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July 20, 2010

Targeting California Albacore

When longfin fever strikes the California coast, angling activity kicks into high gear...

Barry Wiggins

There's an old saying in Southern California fishing circles that 10 percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish. Or maybe it's 20 percent of the anglers who catch 80 percent of the fish. However you crunch the numbers, it's undeniable that fish aren't fair. They seem to find their way onto the hooks of the same hot sticks again and again.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Southern California during summer albacore season. When longfin fever strikes our coast, angling activity kicks into high gear and boats quickly fill with all manner of anglers. From salty sardine slingers toting armloads of the latest high-tech gear to newbies making their only ocean-fishing trip of the year, everybody gets in on the action.

Joe Mahler /

1. Control Your Bait
The best tuna anglers stay in touch with their bait while letting it swim freely and naturally. Albacore are fished with the reel in free-spool and the angler applying light pressure to prevent an overrun on the longfin's aggressive take. Keep your bait in front of you, and minimize the amount of slack line in the water 1. Occasionally take in line by manually rotating the spool backward.

On most of these trips, you'll find a few guys who always seem to be hooked up. They're especially obvious during a typical "plunker" albacore bite, in which 20 or 25 anglers pick off a handful of tuna at each stop. They are easily recognized by their ear-to-ear grins, sore arms and aching backs.

If this doesn't describe you, take heart. By following some basic steps, you too can quickly join the ranks of top partyboat albacore anglers.

2. Do the Tuna Shuffle
Making sure your bait stays in front of you keeps you out of tangles and in the game. On a boat filled with dozens of anglers, this means doing what crews call the "tuna shuffle." After casting off the windward corner, anglers must shuffle 2 constantly up the rail, toward the bow. It works great, but only if everybody does it. If you reach the bow without getting bit, get a fresh bait and start over.

3. Fish the Bow
Many partyboats drift stern-first, which means that during a sustained plunker bite, the chum initially thrown off the stern corner ends up off the front of the boat. I can't tell you how many times I've found the bow empty of anglers, with boiling tuna all around. After I make one full drift on the slide, I'll usually go up to the bow for my next cast 3.

4. Make a Decent Cast
While a long cast with a fly-lined bait is certainly an advantage, it's not the be-all and end-all that novice anglers make it out to be. Get a healthy bait in the water quickly, and nine times out of 10, it will swim away from the boat. Always cast with the wind in your face 4 so the boat will drift away from, not over, your bait. Don't sweat it if you cast over another angler's line; simply switch places at the rail. Relax and take a deep breath. The worst thing you can do is to try too hard for distance and rip your bait off the hook.