For us, New Englanders, some of the year’s best fishing is right around the corner. False Albacore are showing up in my home waters of Cape Cod as we speak, so there’s no better time to get my gear ready for these speed demons. For those who don’t know, False Albacore, or Albies, are close relatives of tuna that live and breathe chaos. Basically, give Tyreek Hill a set of gills and an appetite for small baitfish and that’s more or less what we’re working with; speed with a handful of attitude. Trying to catch an Albie on the fly is not easy, but definitely not impossible. If you can dial in the basics you can give yourself a good shot to come into contact with one of these epic fish on any given trip. One of the most important keys to success is to hone in your gear. Here I’ll break down how I set up a brand new Renegade White Series reel for Albie fishing.
What You Need
Albies put up the strongest fight of any inshore species I’ve been lucky enough to chase. Their strength and speed have to be respected, so I would recommend a 9-10wt setup. This range of rods gives the angler more than enough backbone to lay into these fish while still keeping the fight fun. Obviously, you want a capable saltwater fly reel to go with your rod, but an often overlooked factor when it comes to saltwater setups is pairing your reel to your rod. This season I will be running the Renegade White Series 10wt rod with the 9-10 White reel. While a 9wt rod is definitely capable for Albie fishing, the bigger 9-10 reel pairs better from a weight and size standpoint with the 10wt rod. This gives me a perfect balance of stopping power, backing capacity, and backbone while still being able to comfortably cast all day long through wind and waves. Speaking of casting, line choice is also key to success with hardtails. I always run an intermediate line for Albie fishing and to be honest most Striper fishing too. I like to get my fly down that extra few inches through the chop on the water so I can keep tension to my fly even if there are waves making life difficult. Some guys will tell you to use sinking line some guys will tell you to use floating, but the intermediate is what I’ve found the most success with.
To start off setting up your reel, feed your backing backward through guides and tie it off to the reel. If you’ve spooled up a fly reel before then you probably already know this step, but if you are new this allows you to reel on the backing quickly without the use of spooling machines or even a helper. To tie the backing off to the spool, I use an improved clinched knot around the spool. Lots of people use arbor knots which also work great but I don’t see the need to make a big deal about which knot you use. If you’re getting spooled by an Albie, the backing-to-reel connection knot is the least of your worries, maybe you should rethink how much backing is on your reel or how much drag pressure you’re applying.
After you tie the backing to the spool you can start reeling on the backing. I like to use a pencil or pen to hold the spool backing and control pressure while I’m reeling it onto the fly reel. If you stick some axle through the backing spool, you can either control the tension of the backing with your feet or let a helper control the tension while sitting across from you. Light, steady tension on the backing spool while spooling up your fly reel allows for a consistent and clean job.
This step is where people have the most problems when setting up their fly reel. How much backing do I put on? That’s a good question, and my answer is always the same, especially when it comes to hard-fighting fish like False Albacore; however much you can fit on the spool. With that said, you can’t forget about the space needed for your fly line. To execute this smoothly, I like to use the plastic packaging spool that the fly line comes on to size up exactly how much room I need. This will allow me to get a ballpark estimate of how much space is needed for the fly line, which is usually close enough. If you still aren’t sure, remember that you can always go back and remove some extra backing but you can’t go back and add more.
The backing-to-fly line connection is also a very important step. These knots do matter quite a bit as almost every single Albie hooked will take you into your backing so the last thing you want is to lose all of your fly line to a faulty knot. I find that a loop-to-loop connection is both efficient and effective for this connection. A good loop will hold up to the tests of an Albie fight and will also allow you to switch fly lines relatively easily if you decide that is something you want to do in the future. Most fly lines already come with a welded loop, so the only knot you need to tie is for your backing loop. I just double over about 1 foot of backing and tie a double or triple overhand knot to form a loop. This isn’t anything fancy but it is quick, easy, and has yet to fail on me. Bimini twist knots are also common for this connection so if you want to learn one of those by all means go for it.
The last step in setting up your fly reel for Albie season is to reel on your fly line and tie on a leader. It seems like everyone has their own theories for Albie leaders as they are very smart and finicky fish, but I like to keep mine simple. I typically use a 6-9ft section of straight 16lb fluorocarbon. This is invisible in the water and plenty strong enough to lay into a running Albert. As far as knots go I use the same loop-to-loop connection as before and a non-slip loop knot to the fly; quick, simple, and foolproof. Albies will find any mistakes in your gear or techniques so I always do my best to keep things simple in hopes of eliminating any chance for those silly mistakes.