Fresh From The Salt

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Feature Stories 2011

 

Volume 2, Issue 5, November 2011: Here's to the Little Tunny Nearshore fly fishing for a true Gulf power


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In this issue of FRESH FROM THE SALT, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 2011:  Here’s to the Little Tuny – Nearshore fly fishing for a true Gulf power, we take a look at a little-known fishery right here in Tampa Bay.  False Albacore, or “Little Tunny” as they’re known to many because of their status as a member of the tuna family, annually migrate down the eastern seaboard of the United States and even up into the Gulf of Mexico.  The fish don’t stick around for very long as they are constantly on the move in search of food.  As one of the strongest and fastest fish in our ocean, they have become a favorite of fly fishermen up and down the coast for their blistering, long runs and their endless pulling power.  Averaging only 5-15 pounds, what they lack in size they make up for in pure adrenalin and speed.  If you know where these great fighters have migrated to, get out there and watch the birds following the bait that are being chased by these fish.  Before you know it, the water surface will end up in a frenzy of glass minnows and other bait being destroyed by packs of rabid albies.  Once you’re hooked up, get ready to see your fly reel backing in a matter of seconds and get ready for the big chase!

 

Sincerely,

Joshua W. Broer (pondfisher)

 

 

Here’s to the Little Tunny – Nearshore fly fishing for a true Gulf power
By Joshua W. Broer

 

It’s that special time of year again when our water temps have dropped, bringing migrating fish down our West Central coast and into the bay, and tons of game fish onto the flats.  However, our “Autumn” season in Florida is more or less a few weeks in between a very hot summer and a relatively cold winter.  So, essentially, we don’t really have a true Fall season.  It’s a short window of time in which to catch the fish we love so much, and some other, not-so-common varieties that come our way.


For me, it means the return of False albacore, aka “Little Tunny” because of their status as a member of the tuna family.  However, unlike bluefin, yellowfin, albacore and big-eye, these tuna are not edible. They are a warm-blooded fish so their meat is dark-red and bloody, and soaking the filets in water or milk to “get rid of that fishy taste” is just a waste of time.  What they are though, if you hook one, is perhaps the most challenging, pound-for-pound, fighting fish in our waters.


Whatever type of tackle you might use, false albacore are fast, strong and mean.  Averaging 5-15 pounds, they commonly burn out drags, break lines and snap rods within the first 10 seconds of a hook-up.  Marine biologists claim that they reach speeds of up to 40 mph and can run the length of a football field in a mere four seconds.  Fly fishing writer and lifetime albie chaser, Tom Gilmore, author of the book – False Albacore, A Comprehensive Guide to Fly Fishing’s Hottest Fish, compares their runs to “…hooking into a speeding SUV…”.


Catching false albacore on any type of tackle is a challenge but it has become an obsession to fly fishermen up and down the Atlantic coast.  Every Spring and Fall, folks addicted to albie fishing from as far north as Massachusetts to as far south as the Florida Keys, flock to their hotspots in hopes of getting one of these speedsters to eat their fly.  Two of the more famous spots are Montauk, NY and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Florida, although not as populated as other spots further north up the Atlantic coast, has its own unique false albacore fishery on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides.


Tampa Bay, known more for its plentiful snook, redfish and trout fisheries, has a surprisingly large number of “out of town” fish that make their way into the bay each year.  Among the migratory fish we see when the water cools, kingfish usually come to mind.  And it’s the mouth of the bay and out into the Gulf where we find them, not on the flats.  This is also true of the little tunny run.  When they visit our area, it’s the deep water off Egmont Key and Ft. Desoto in which you’ll find them.


False albacore never stop moving.  They are constantly on the run and constantly eating.  This is how we find them.  Much like we see year-round with Spanish mackerel, these fish move in small to large schools, balling up their favorite bait – glass minnows (bay anchovies) – and pushing these bait balls up where they make a coordinated attack at the water’s surface.  The result is an explosion of fish and bait that creates a mass-feeding frenzy that easily identifies the location of both predator and prey.  Seagulls, terns and pelicans get in on the action too and swoop down to nip at pieces of wounded bait. These birds, in fact, are the number one fish-finder for the angler hunting down albies.  Look for the diving birds and usually you’ll find the fish.

But make no doubt about it, this is NOT easy fishing.  A school of fish, sometimes only 5-10 total, will drop down into the water column and pop up 100 yards away before you can motor to them.  Ironically, it’s the “run-and-gun” of motor boats from school to school that usually puts them down.  Often, it’s the kayakers and drift boats that get into the most action.  Either way, if you are skilled (or perhaps lucky) enough to get your fly – or artificial lure if using spin tackle – into the school and hook up, watch those fingers.  Novice fly fishermen commonly come away with busted knuckles, burnt fingers and hurt egos.   They’ll smoke your drag, break your line and snap your rod before you can blink!  Be sure to have a minimum of 200 yards of backing for those bigger fish… and pray that’s enough.