It’s fall in coastal New England and for some that means leaf peeping in New Hampshire. For many of the anglers in our midst it’s albie time! The little tunny, false albacore, Euthynnus alteratus is a fish that drives our obsessions, wakes us up from a deep sleep, and fires the predatory instincts in our angler souls. Why the obsession? These small tunas when hooked can run two hundred feet of backing off of your nine weight in about twenty seconds. As an angler what can be more thrilling than that? Unlike their cousin the bluefin or yellowfin tunas the false albacore is found very close to shore and can be targeted by most anglers cost effectively. On Cape Cod angers catch these fish from shore, on kayaks, and aboard power boats.
Many of the Thomas and Thomas family target false albacore. Cape and Islands pros include Captain Joe Leclair and Abby Schuster. Ray Jarvis of Westport Massachusetts is another local seasoned guide with Thomas and Thomas rods on his boat. Contact them early as their dates fill up for the fall run when striped bass, bluefish, Atlantic bonito, Spanish mackerel, and yes the false albacore are all available in and around Cape Cod! I’ve personally been running the boat when T&T pros Tom and Dan Harrison and Cam Chioffi scored their first ‘Core. Even these seasoned anglers marvel at the blistering runs that the albie makes once hooked. Dan and Tom have made our albie trip an annual event.
If you want to try for one of these little speedsters get your casting sharp! The typical way to attempt for an albie is to find the fish actively feeding in pods on the surface. The fish corral up a bait ball, pushing it to the surface and then feed violently for sometimes only seconds to one minute. A seasoned captain like Joe or Abby will position the boat upwind of these feeds and through patience and persistence nose their boat in close enough for a cast. The anglers job is to deliver the fly in front of the fish and get it moving all while minimizing false casts. This is all accomplished while the boat is moving, the fish are moving, the wind is blowing and the waves keep the boat rocking under your feet, no small feat!
Little tunny (Euthynnus alleteratus) also commonly referred to as ‘false albacore’
Little Tunny are the most common Scombrid in the western North Atlantic. The little tunny is a member of the mackerel family, Scombridae. The family includes mackerel and tuna species. Little tunny are in the ‘tribe,’ a category of subfamily Scombrinae referred to as Thunnini or many species that are morphologically tuna/football shaped. Other tribes in this subfamily include Scombrini (example common American mackerel), Scomberomorini (example Spanish mackerel), and Sardini (example Atlantic bonito). Common characteristics of this family include two dorsal fins including a spiny first anal fin and a soft rayed second dorsal fin, a narrow caudal peduncle, 8-9 finlets behind both the dorsal and anal fins, a sharp forked ‘lunate’ tail, and small scales. The appearance of the little tunny is most commonly associated with the metallic blue with black mottled lines on the dorsal side of the fish. The body type is fusiform which becomes present when lifting one and noticing that all body undulations or swimming motions take place at or behind the second dorsal fin. The ventral side is mostly white with a number of dark spots ranging from zero to ten found between the pectoral and pelvic fins.
Distribution and Habitat
The little Tunny is found in warm waters in all oceans ranging from 56 deg N. Latitude to -30 deg S. Latitude including the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Black Sea. Little tunny typically migrate into Massachusetts at the height of annual water temperatures in August and depart in October. The appearance of these fish coincides with the presence of two dietary items the bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) and juvenile menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus).
Little tunny mature at about 35 centimeters or 14 inches and are known to spawn in the straits of Florida from April through November. Eggs are pelagic, they contain an oil droplet which aids in buoyancy, and the eggs measure around 1 millimeter in diameter. Little tunny have been known to reach 100 centimeters or 40 inches in length. The IGFA record is 16.32 kilograms or 36 pounds. It is believed that little tunny may live as long as ten years.
Albies are opportunistic feeders eating juvenile menhaden, Atlantic silversides, bay anchovies, small squid, and crustaceans. Like all other tunas, the false albacore is a powerful fast swimmer and ram ventilator, which means that it must always swim forward to force water over its gills and breathe; it also means that it must swallow prey whole. In Massachusetts waters, schools of little tunny are often seen streaking at the surface and leaping from the water as they herd and attack prey.
Predators of little tunny include other tuna, dolphinfish, wahoo, sailfish, swordfish, various sharks, and other large fish. Juveniles are eaten by smaller fishes and birds as well.