When the Albies are Biting

Word spreads quickly – among those in the know – and everyone’s grabbing their rods and heading to the shore.

I know it’s called the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, but for a lot of anglers it’s all about the false albacore, or albies. These little ocean-going baby tuna invade the shorelines of the Vineyard sometime late in August and might stay as long as early November, with the peak of the season falling smack dab in the middle of the five-week fishing frenzy known simply as The Derby. For shore-based fly-fishermen, the albie is the perfect Derby fish. Come fall, the sparkle of June’s hot striper run is well faded, and hunches and hot tips rarely yield a weighable blue on a fly. I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a beach bonito, so the albacore is the species du jour by default. Plus, albies often feed so close to the water’s edge you could poke them with your rod tip. Oh, and they’re blazingly fast and they glow neon green and a big one will make your knees knock and make you wonder if you put enough line on your reel.

Ah, but where to go? There’s no lack of good albacore spots on this island and any one of them could be going absolutely wild at any given moment. An up-Island vacation is always fun, if even for an afternoon. Or maybe the reports from Menemsha have been weak and you can’t justify the gas; Edgartown Harbor is always a good bet and a lot closer to the weigh-in station. Chappy is an albie hot zone, where the Gut, at the mouth of Cape Pogue Bay, is a great choice, as you’ll score some tangy beach plums if nothing else. If that doesn’t pan out, you can always fall back on a lazy, bird- dogging, sausage-grilling beach drive down toward Wasque.

Like always, the right choice is to fish where the fish are. You’ll generally find the big fish where the little fish live and that’s where the real hunt begins. “Find the bait and you’ll find the fish,” they say. Every year is different but our hope is always for plentiful numbers of silversides, sand eels, small pogies, and squid. Couple these with clear water and the table is set for an epic Derby. Who knows what this year will bring? We’ll knock on wood and wait to see if our little piece of ocean still has a pulse.

When the hook-up comes, you know you’ll remember it for a long time. Every albie caught from an Island beach or jetty is a precious catch. Unlike boating for albies, where the next blitz is just a turn of the key away, staying shorebound limits your mobility and keeps your attention focused on the one-hundred-foot radius that represents your best downwind cast. Some joyless autumns have given up only a few shore-caught fish, while other years have been a month-long surface feed; either way you’ll recall every albie in great detail come the throes of February’s inevitable deep freeze.

Menemsha is the big league of Island albacore fishing. It’s a tall jetty at low tide, and coupled with big waves and wind, it can get hairy in a hurry. Fierce Derby competitors and winner-size albies don’t help. Keep your eyes on the tide and wind, and most days up-Island will provide a steady catch of standard, cookie-cutter, six- or seven-pound albies with an occasional whopper thrown in for good measure. Big ones can go fifteen pounds and thirty inches long and peel line off a reel like a boat-caught albie can only dream of.

A trip out on Chappy is like a vacation from your vacation. You’re there only to fish, and it’s both good and bad to be so far away from warm coffee shops and a much-needed nap. Keep your eyes peeled for schools of sand eels and, occasionally, leaping albacore. And bring a spinning rod just in case – East Beach albies are notorious for staying just out of fly-casting range. As a bonus, a lucky cast here might yield a fly-rod bonito or bluefish.

Albie season is a short window and one not to be missed. Summer’s crazed pace is finally gone and taking some time for an albie beach hunt or a visit with old friends just feels right. False albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) glow green when excited. It’s important to get the fish back in the water and handle it as little as possible if you’re not planning on weighing it in. At best, albies are unpalatable.