rivers onto the oceanfront beaches where they gather into tightly packed schools called “bait balls.” The profusion of forage creates a veritable smorgasbord of feeding opportunities for small- to mid-size gamefish like bluefish, Spanish mackerel and the speedy false albacore. These situations offer anglers the opportunity to get in on a feast of light tackle action that can be epic. The weapons of choice? Light spinning tackle and fly rods. In fact, the fly fishing is so incredible, aficionados from all over the country flock to this area to experience it. 

There are a number of forage species found here, so you have to be ready to match the hatch with an appropriate fly.

This confluence of bait and predators occurs almost like clockwork each fall, with the action starting as early as the end of August and continuing until the water gets too cold and the bait and gamefish make their way to warmer waters (usually around the first week of December.) 

“Prime time is late October and November,” said Captain Jake Jordan. Jake is a world-renown fly fishing guide who lives in nearby Havelock, North Carolina, and runs his Yamaha-powered Jones Brothers skiff out of a marina in Morehead City. He left his home of 35 years in Marathon and moved here because he fell in love with the fall albacore fishing a dozen years ago. In the Keys, he was one of an elite group of top tarpon guides. It didn’t take him long to gain a similar reputation in this fishery. 

“I used to come here for a couple weeks each fall and charter with Brian Horsley and Sarah Parker, the pioneers who developed and popularized the albacore fishery,” Jordan said. “But that just wasn’t enough for me so I packed my bags, sold my house and moved to Craven County so I could fish the entire run. Brian, Sarah and most of the light tackle guides in the area have become my dear friends, and we all work together to put our clients on incredible fishing every day we can get out.”

“The area around Cape Lookout offers the best albie fishing anyplace in the world,” Jordan continued. “What makes it really special is the consistency of the fishing and the fact that it takes place in shallow water along beaches and on the nearby shoals. While I specialize in taking fly fishermen, it’s a great fishery for light tackle spin fishermen, too.”

False albacore, aka “albies,” are the smallest of the true tunas in the Atlantic. While they can range from New England to Florida, there are only a handful of places where they venture into extremely shallow water to feed. Cape Lookout in the fall is unique among them. The seemingly endless bait schools can frequently draw marauding albies into water barely five feet deep. When a feeding event occurs, and on some days it can start early and continue for hours with only a short respite during the slack tide, a school of albies will push the tiny baitfish to the surface, slashing through the schools creating an explosive show for anglers. This is site fishing at its best, and it’s sure to get your heart pumping and adrenaline flowing. The challenge is to keep your excitement under control while placing well-aimed casts into the maelstrom. The game is to find the bait, be on point when the feeding starts, stay cool, and make good casts. But one thing is for sure, you will get plenty of opportunities to make those casts. 

Albies are the smallest of the true tunas in the Atlantic, and they fight strong and fast just like their bigger cousins.

“My fly fishing clients use outfits that range from seven-to-ten weights, but if they don’t have appropriate tackle of their own, I have top quality gear on board at all times,” Jordan said. “Albies are strong fish capable of taking a lot of line. So a reel with an excellent drag system is a must, or you will break off a lot of fish. You’d be surprised how fast ablies are, even though they average about five to ten pounds. We catch bigger ones than that pretty regularly, too. 

I also provide a full selection of hand-tied flies to match any of the baitfish we might come across during a day on the water from tiny bay anchovy imitations to larger Clousers and Surf Candy flies,” he continued. “The species and size of the baitfish can vary, sometimes from hour to hour, and matching the bait with the right fly can be extremely important to a successful day.”

For spin fisherman, a medium-action seven-foot rod loaded with 12- or 15-pound test line matches well with the fighting qualities of the fish. A fluorocarbon leader is a must as albacore have keen eyesight and the slightest unnatural appearance in your presentation, whether fishing fly or spinning tackle, can cause them to avoid your lure. Small, shiny metal lures and plastic bodied jigs can be used to match a wide variety of the baitfish you’ll encounter with spinning tackle. 

It’s also advisable to bring along a heavier outfit because there’s a good chance you will encounter bull redfish along the beach at some time during the day. When you do, they respond readily to larger flies and lures. The reds can run to over 40 pounds, so typical albie tackle is over gunned by their size and power.

The fall weather in the Carolinas can vary dramatically so it’s a good idea to bring an assortment of clothing. On a recent trip we were wearing shorts, t-shirts and sunscreen one day and long pants, rain gear and boots the next. Check the weather and wind forecast each morning so you can be sure to dress accordingly.

This fine little albie finally surfaced after a short but challenging fight.

There are a number of world-class guides in the area such as Captain Jake www.jakejordan.com and Brian Horsley and Sarah Parker 

www.outerbanksflyfishing.com who can put you on great fishing. There are also launch ramps and marinas in Beaufort and Morehead City should you decide to bring your own boat. Flats and bay skiffs are the ideal vessel for this fishing, but small- to mid-size center console boats will serve you well. No matter how you decide to go, fall albie fishing at Cape Lookout is exciting light tackle fun and an experience you will never forget.