ALBACORE GUIDE FOR PRIVATE BOATERS
Albacore are one of the Tunas whose body temperature is warmer by several degrees than the water in which they swim. They must always be on the move because they haven't any swim bladder. If they stop moving they'll sink. The way they get a little rest is to swim up sharply from three-hundred feet or deeper to about one-hundred feet. Then they'll take a long downward glide back down to the depth they started from. We suspect this behavior may also have something to do with regulating their body temperature. The same way Yellow-fin and Big-eye tuna do. They will come to the surface to feed, but not for a long period of time. They have large eyes for feeding at depths of over a thousand feet. Their eyes don't have eye lids and are very sensitive to light.
Our off-shore commercial fleet, the Western Fish Boat Owners Association (WFBOA), starts fishing the fish in our migration the last of April or first of May. They start fishing around Latitudes 40.00 N. to 44.00 N. and between 160.00 W. Longitude and the International date line. That's north of Midway Island. As they move east towards our west coast they also move south. If they work inshore beyond the five-hundred fathom mark. They will usually be in or around our sea canyons.
The first Albacore off our California Coast. Usually show up at such places as the Cortez Bank, San Juan Seamount, in southern California around the forth of July. Then on the North side of Point Conception. They appear on places like the Davidson Seamount, the 455 Spot, 601 Spot, Guide Seamount, Pioneer and Gum Drop Seamounts right around the middle of July. However in the past eight years Albacore has been very scarce below Pt. Conception.
Typically Albacore south of Point Conception, are usually two year olds. Averaging eighteen pounds. Albacore north of the point, are three years and four year olds or older. They average twenty-five pounds and up. One year old fish, averaging eight pounds do however occur in both areas Albacore will be off our coast in some years as late as January, depending on Sea Surface temperatures.
Don't be put off by cooler water temperatures. Remember Albacore migrate at an average depth of between two hundred to three hundred feet or deeper. How cool do you think the water temperatures are down there? A good rule of thumb is July through October fish surface waters from fifty-eight and a half degree and up. After October fish in waters of fifty-five degree's and up. Later season fish tolerate cooler surface temperatures. Of course warmer is always better. When the surface gets cooler than fifty-five or warmer than sixty-eight, they leave.
Albacore generally surface on or
around a temperature break, or up-welling. That's were cool deep water surfaces
and hits warmer surface water. Causing a plankton bloom that attracts bait fish.
These breaks can sometime be visually seen. They look like a long slick, kind of
how it looks when a ship passes through an area (so always fish the warm edge of
a temp. break). Remember Albacore like clear blue water, so blue that it's
almost purple. However we always catch a few of what we call "green water
hogs" in off color water. These are usually pretty large fish. We usually
get them on the trip back home.
Another good place to check is
around floating kelp patties. They usually hold bait fish that attracts predator
fish. Feeding Porpoise and Whales are another place that deserves checking. If
you have a good depth sounder you can read Albacore, if you don't, you ought to
be able to read bait fish and squid, so check that area out. Long areas of
floating kelp and debris usually means you are at the edge of the California
Current. Try the outside edge. Look for diving birds, or even just birds in the
area ( be sure to fish around setting birds they are sometimes setting on top of
fish), in general look for signs of life. You don't want to spend your day
fishing a dead area. Also keep in mind that about three days before, and about
three days after a full moon the bite will usually be a late afternoon bite.
If you find fish, don't be afraid to put the information out on the radio. Most of the time more boats working the area properly, can mean more Tuna for everyone including you. When we had hundreds of commercial jig boats out there, Albacore schools were pretty easy to find. There are very few jig to boats anymore. So it's up us private boaters to keep each other informed. Albacore can move a long way in a few hours.
In June till the middle of September fish can be found by trolling feathered jigs at between six and a half to nine knots. Troll lines in a V pattern, the bottom of the V should be at the center of the boat and the shortest line. The first thing Albacore are attracted to is the bottom of your boat and the wake. They think the bottom of the boat is bait ball, and the wake is something feeding on that bait ball. So don't fish lines seventy-eleven miles back. A good starting rule is around the second wave behind the boat. Always keep lines and jigs clean of kelp, jelly fish and sea grass's. Another words check them often.
