Albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga) or 'the chicken of the sea', are one of the best eating fish we can catch in NZ waters, and unlike their more desirable bigger cousins, the yellowfin and bluefin, albacore inhabit cooler waters and are able to be targeted just about anywhere in NZ. They are also brilliant sport on light tackle, even though most are winched aboard with heavier tuna gear or on bungees. Check out the smile on Catch sponsored angler Flyn Jack with an albacore he caught on a kingfish jig in the Coromandel to see that they can be great fun.
They are happy in around 18 degrees plus, and are usually a summer species being most readily caught from December right through to late summer.
Usually found well offshore, albacore prefer the deeper blue waters associated with 100 metres plus depth, but in some circumstances they can actually be caught from small boats or even from kayaks. This is usually in locations that are open to the ocean such as Taranaki, Kaikoura, Wellington’s west coast, or any of the popular far northern game fishing localities.
Far more commonly they are found well out to sea though, and as such, are targeted specifically more by commercial boats than recreational fishermen.
Albacore are most commonly similar in stature, size-wise, to skipjack tuna. Usually weighing in around 1 – 5 kgs, but they do get quite big and can even grow to 30kgs plus!
Their main distinguishing feature is their broad wing-like pectoral fin which is often the first thing to identify you have an albacore on the line and not a skipjack.
Albies, as they are affectionately known, are usually the by-product of a trip designed with bigger big game fish in mind. Often trolling for marlin or tuna, smaller lures run in close to the boat on bungees account for these silver rockets ending up in the bin, often as a consolation prize for a day’s trolling without the bigger fish turning up.
Tuna on light gear
If you want to have some fun on light gear, then there’s a lot you can do to get albacore on board using a multitude of methods.
Far from boat shy, albacore will often be visible below the boat as they drive baitfish towards the surface.
In this circumstance throwing over a jig, slow pitch or even a smaller kingfish jig,will have them climb all over it and you can get several on board in a short space.
Game fishing can be a tough time on the patience, and often the advent of an albacore school provides at least a little light relief from endless hours of working hard for the big game species.
A quick diversion to guarantee all that fuel burn at least puts some meat on the table and you can have a great time landing these little guys without having to pull in all the game gear, just slow down and stay in a straight line with the engine engaged and it’s a bit of fun cracking into the school while you are on top of it.
Light bait-casting gear or spin gear really gets the most out of these powerful little pocket rockets.
If your mate is hooked up on an albacore, throw a jig or another suitable lure overboard and just work it in the top 20 metres of the water column, you’re very likely to pick up another fish.
Tuna prefer a lure moving at 6 to 10 knots, but love a fast moving, fluttering jig.
If you are in a kayak, there are a few locations (refer the map) where albacore can be caught trolling small bibbed minnows, where a slower speed still imparts a lot of action in the lure.
This is a pretty specific technique limited to these few areas, but an exciting reward for keen paddlers that want to give it a go.
Looking after your catch
Far less bloody than most other tuna species, the ‘chicken of the sea’ nickname comes from the nature of its flesh (or possibly its wings in there as well).
Albacore has a characteristically pale flesh compared to most other tuna, and is the polar opposite to the oily, dark red skipjack.
This flesh is a little ‘mushy’ in texture to make top grade sashimi, but will provide a superb meal cut into steaks and seared quickly on the outside only.
It’s still always best to bleed your tuna. Albacore are pretty easy to dispatch by breaking the connection at the base of the gill plates by hand, and bending the head back until the spine breaks and the blood spurts free. Be pointing your fish out the back of the boat at the time :-)
You can also iki and bleed by cutting a shallow nick behind the pectoral. The fish then ideally goes into salt ice slurry, or at least straight into an icy bin.
A couple of tips for dealing with albacore
Firstly, they have much harder mouths than skipjack, and can withstand quite a bit of pressure on the line, so you can just lift them in if you see they are well hooked.
If you hold by the tail and let the fish hang straight down nose pointing to the floor, they will immobilise and you can easily remove the hook without them kicking and madly vibrating about as tuna do.
This trick works equally well on skipjack.
Filleting and preparing albacore is done a bit differently from your average snapper.
Here’s a great video that shows you the best way.
Cooking and eating
Great eating, there are a number of ways to prepare albacore flesh. It is very nice smoked, either cold or in a portable hot smoker with a bit of lemon juice and brown sugar rubbed on the open flesh.
The finished product is tender and flaky, and can go straight onto a cracker or into other dishes such as fish pie.
Here’s a couple of options for cooking albacore.
Make the most of summer, and don’t underestimate these little crackerjacks as a table fish.
Albacore are out there waiting amongst the marlin, so if you are into tag and release of your big game, albies will be a good second option for putting a great meal on the table.