One of the most fun and exciting game fish to be caught in the Southern California ocean are Albacore. These members of the tuna family are fun to catch and great to eat.
The fastest, most wide ranging and least net-able of all the tuna, Albacore (Thunnis alalunga) are one of the most welcome visitors to Southern California. Only in years when the water temperature remains in the low 60's Fahrenheit until mid-spring will the Albacore arrive at all in Southern California. In warmer years they arrive in Central and Northern California coasts. Albacore are the best table fare of any of the tuna. They are the only fish allowed to be sold as "White Tuna" in cans. Fresh the meat is light and delicious with a decidedly meaty texture.
Because of their habits of moving in very fast, very loose schools, It's nearly impossible for net boats to catch Albacore in commercially viable numbers. Nearly all fish are caught on hook and line, either trolled lures or by jack poles from commercial boats chumming with bait. This means there are always plenty of Albacore around for the sport fishermen to hook up.
Albacore are sometimes called "longfin tuna" for their distinctive extra long pectoral fins. They can get as big as 90 lbs or so but are commonly in the 25-50 lb range. They'll eagerly snap at almost any silvery object in the water when in a feeding frenzy, even bare hooks, and once on the line put up a classic, powerful tuna fight. Just because you get it on the end of your line, doesn't mean you'll land an albacore. It's dogged determination to get loose and seemingly herculean endurance make it a favorite among Southern California anglers.
Something like 90% of all albacore are taken in water between 62 and 67 degrees F. I recently discovered this fact in my research but my personal experience had already taught me that if the water wasn't within a degree or two of 65, there weren't going to be any albacore caught. I first came to realize this when commercial Albacore trolling in Central California in the early 1970's. I was holding a hose supplied by a pump in the boat that took the seawater directly from a through hull fitting to the hose, and was washing down the deck. Suddenly I felt the water suddenly change from cold to warm indicating we'd just passed a thermocline. Immediately all eighteen of our trolled jigs had fish on! Then I realized the importance of water temperature for albacore and had a remote reading sea water temperature gage installed in my boat. From then on I noticed the water temperature when we ran into albacore and found it was always very near 65.
Albacore are caught by trolling in likely tuna feeding areas especially over offshore banks until a school is located, then fly lining with live bait. Sometimes Albacore will be fussy with their diets and won't touch a sardine - only anchovies. It can be tricky at these times to keep you anchovy lively when fished on bigger hooks and heavier lines needed for Albacore fishing. Also a bait fish imitating lure or fly, if properly fished, will catch its share of these wily predators. Again, a fast retrieve with rapid, darting motions is the hot ticket. Fishing blue and silver single-tailed rubber lures "on the slide" is another very effective fishing techniques for Albacore.
My personal preference when Albacore fishing is to not allow deck hands to butcher my fish. They'll toss the best parts of the fish overboard to settle on the bottom and become crab lunches. Know what the BEST part of an Albacore is? It's the belly. Toro(Bluefin Tuna belly) in sushi bars is one of the most expensive things on the menu. It's also one of the tastiest. OK, even if you can't stand the thought of sushi, smoke those bellies for a taste sensation that will put Prime Rib to shame. It's melt-in-your-mouth fabulous. The kama (collar) and head of the tuna are also delicious eating and are parts that get tossed overboard every day by deck hands who are too busy making a few bucks than coaching tourists on how to eat great fish meals. I get my tuna gutted and gilled, then take it to my friendly local sushi bar for proper butchering. I've never seen nor heard of anyone eating tuna roe but would imagine if you found some it would be very edible.
Albacore may be universally prepared in a wide variety of techniques. It's great as sashimi, baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, sautied, smoked, marinated, just about any way you can imagine. About the only way not fantastic for eating tuna is deep fried. The oil content of the fish is sufficient that frying tends to trap too much oil in the fish. Lately, I've been enjoying Albacore marinated in soy sauce, sweet sake and grated garlic, then grilled on the barbecue. Tuna cooked in this manner melt in your mouth and would delight even the most ardent "I hate fishy tasting fish" picky fish eater. One of the last fish I personally caught last year had the fattest, most delicious bellies for sashimi I've ever tasted on any fish.
Jeff Spira is a fishermen and writer of fishing and seamanship books. His web site California Ocean Fishing offers further insights into this fun sport and has links to online sources for his books on the subject.
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