When the indulgences of summer have finally and fully come to an end, it’s time to start thinking about albies.
I leave my home before the great commute begins. It’s the only sane way to travel east on the island and, at that time of day, it can actually be quite pleasant. For the last few miles of the trip, you wind your way through the dunes and past the $4 million houses. You never actually seem to see the owners of these gilded mansions, not on weekdays, at least. One presumes they are in the city then, making their hay. Instead, the houses are swarmed by legions of men in bandanas and sleeveless shirts and steel-toed boots, there to tend to the shrubs and clean out the pools. Some of these workers spend more time at these houses than the owners do.
And then you hit the inlet.
Though it is one of the prime spots in the northeast to target false albacore from the shore, it is rarely too crowded at this time of year. The meat men are gone for now, but they’ll be back when the water cools and the storms hit and the stripers return.
It’s just me and the German, a spin guy. We remain at a respectful distance from each other. He is out toward the jetties, closer to the ocean than I am. Both of us scan the water, staring into the climbing sun. I’ve seen the German a few times at this spot, but we’ve never spoken a word to each other. We nod instead. I only know he’s German because I once heard him talking on his cell phone in the parking lot.
There is nothing to see yet.
We are joined a bit later by a portly man with a doublehanded rod. He joins the watch, setting up above the German and me. He has a long unlit cigar held in his teeth, his rod under an arm, his hands in the front pockets of his flats pants as if to hold up his ample belly. The breeze is out of the southwest. The swells in the inlet and bay are decent-sized but not quite whitecapping. It’s a good-looking albie day.
The man with the cigar sees them first, out by the jetty on their way in. He grunts and fumbles his rod and his cigar falls from his mouth and bounces off the rocks before hitting the water. The fish are up and then down, and then up again. He makes a cast, but he appears to now be behind them. The German throws a Deadly Dick far into the inlet and reels like a madman. I wait until I feel I can wait no longer. It’s hard to describe the feeling that swells up within you when you see slashing albies headed your way. Maybe it’s what a bird dog feels when on scent. And then I cast and strip, hand over hand, feeding line into the basket at my waist. The fish are gone. But I keep casting.
Busting fish always snap you to attention. But, with albies, you must attend to those periods of calm before and after the mayhem. Once you’ve seen them in an area, you cast and cast again. The fish may be around, somewhere. You do this all day. One year, I developed a severe case of tennis elbow after albie season and couldn’t fish for a few months. It was worth it.
These fish are like some great gift from the sea god. They attack in ravenous schools, in close enough for a quick boat ride or, if you’re lucky, from the shore. When hooked, they peel off like a flats fish, though they are in much deeper water. You get reacquainted with your backing. Even spin guys get a thrill.
Albies are pretty much strictly a catch-and-release fish. With the time and effort it would take to make them even semi-palatable, you could probably do the same for a leather shoe. They have those hard, skinny tails, perfect for both landing and holding. They are incredibly beautiful—the muscly yet elegant tuna shape, the vermicular black lines on their back, that iridescent color, which begins to change right in front of your eyes the moment you hoist them out of the water. And then there’s the release, the headfirst plunge back into the water. After a brief shake—like a man coming to his senses after a bad decision—they shoot off, back to their pack and their incessant hunting and feeding.
They can be snotty, ignoring your fly just enough times to garner respect. They hit the northeast right in that transition time, when the weather is still nice, but the days are quickening, when football season has begun, but it seems too early for actual games.
I like catching them from a boat. November in North Carolina, where the fish are bigger than they are in the northeast, should be on anyone’s bucket list. Montauk at peak season should be, too. But I prefer to fish from the shore if I can swing it. There are places to do this. To name them would be unwise. But look around. They are there. On the Vineyard. In Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey.
This inlet is one of those places.
The morning burns into the afternoon. The man-whoonce- had-a-cigar has stood in the same place all day and cast in the same spot. That’s one strategy. I prefer to move around a bit. So does the German. We’ve all landed a single fish each, which is just enough to keep an albie habit bordering on immoderate. Any given albie day, like the albie season as a whole, ends just as suddenly and mysteriously as it began. But you always keep casting until you’re sure they’re gone for good.