For boats that carry live bait any time you get a jig strike or see fish, try to chum them to the boat. Always chum so that the boat will drift over the chum not away from it. You can chum dead bait but be careful that you don't put so much bait in the water that they will follow the sinking bait down.
Use light colored jigs on bright days and dark jigs when conditions are darker. Good patterns are. Zucchini, Mexican flag, red and white, blue and white, green and white, green and yellow, purple, purple and black, and root beer. If I only had my choice of four. They would be, zucchini, Mexican flag, red and white, and purple and black. My favorite brand of Tuna jigs Sevenstrand jigs, because their colors and weights are better than other brands. Their Leaping Daisy is a real killer.
Rig some of your lines with daisy chains. That's three or four smaller feathers threaded up your line about a foot apart, and held there with a micro press, with a larger different color larger jig about eighteen inches behind them. The larger jig is the only one with a hook in it. You can use jig's of the same size, if you don't have small ones. Again try Sevenstrand Leaping Daisy.
Spreader bars really produce. You can troll nine to twelve hoochies. With a trailing feather with a hook in it, at the rear center of the rig. It looks like a whole school of bait, with a predator behind them. They are very hard to keep untangled, however. If you are weighing your boat lines, try a length of chain instead of a lead. The chain will make bubbles, which will attract fish. Trolling teasers such as Birds causes surface commotion that will bring fish up. Keep teasers ahead of the jigs.
Another tip for trolling is if you get a jig strike, and you don't have the live bait to chum. Try to keep going for at least a long ten count. You will have a good chance of hooking some more fish. When you wind the other rigs in after you stop wind them fast, sometimes that will result in another hook up. Mix some Fish trap 5" lures in your spread with weighted heads and when you get bit just let the Fish Traps drop and leave them drift and they will usually hook up.
It never hurts also to toss a hand full of bait, even chunked bait off the stern. Then while the people are fighting their fish, keep a light chum going in the direction of your drift. Another thing that works upon a jig strike is to cast back what's called, a drop-back rig, or a Fish Trap Lure. Free-spool it till the boat stops. Then retrieve it slowly, if a fish hits it throw reel in free spool let it swallow it then set the hook. A drop back rig is the same as a trolled bait rig, only with a two foot leader, The sinker should be chrome platted. A metal jig will also work, but you will have to retrieve it fast.
One more trick if you can read Albacore deep on your meter, circle over them. Pull all your lines on the side of the boat that are towards the inside of the circle. Chum the outside of the circle with frozen bait, long enough to let the first chummed baits sink to the depth they at. You want to chum enough to create a long spiral of bait down to the fish. Most time they will follow the spiral up and hit your jigs. That's an old northern jig boat trick.
Around the last of September these fish will switch over from feeding on squid, to feeding on bait fish, and will not readily take a feathered jig. You can tell when the switch comes you'll start seeing a large amount jumpers and surface feeding Albacore. Try trolling a Rapala CD-18 in the blue-white, green-white and Mackerel patterns. Cedar Plugs by Strike, in blue-white, green-yellow, or red-white patterns work well also. And again here Fish Trap Lures are deadly. A Sevenstrand Leaping Daisy will work well then to. Set lines in a V trolling pattern, as you did with the feathers.
Another technique that will work is trolling a bait fish four to six feet behind a two to four ounce torpedo sinker. Hook the bait fish up through the bottom lip and out the top lip or head. Troll very slowly, and fish in free spool. When the fish hits, let it swallow it before setting the hook ( the bait can be a dead bait). You want to be sure fish are in the area before you do this. You will not cover much ground, trolling baits. You have to troll a little slower than Salmon trolling speed. Baits can be dead baits. Fish Trap lures are red hot for this.
