It’s quite common to see northern residents enjoying the Florida warmth this time of year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find a fish more famously associated with mid-Atlantic to Northeastern waters stretching lines in the Gulf of Mexico.
False albacore, “albies,” little tunny—these are the common names for a shiny torpedo that blasts its way through Gulf shallows in search of any baitfish unfortunate enough to cross their radar. Also common during the warm season when they often share the beach with Spanish mackerel, albies are easily distinguished from their smaller, golden-spotted neighbors with a noticeably larger footprint, of sorts.
Both chase their prey topside and frequently break the surface with violent attacks. But the size and intensity of the explosions typically reveals the flavor.
Think softball vs. bowling ball, with albie attacks resembling the latter.
Capt. Rick Grassett, who guides the Sarasota area on Florida’s Central Gulf Coast, targets these speedy predators along the local beaches. He notes that fall (Oct/Nov) and spring (Mar/Apr) are prime time for albies, but favorable weather provides first-quarter action, as well.
“I have known false albacore to be around during January and February during warm years (like 2014 and 2015),” Grassett said. “They may disappear when it’s cold and reappear during warmups. They move around with their food source, so when baitfish move offshore or south (albies) will follow.”
Tempting albies is pretty simple – just toss something that resembles a baitfish in front of their nose. Grassett likes 1/4-ounce DOA CAL jigs with shad tails or 4-inch jerk worms, topwater plugs such as Storm Chug Bugs and MirrOlure She Dogs.
For a real blast, Grassett suggests an 8- or 9-weight, large arbor fly reel holding 200-yards or more of backing with 10-foot clear intermediate sink tip fly line. Top offerings include Crease flies, poppers, Clousers and his own design – the Grassett Snook Minnow (a No. 4 size glass minnow imposter).
A hooked albie is nothing short of finned fury, so hold on tightly and enjoy the fight. This fish has low food quality and unless you plan on using the bloody, oily flesh for shark bait, a quick boatside release will have the fish on its way back to the school and you on your way to another thrilling hookup.