False Albacore Vs Bonito – Everything You Need To Know

False Albacore
Photo: Ben Scott @tashmooflats

As the summer rolls on, anglers around New England start to get antsy. When the inshore waters warm, and baitfish begin to pile up, the clock starts ticking. Ticking down until inevitably, they show up. “They” in this case are False Albacore and Bonito, two of the fastest, most action-packed fish that fly rodders have a chance to encounter. Through all this craziness, the two can be very similar, so here’s our rundown on the differences and similarities of False Albacore and Bonito, and of course our tips on catching them.

False Albacore release
Photo: Ben Scott @tashmooflats

What is a False Albacore?

False Albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus), also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Bonita, and Fat Alberts, are members of the Scombridae family, in the Euthynnus genus; somewhere in between true Tuna and Mackerel. Albies are often picky with anglers and can be difficult to get a fly in front of, causing the obsession known as “Albie Fever”. Once an angler catches “the Fever”, it is impossible to cure and can only be treated with more Albie fishing. Essentially being a “party-sized” tuna, Albies give fly anglers a taste of bluewater fishing, close to home. Pound for pound, Albies are one of the hardest fighting fish I’ve ever encountered and would have no problem towing most fish their size across the Atlantic.

Atlantic Bontio
Photo: Ben Scott @tashmooflats

What is a Bonito?

Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda) are an often confused fish. According to Google, Bonito are in the same family as Albies, but the main photo google uses for bonito is undoubtedly a False Albacore. I’m not going to get into a scientific war with the largest source of information in the world, so I’ll just go off of what I know. Bonito, not Bonita, are also members of the Scombridae family, but in the Sarda genus. Bones do run a bit smaller than Albies and give up a little quicker, which makes them an awesome 7-8wt fish. A school of Bonito slashing at a large baitball is most definitely a sight that gets the adrenaline going.

Little Tunny on Fly
Photo: Ben Scott @tashmooflats

What Does A False Albacore Look Like?

Alberts have a bright silver body with a green back. Along their back, they have a unique, black, squiggly pattern, different from any other fish. In the water, they look like missiles (they essentially are), with their pectoral fins jetting out of their sides acting as stabilizers. Even though they technically are not, every part of them screams tuna. Albies are also bigger on average than Bonito.

Bontio
Prepare for blastoff! @nateholmes_wild

What Does A Bonito Look Like?

Bonito resemble species of mackerel much more than Albies. They are generally smaller than albies and are much skinnier. Bones have a silver body with a blue or green back. Along their flank, bones have black stripes, kind of similar to Striped Bass. Running with the Mackerel theme, Bonito have a nearly rectangular dorsal fin compared to Albies, and noticeable teeth.

Bonito on fly
Photo: Ben Scott @tashmooflats

False Albacore Vs Bonito Diet:

This category is where the differences cease. Albies and Bonito feed on the same kinds of bait while cruising the waters of the Eastern US. Some of their favorites are Silversides, Peanut Bunker, Anchovies, and Sand Eels. To feed on these baitfish, Albies and Bonito work in schools of anywhere from two to hundreds of fish. These schools of pelagic fish work together to corral large amounts of bait into tight bait balls and then proceed to annihilate them, causing a serious commotion on the surface. 

False Albacore pattern
Photo: Alex Blackwell @xblackwell

Fly Fishing for False Albacore:

At a glance, one would think that a fish moving at crazy speeds through a sea of food would hit any fly put anywhere near it. False Albacore proves that assumption wrong with a passion. One of the hardest parts about targeting False Albacore is getting a fly in front of one. Not only are the fish moving super fast, but they are often spooky and are easily put down by boats. Add some wind and other anglers to the mix, and you have a challenge set out for you. Your best bet for getting a shot at them is to anticipate where the school is moving next. If you are able to get in front of a moving school of Alberts, you have a much better chance at getting a much better shot. When you do get your shot, make a cast into the school towards the front of the pack, and start stripping. Sometimes they like it as fast as humanly possible, and other times they like it slow, you’ll have to figure that out yourself. No matter what you do, keep your line tangle and snag-free, and you should be just fine.

False Albacore
Tuna Eyes @nateholmes_wild

Fly Fishing for Bonito:

Everything said above about fly fishing for Albies applies for Bonito, but there are some things that should be added on. For the most part, Bonito like flies moving a bit slower than Albies, but again it is all situational. Also, Bones do have teeth, so I’d recommend checking your tippet every chance you get and using flies with synthetic materials for durability. Also as I mentioned before, I like a 7 or 8wt rod for Bonito opposed to an 8-10 for Albies.

Tuna head
Hydrodynamics at its finest @nateholmes_wild

False Albacore Vs Bonito Range / Geography:

Both False Albacore and Bonito are found all around the North Atlantic ocean. Both of these species can be found from Nova Scotia to South America, and across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and Africa. While they are both so spread out, the northeast coast of the US seems to be a hotspot for anglers targeting these fish.

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