Fly Fishing for Albacore Tuna: Part 3

Ok, so we've covered how to book a trip, what to bring on the boat with you, and what type of gear is required, now to talk about what to expect out of a typical albacore fly fishing trip.

You will arrive at the boat at your assigned meet time at which point my deckhand or myself will stow your belongings, pass out life jackets, and have everyone sign a sign in sheet. At this point I will invite you onboard and give a short talk about safety. Not only is a safety talk a Coast Guard requirement, I feel its a good idea overall. We are heading way out into the ocean after all. While I am super focused on catching fish and providing a fun day to our customers, safety is and will continue to be my number one focus on each and every trip. Once all of this is accomplished, we will push off the dock. Our first stop will be to pull up to the bait dock and load up live anchovies into our bait tank. These anchovies are used as chum to keep a school of albacore up and focused on the boat where we can present flies to them. Chum is not one hundred percent required, IMO, but it is sure a useful tool.

Once we have our bait we will head out of the marina, and point towards the ocean. Before we can reach the ocean, we need to make our way across the "bar". For anyone unfamiliar, a bar is the general area where the bay meets the ocean. The term "bar" can bring a lot of concern to people, and while the Greys Harbor bar is nothing to take lightly, this is an area I navigate twice a day every single time I head out on the ocean. The boat I run is very capable, meticulously maintained, and I have crossed this bar well over a thousand times. It might get bumpy for a bit, and even seem big and scary, but don't worry I will get you through it safely! As a company we watch the weather and the tides very closely and I assure you that I will NOT take anyone across the bar, or out into the ocean, if the conditions are unsafe.

Once across the bar and on the ocean, we have a long journey ahead of us. I would guess that 45 nautical miles is probably average for our albacore trips, but there are days when we go 60-70 miles one way when required. So settle in, take a nap, enjoy some conversation, day dream about albacore smashing your fly, or just sit back and take in your surroundings. I always like to remind people that its not every day you get to venture so far out on the ocean that you can't see land! Enjoy it.

Expect a solid 2 hours of running, on average, before we reach the warmer, blue water that we are typically looking for. In a real general nutshell, I am driving the boat on a specific heading until I find the area where the cooler, green inshore water meets the warmer, blue offshore water. This is where I will begin to look for albacore. (There is sooooo much more to it than this, but since this article is already quite long I'm going to keep things simple here)

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Pnwflyfishing forum member with a chunky, fly caught albacore

Once I find the water and sign that I am looking for, I am going to pull the throttles back and its time to get down to business. I like to break albacore fishing down into two parts: Finding Albacore and Catching Albacore. Step one is finding some fish. This is a completely open ocean fishing experience. We will often be fishing over canyons that are seven thousand feet or deeper. Albacore don't hold on structure, we aren't looking for a sea mount, a bank, or any sort of specific bottom type. These fish are simply roaming around out there, so finding them is not always easy. These fish can also go quite deep when they want to. I've read albacore can easily go one thousand feet deep, or even deeper. Lucky for us anglers these younger fish that we encounter in our waters tend to spend more time up in the water column. There are times when albacore can be spotted right on the surface, either jumping out of the water or crashing bait right at the surface, but this is not an every day experience. This is where trolling comes into play. Trolling is quite simply an incredibly effective method of finding albacore.

Once we arrive on the tuna grounds, I will instruct everyone on how to set our "troll spread". You will let your fly back behind the boat, and I will drive the boat in search of albacore.

The general program will be as follows: We will troll around until a fish is hooked. When a fish is hooked, I'm going to stop the boat, and anglers who did not get bit on the troll will then strip their flies back toward the boat. Albacore are a schooling fish, so once a single fish is hooked on the troll it is very likely that there is a school of albacore nearby. So if you weren't bit on the troll, there is a great chance you will get bit when retrieving your fly. When a fish is hooked on the troll, and I pull the throttle back to neutral, the boat will continue to move for a short bit before coming to a full stop. This period of the boat moving after pulling back the throttle is what is referred to as "the slide", and its an important part of fly fishing for albacore. One of the things that makes trolling flies so effective is that when a troll fish is hooked, and the boat goes on the slide, your line is in the water presumably over a school of fish, so when you are stripping your flies in on the slide you are effectively stripping your flies through/over other albacore. We hook a lot of fish while retrieving flies on the slide. It's not uncommon to hook a single troll fish and then hook several more while retrieving flies on the slide.
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Multiple hookups is not uncommon while albacore fishing and leads to some exciting chaos!

