Wilmington’s Overlooked Albies

Cape Lookout is not the only place in North Carolina to find great false albacore action this month!

On The Fly Saltwater

Featured illustration by Katie Earl.

November 2022

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

Although the Carolina coast farther north around Cape Lookout gets most of the publicity, the Wilmington region also boasts a solid fishery for false albacore. According to Captain Allen Cain, who has been guiding these waters for almost two decades, those false albies are actually offshore from Wilmington down to Carolina Beach year-round, but the action for them really heats up when they move to the shores in the fall. When that happens, there are few angling options offering more excitement than tossing flies into a surface-feeding melee.

The albies chasing bait to the top provides obvious targets for casting.

After meeting Capt. Cain at the Wrightsville Beach Public Boat Ramps, we ran out the Masonboro Inlet to begin our search for the albies. At first, we idled around near the inlet, watching for gulls diving, or bait fish being attacked on the surface. When that latter action occurs, it may be just a small boil, but quite often it can cover yards of water.

Until the first cold fronts of the fall rolled in around mid-October, the albies would be scattered. Once that colder weather arrived, schools of bait move out through the inlets, attracting the albies. The waters needed to cool down to the mid to low 70s for ideal conditions,

False albies crashing a school of bait.

The first bait pods would be silversides and glass minnows, followed by red bay anchovies later in the season. When those latter bait fish show up, Capt. Cain said large patches of the sea would turn red from the size of the schools.

Our next option was to begin idling parallel to the beaches, running from a few hundred yards to up to mile off the sand. All the while, we were continuing to scan the water surface for busting bait, but keeping an eye on the sky for excited birds.

The first order of business is locating diving birds or bait fish pods on the surface.

The prime area for this type fishing near Wilmington runs from Carolina Beach, north to Topsail Island. But the epicenter of the action is found from Masonboro Island at Wrightsville Beach north to Figure Eight Inlet.

Preparing for when the fish would appear, Capt. Cain had us rig 9-weight fly rods with floating lines. As to flies, he offered some advice on the subject. “Size is more important that color and flies are usually very small – as small as No.6,” he noted. When surface action is spotted, the captain runs the boat toward it, but cuts the motor short to coast in close. That keeps from spooking the school and making the fish sound. “Throw the fly just beyond the busting fish and strip it through them very fast. Once it’s outside the action, pick it up and recast,” he explained. In fact, you can’t move the fly too fast, even when tucking the rod under your arm and stripping line with both hands.

A false albie taken off of Wrightsville Beach.

When you get a strike and hook up, Capt. Cain cautioned that the two major problems you face are busted knuckles if you get too near the spinning handle when an albie makes that first strong run. The other is standing on your fly line when the fish takes off. Most of the albies encountered here run from 2 to 8 pounds, but there’s always the possibility of hanging into a double-digit weight beast. Regardless of size, any of the albies will test the drag and strip line from your reel. There is one other trick these fish use for which you need to be prepared. “When an albie runs toward you,” Capt. Cain offered, “put the rod tip in the water to create more drag and keep the hook buried in the fish’s mouth.”

About The Guide

Capt. Allen Cain grew up in the Piedmont region of the Old North State, where he spent his youth fishing and hunting, with summer family vacations taking him to the Carolina coast. After high school, he attended the University of North Carolina/Wilmington.

In addition to guiding anglers to false albies and redfish in the Wilmington area, Capt. Allen Cain also seasonally books trips for striped bass on North Carolina’s Roanoke River, as well as for giant redfish in the Biloxi Marsh of Louisiana.

For more information check out his Sightfish NC website.

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