Fly Fishing for Albacore Tuna: Part 2

Fly Fishing for Albacore Tuna:  Part 2

Since ARSC is not a fly fishing specific company they do not provide fly gear. That said, I do try to keep plenty of fly gear onboard for use by customers. Understand this is my own personal gear that I purchase specifically for use by customers because I understand that not everyone is going to have the appropriate gear, or wish to spend a bunch of money on gear for a single trip. I always tell people that ultimately its best to bring your own gear, but in most scenarios I will have plenty of my own gear available for use as needed. I just don't want to find myself in a scenario where maybe the trip before your trip we break several of my rods, or perhaps break several of my lines in the prop or something, and you show up the next day and blame the company because gear wasn't available. I really want to stress this. I go to great lengths to make sure I have gear available, and have spent a lot of money towards this end, but ultimately if someone wants to come fly fishing the gear is on them even though I try to accommodate as best as I can. I always express this to people and encourage them to keep in touch with me as their trip gets closer if they are one hundred percent reliant upon using my gear. 99 times out of 100 I will have gear available for use, but don't just blindly except that to be the case. This hasn't been an issue up until this point in time but I try to be as open as I can. I don't want the company to be blamed for something that really isn't in their wheelhouse.

For gear specifics I recommend the following:

12 wt fly rod. These fish can definitely be caught on lighter rods, but its not ideal. These are powerful fish and tend to fight straight up and down. A rod with a lot of lifting power is needed. We are not trying to maximize the fight of a single fish, rather we are trying to catch a bunch of fish so a rod that can really put the wood to the fish and land them quicker is needed. A 10 wt rod can get the job done, but its not a whole lot of fun, especially with larger fish. If we encounter 10-15 lb fish then a 10 wt is OK. If we encounter 25-35 lb fish then a 10 wt is seriously under gunned.

There are a lot of great 12 wt rods on the market, but my personal favorites come from Echo. Echo sells high quality fishing tools at reasonable prices. This is not a fishery that requires fancy rods. This is a fishery that benefits from rods that will just flat out perform. We're not looking to make long, delicate casts here. This fishery is all about getting your line out there any way you can, where accuracy isn't a concern, and a fishery where you are not going to be kind to your rod. It's going to get bumped and jarred on the boat on the way out, and then get put to the test against powerful fish that require some serious pressure to land relatively quickly.

While a thousand dollar fly rod will definitely get the job done, IMO that is simply not needed. Give me a nice casting rod with a lot of backbone that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and I won't feel guilty putting it through some serious abuse. Echo fits that bill nicely. The last two seasons the Echo Boost Blue has been my rod of choice, but late in the year last season I acquired an Echo Prime 8' 10" 12 wt and that rod is pretty incredible. It runs a bit more in cost than some of their other models, but it has a ton of casting as well as fish fighting power, and it quickly rose to the top of my list of favorite tuna rods. I own and use albacore rods by other rod manufacturers including Sage, Redington and TFO, but if I was going to spend money on a rod for albacore fishing I'd start with Echo. Ultimately whatever 12 wt rod you prefer should get the job done, just know that you don't need to spend a ton of money to obtain a rod that will perform at a high level.

For reels I recommend something that will hold a minimum of 250 yards of quality backing on top of the fly line. There are a lot of fantastic, high quality saltwater reels on the market and pretty much every one of them will handle albacore just fine. Personally I'm a big fan of the Echo Bravo series reels (If you can't tell I'm a pretty big fan of Echo!). Inexpensive, tough as nails, and come with a drag capable of handling any albacore on the planet, these are a great value for under 200 bucks. I own a bunch of these reels and they've never failed me.

I've also used reels from Orvis, TIbor, Abel, Redington, Ross etc and have had no complaints. Ultimately as long as a reel can hold an appropriate amount of backing, and is capable of holding up to saltwater abuse, it will be just fine. While albacore are extremely powerful, especially when compared to other commonly targeted fish in the PNW, these fish aren't going to make 200 yard runs and really stress most reels either.

tuna reel and fly.jpg
These Echo Bravo reels are tanks. This one has been well abused and still functions as new.