If you retrieve your fly all the way back to the boat and don't get bit, then it's time to start casting. I like to instruct people that if you are the first person to retrieve your fly to the boat, the best thing to do is run straight to the bow to begin casting. IMO the bow is the most ideal place on my boat to fly cast as it is completely free of casting obstructions. Since we run pilot house style boats, and not the center consoles so common for saltwater fly fishing, there are plenty of obstructions for fly casting from the back deck. Fishing from the bow allows a fly caster to cast on either side of the boat with ease. It's worth pointing out here that this is not a fishery where long, accurate casts are required. Don't stress if you can't throw an entire fly line. It's simply not needed most of the time. With my boat not being a typical fly fishing platform creative casting can be required. Roll casting, casting across your off shoulder, casting backwards etc are all useful skills. It's all about just getting your fly out there, it doesn't have to be pretty!
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The bow provides plenty of room for obstruction free fly casting

The overall goal here is to locate a school of fish by trolling, then stop the boat and target these fish with cast flies. This is where having live anchovies for chum is so useful. As soon as someone hollers out that they are hooked up on the troll the deckhand is going to immediately begin chumming the water with the anchovies in the bait tank. We are essentially trying to get this school of albacore keyed on the boat as a source of food which will keep them up in the water column and near the boat where we can present flies to them. In an ideal situation we will create a scenario where these fish are in something of a frenzy. We have fish hooked up from trolling, which tends to get the other fish in the area riled up. We are throwing live anchovies in the water, which also gets them rather fired up. We are trying to really get them "up and going" as I like to say. In an ideal situation fish will be so excited and feeding so aggressively that you will see the water blow up as the fish come up and eagerly eat the anchovies we are throwing. It's also not uncommon to be able to spot albacore free swimming in the water below the boat, cruising around at high speeds eating the anchovies and chasing flies. This is when albacore fishing is at its absolute best. There is nothing that I'm aware of in this area that truly compares to casting flies in the open ocean while watching the water explode with feeding fish. Now, this doesn't happen every day, and it doesn't happen after every troll hookup, but this is the ultimate goal. Getting those fish fired up and focused on the boat. When everything lines up, and these fish are really going hard, it is chaos and excitement on a level that results in obsession. Many of us who experience this scene for the first time are hooked for life and it truly becomes an obsession!

Once the boat is fully stopped, and unbitten flies are retrieved to the boat, we will then commence casting and retrieving flies as you would cast and retrieve streamers in any other fishery. Ideally people are hooking fish on these casts, but if, after the troll fish are landed, we are not hooking fish, or seeing signs that these fish are really going to get going on us, then I will make the call that we are going to get back up on the troll and keep looking. As a captain I am not one who tends to waste a lot of time casting flies over fish that are not willing to cooperate. I almost always find it more productive to either start trolling to look for a more willing school, or at the very least troll around that area and see if those fish will become more cooperative at a later time. It is not at all uncommon to hook a troll fish or two, stop and throw chum and cast flies without hookups, get back up on the troll and repeat several times for the same result. Then suddenly, for reasons beyond my understanding, the fish change their attitude and we hook up on the troll again only to suddenly be surrounded by a large school of frenzied tuna that are eager to eat cast flies. This is what I am always in search of, so don't be dismayed if we don't find this sort of situation right off the bat. There are a lot of factors at play here, and this article is just trying to paint a general sense of what this trip is like.