When Albacore are feeding on bait fish, they tend to school in tighter schools. If you see an area of jumping, or surface breezing fish. Try not to run over the top of them. Position the boat up drift from them and slide to within casting distance. Cast some metal Jigs at them. Like big Kastmasters, Crocodiles, Hopkins, UFOs, or my favorite, a large Miki Mouse. Let it sink for at least one hundred feet. Then wind as fast as you can. If you are going to troll fish them. One of the things that works best is a Fish Trap with a 1/2 to 1-1/2 oz. head, I prefer the Channel Island Anchovies color, they work very well trolled also. Troll around the outside edge, not through the middle. If you run through the middle of them you'll put them down.
If you don't find fish on a trip, don't give up try again maybe you zigged when you should have zagged. Check the Sea Surface Temperature charts, look for a different area. It's an awful big ocean and Albacore can move a good distance in one day. Remember they have no swim bladders so they must always keep moving, or they will sink.
Out-Riggers, I cannot stress strongly enough the value of these to the private boater. They will increase your lines spread and will increase your score by at least thirty percent. Make sure they are mounted properly. A private boat with out-riggers should be able to troll from seven to nine lines without tangles, along with a couple of short boat lines. One more thing DO NOT use last years' lines and leaders. Changing line will be the cheapest part of the success of your next blue water trip. Don't cheat on hooks or line Quality. And remember the old Albacore fishing law, keep your hooked fish in front of you, "NO ANGLES NO TANGLES"
There are other species of Tuna on our fishing grounds too. Blue-Fin Tuna, and they can get to over the two hundred pound mark. They like skipping jigs. Big-Eye Tuna that can get to over four hundred pounds in our area. You will not usually see Big-Eye unless it's right at dawn or and hour or so from sunset. They usually like a larger jig, but we take a few every year on Albacore jigs. A deep fished sliding dropper rig, with a live mackerel, large sardine or good sized squid will work, a fish trap will also work.
We also have Broad-bill Sword Fish, Thresher and Mako Sharks, ( use chum buckets to create a slick for the sharks) and an occasional Opah.
My wife, Diane has caught the
largest one of these caught on rod and reel. The IGFA would not at that time
(1972) recognize a Opah as a game fish. They said it was too rare. Her Opah
weighed in at one hundred and twenty eight pounds. Caught seventy miles off
Morro Bay on twenty-five pound tackle. I ended up with one eight pound Albacore
that day. All the local newspapers and the Los Angles Times were on the dock,
when we got in late that night, to interview and photograph her. I was just
listed as "others" I can never win. Oh-well she's always telling me
God is a woman.
Now lets talk Safety: 17 points that could save your life.
1 ALWAYS RUN WITH A RUNNING MATE (they can help you if you're in trouble)
2 HAVE A GOOD RADIO (no one can hear you if it's not working well)
3 A CELL PHONE (a good thing to have along for emergencies)
4 ALWAYS LEAVE SOMEONE YOUR TRIP PLAN (we will know where to start looking in case of trouble)
5 PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER (if it even looks like its going to blow don't go)
6 CHECK WAVE SIZE AND FREQUENCY ANYTHING CLOSER THAN TWELVE SEC. COULD BE TROUBLE (most boater accidents are because of weather)
7 YOU SHOULD HAVE A GPS OR LORAN (so you can tell were you are)
8 PROPER FLOATATION GEAR (good sense, and it is the law)
9 TAKE PLENTY OF FUEL (there are no gas stations out there)
10 DRINKING WATER ( no drinking fountains either, you can go without food for a long time but not long without water)
11 CARRY PLENTY OF DISTRESS FLARES (they can be seen from a pretty good distance)
12 A SATELLITE DISTRESS LOCATION TRANSMITTER IS INVALUABLE. (The sea is so big and my boat's so small. It's an awful big ocean to find some one in)
13 A GOOD FIRST AID KIT (can be a life saver)
14 SPARE WARM CLOTHES (in case of a emergency overnight stay)
15 SPARE ENGINE BATTERY (I saw four boats last year have to be towed in due to battery problems)
16 OFF-SHORE CHARTS, COMPASS and PARALLEL RULE (good to have in case GPS fails)
17 ALWAYS CARRY A FIRE EXTINGUISHER
18 KNOW YOUR BOATS LIMITS AND DON'T EXCEED THEM
(the trip home is usually rougher than the trip out)