For lines I recommend one of the fast sinking integrated shooting heads available on the market today. The three lines I always recommend are the Airflo Big Game Depth Finder, Orvis Depth Charge, and the Rio Leviathan. I have a lot of experience with these three lines and they are ideal for this fishery. I find a fast sinking line to be the most versatile line for this fishery overall. When trolling with flies the fast sinking head keeps the line under the waves with ease. When stopped and casting to fish once a school is located, these fast sinking lines allow for a lot of versatility for depths fished. There are days the fish will eat flies 6" under the surface, but overall I find that being able to get a fly down anywhere from 5' to 30' or more to be the difference. These integrated shooting head style lines also cast quite well, handle wind and larger flies when needed, and most importantly don't require a lot of false casting. If I was going to own a single line for albacore fishing it would be one of these. Period.

For backing there are a lot of options. Ultimately 30 lb dacron is just fine. That is going to handle albacore with zero issues. I've caught plenty of fish using it, however I prefer something a bit heavier just for peace of mind as well as the off chance that something other than an albacore is encountered. These days I tend to prefer using 50 lb gel spun, or even standard braid like Power Pro in the 50-80 lb range depending on reel size. Backing selection is not something that needs to be over thought, but I always err on the side of heavier when I can.


I love to tie albacore flies, and each season I have plenty of flies available for customer use. That said, I understand that plenty of other people also enjoy tying flies and prefer to catch fish on their own flies. I can definitely relate! I could type page after page on the topic of flies for albacore, but here I'm going to keep it simple. Personally I focus on baitfish patterns in the 3-6" size for the bulk of my fishing. In particular I am a huge fan of Half and Half, Deceiver, and Flatwing style flies. I just find that day in, day out, these sort of flies produce. I tie all of my flies on short shank, wide gap hooks such as the Ahrex Bluewater, Owner Aki, or Kona Big Game Hunter. I tie my flies almost exclusively on 2/0 versions of these three hooks, and I honestly don't prefer one over the other. They are all fantastic hooks for this purpose. I do tie flies on larger and smaller hooks, and occasionally on longer shanked hooks when needed for specific patterns, but easily 90% of what I tie is on these hooks in size 2/0.

While I find baitfish patterns to be my top producers over all, squid patterns can also be extremely productive, along with shrimp, larger and smaller baitfish patterns of all sorts, and even miscellaneous experimental stuff. It's probably impossible to tie a fly that wouldn't catch an albacore at some point in time, I just prefer to keep things simple.

pt 2 fly 1.jpg
This Half and Half and color combination is probably my favorite and most effective albacore fly

The biggest key, IMO, is to have flies of various sizes, profiles, and to a lesser degree color combinations on hand. There are days when 1-2" sparse baitfish patterns are the only things the fish will eat. There are also days where color matters greatly. Ultimately I just like to have a large variety on hand, and always recommend this to people when asked. When it comes to flies I think the biggest factors are size, profile and movement, with color being in last place. That's just my outlook, and while I have more albacore fly fishing experience than most, in no way do I consider myself any sort of grand authority on this subject. I learn more and more with each trip I do.

As I mentioned earlier, I could type endlessly on the topic of albacore flies. The great thing is that every year there tends to be an immense amount of discussion on this topic right here on this very forum, so if you're looking to tie flies for your very first albacore trip, I highly recommend hopping into the Saltwater and Fly Tying sub forums and doing some reading. There is a lot of great information here already, and it will only grow as this community continues to expand.

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A selection of some of my favorite albacore flies

(Part 2 will post Dec 26th)
About author
Nick Clayton
Owner/Captain of South Sound Skiffs saltwater fly fishing guide service specializing in fly fishing for sea run cutthroat in Puget Sound from a boat.

Captain for All Rivers and Saltwater Charters running a charter boat on the Pacific Ocean out of Westport, WA targeting lingcod, Halibut, Rockfish, salmon, and albacore Tuna

Lives in Hansville, WA


Nick is incredibly generous with his gear. But also, other members of your fly fishing party are likely to have extra rod/reels/flies available. It doesn't hurt to ask whomever is leading your group. I typically have two 12 wt. rods, two reels, and several different fly lines. I can only fish one at a time...
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