This is my albacore fly fishing program in a very general nutshell. We will repeat this process until we run out of time, or our fish boxes are stuffed and we have no more room for fish. Troll, hook troll fish, stop the boat, chum the water, cast flies, repeat. Some days we never really get the fish up and going. Some days they are very eager to eat trolled flies, but getting them up and focused on the boat in a frenzy just doesn't happen. This happens on our standard trips as well. On our standard trips we run a very similar program only we are not using fly rods. We troll with gear rods, get hooked up, reel in the troll gear and start fishing live anchovies. I've had many, many days where, for whatever reason, we just can't get the fish up and eating our live bait. In this sense fly fishing is no different. Some days they come right to the boat and eat every fly that's cast into the water, other days they just don't want to come up and play when we are stopped. Catching albacore on cast flies while we are stopped is my biggest goal every time I leave the dock with fly anglers onboard, but it doesn't always play out that way. The upside is that catching fish while trolling flies is a heck of a lot of fun as well, and extremely effective. I'd argue that trolling with flies and fly lines is more effective across the board than trolling with standard gear and lures, but that's a conversation for another day. When we are trolling flies you will be holding onto your fly rod, so you will feel the strike when your fly gets bit. Let me tell you, these strikes are not subtle. You don't want to fall asleep holding your rod as there is a good chance it would end up in the ocean when a fish strikes. These fish don't mess around.
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Albacore will put a serious bend in any 12 wt fly rod

Whether hooked on the troll, or on cast flies when stopped, albacore provide a fairly intense fight. There are plenty of saltwater fish that will out fight an albacore, but for pure power and strength I don't know of anything that compares in this area. These fish aren't known to make extremely long runs, but you can absolutely count on seeing your backing, often multiple times on a single fish. For the most part when these fish are first hooked they will run out, but it generally doesn't take long before they take the fight straight up and down. This is where a powerful rod with a lot of lifting power comes into play. Trying to work albacore up from the depths is no easy task with light rods. The thing with albacore, and tuna in general, is that you are simply not going to wear one out. Tuna have to keep moving forward in the water in order to breathe. They cannot lie in one place and pump water over their gills like a salmon. They have to keep moving. They will not wear out. You will not fight an albacore until it tires and comes to the boat on its side. They simply have to keep kicking their tail or they can't breathe. With that in mind, fighting an albacore on any rod/reel is all about using techniques to work them to the boat as quickly as possible. It's not about fighting them until they tire. You can't fight these fish like a salmon. Fight them like a tuna and even with a fly rod you can land these fish in 5 minutes. Fight them like a salmon, and its likely you'll be dealing with that fish for 15-20 minutes or more. Myself and the deckhand will help coach people who have never caught albacore on the best ways to fight these fish.
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This particular forum member has caught a lot of albacore and knows exactly how to bring them to the gaff quickly!

Your day of fishing will come to an end when our fish boxes are full, or we run out of time. Whichever comes first. The best days are the ones where we head in because we are full, but of course it can't always be this way. The Coast Guard mandates that a single captain on a charter trip can only be on the water a max of 12 hours, so we do have a finite amount of time for these trips. Those who have fished with me know that if nothing else I am going to put in the maximum amount of effort I possibly can to provide a great fishing, but even on days where I'd like to stay out longer I am confined to a 12 hour day dock to dock. On top of that I often need to leave enough time to head to the fuel dock and refuel for tomorrow's trip after your day is over, so I have to take that into consideration as well when determining when we head back in. On average you can expect to be back to the dock somewhere around 4pm, sometimes a bit later. While these time constraints can be frustrating, I assure you that I will stay out there as long as I possibly can!

Once our fishing time has come to an end we will get cleaned up, stow gear, and prepare for the journey home. During our run back in the deckhand will process fish if desired. Cutting fish is a service our company provides and it is completely optional. People are more than welcome to take their fish home whole and cut them themselves. Fish cutting comes at a cost of 4 dollars per fish. This seems like a steep price to some, but for many people watching the deckhand cut fish on the back of a boat moving at high speed is worth the price in itself. Our deckhands are quite skilled. They have cut a LOT of fish, and are quite good at it. Cutting tuna may seem simple on the surface, but it is a time consuming endeavor if you are not experienced. While people are more than welcome to take their fish whole I always advocate for having the deckhand cut the fish. This allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride in, and when we hit the dock you take your bags of loins and head home. No messy fish cutting to be done!
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This group of forum members plugged the boat by 12:30! What a day.

