False Albacore Are Great Game Fish but Little Tunny Suck

Anglers who get too hung up on the status of game fish forget the fun factor of fishing.

O P I N I O N

Anglers admire a lovely little tunny (false albacore) off Sebastian, Florida
This is either (a) a fantastic small-tuna game fish worth targeting or (b) an annoying trash fish best avoided. It all comes down to your mind-set.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Not many anglers in Florida or the Gulf coastal states will go out of their way to target bonito. Sure, the small tunas put up a good tussle, but it’s a rare angler indeed who would call up his bros to say, Hey, let’s go out tomorrow to see if we can catch some bonito!

It’s a damned shame, now, that false albacore aren’t available to anglers in Florida. One seldom hears of those small tunas being caught south of the Carolinas. But you know they’re really great game fish because light-tackle and fly anglers go nuts when the false albies are running, and will enthusiastically plan a day to go out and target them. In fact, we devote an entire feature this issue to helping false albacore enthusiasts enjoy more success.

So, I guess the takeaway is: Bonito kind of suck, but false albacore are fabulous little gamesters.

But wait — the two “species” are actually the very same fish, properly called the little tunny, Euthynnus alletteratus.

If a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, you’d have to figure a false albacore by any other name fights as hard.

And the fact is, little tunnies fight as hard as bluefin, pound for pound, giving it all they’ve got. When matched to suitable tackle, they’ll make a drag sing and an angler dance to keep up with a fish running this way and that around and under a boat.

Closeup of a little tunny (aka false albacore)
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "BONITO" AND "FALSE ALBIES" ALL COMES DOWN TO RESPECT.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Another Rodney Dangerfield is the jack crevalle. They assault plugs and flies with thrilling belligerence and then battle with the stamina of the Energizer bunny. While anglers would likely agree they’re fun to catch, not many go out of their way to find them. These jacks are in fact a smaller version of the giant trevally, yet the GT is revered as an awesome game fish for the very sort of qualities the undervalued crevalle exhibits.

Angler off Louisiana releases a huge jack crevalle
This beast of a jack crevalle smashes stickbaits and fights like a giant trevally of the same size. Where's the respect?Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

For a Bent Rod and a Singing Drag

There are lots more examples, including a game fish (yes, game fish!) I feel is decidedly underrated — the gafftopsail catfish. Yeah, they do leave a bit of slime on one’s leader, but they are tremendous fighters and will hit lures (I’ve caught many on topwaters), plus are one of the coolest-looking catfishes. I’ve watched seasoned anglers happily assume they’re fighting a good redfish, only to be disgusted when it turns out to be a sailcat. What? They didn’t just enjoy an exciting battle?

Of course, edibility is often cited as a reason these fish don’t enjoy more respect. I’ve heard it said more than once that if bonito or jacks were good eating, everyone would love ’em.

But with so many anglers these days declaring their focus largely on catch-and-release fishing, more for sport than food, that’s a bit hard to figure.

I suspect that anglers who don’t get overly hung up on the prestige of a given species are probably having a lot more fun than those hunting only glamour fish and trophies.

I’m fishing not to impress others, but for the sheer pleasure of it. I respect any game fish — including bonito, jacks and sailcats — that can put a tight bend in my light spinning rod and make my drag sing. For that kind of action, I say without shame: Deal me in every time.

(This editorial appeared originally in Sport Fishing magazine, September/October 2017)

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