Whether fly fishing or gear fishing, whether on a charter or on a private boat, this is an incredible fishery. I always say that anyone who has any interest in fishing owes it to themselves to go albacore fishing at least once in their life. You may decide that the trip isn't for you. Maybe you don't like the long, often bumpy runs on the ocean. Maybe you aren't comfortable being beyond the sight of land on a smaller boat. Maybe you get seasick and just don't enjoy being on the ocean. There is nothing wrong with any of that, but I do believe everyone should at least experience it once. It is an incredibly unique fishery and one of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer! On top of the incredible fishing opportunity you will see all kinds of cool things. The open ocean is an incredible place. To me, once beyond the sight of land, it feels like an entirely different world. Whales, sharks, ocean sunfish, incredible marine birds, the water changing to that crystal clear blue color.... It's a very special world out there and I always try to encourage everyone to take it all in. The ocean is my absolute favorite place to be, and albacore is my favorite fishery. I truly love getting to share something I hold so close to my heart with others. It is absolutely the best part of my job.
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The open ocean is an incredible place. You just never know what you will see out there.
Ultimately this trip isn't for everyone, and that's totally fine! This not a leisurely fishing trip. It's much closer to an extreme sport. It's a long, physical day. The ocean can be an unpleasant place to be at times. We watch the weather as closely as anyone, but there's no accounting for mother nature and there are times when the ocean ends up just being not fun to be on. Sea sickness is also a very real part of any ocean fishing experience. If you are unsure if you are prone to sea sickness its always better to err on the side of caution. There are many sea sickness medications available, both over the counter and prescription. Personally I recommend calling your doctor and having them call in a prescription for the Scopalamine patch. In my opinion this is the most effective sea sickness remedy available. I always hate to see someone's day ruined by being sick on the ocean. It's also worth noting that this trip isn't for the feint of heart, nor for the traditional fly fishing purist. If the thought of using chum while fly fishing isn't appealing to you, this may not be something you'd enjoy. If you find the sight of fish blood disturbing, this also may not be a trip I'd recommend.

If you've never experienced our albacore fishery I hope this article helps paint a picture of how a typical day of albacore fishing goes on my boat. I want to reemphasize that I am not writing this article for any sort of financial gain to myself. Whether it is on my boat, with another charter captain, or on a private boat I encourage everyone to give this fishery a try. It is a fishery that you deserve to experience. If anyone has any questions please feel free to reach out to me directly. Whether asking questions about my own trips, other charter trips, or trips on your or a friend's boat I am always happy to talk albacore fishing! Many on this site have reached out to me over the years simply asking for some intel as they prepare for a trip on their own boat, and I am more than happy to help. There aren't many secrets in this fishery, and I truly believe in helping others out. Not everyone has a job that allows them to be on the tuna grounds 60 plus days a season after all. If I can help in any way, or answer any questions, or you just want to talk tuna fishing, shoot me a PM and I will absolutely help out as best I can.

If you read this article and find yourself interested in this fishery, I highly recommend heading over to the Saltwater sub forum and reading through the yearly albacore threads. These threads are full of fishing reports as well as discussions focused on flies, techniques, gear, theories etc. There is a great group of tuna obsessed folks on this forum who have done a lot of fly fishing for albacore and the yearly albacore threads are full of some of the best discussions found on this forum. This article gives a very basic rundown of a typical day on my boat, but there is so much more worth discussing. For more detailed information regarding albacore, finding albacore, techniques of all sorts and much more, go get involved in those albacore threads. You won't regret it!
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Sunrise or sunsets from the ocean can be worth the price of admission!
Capt. Nick Clayton
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


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