One of the most prized gamefish in our coastal waters is the little tunny. The fish is caught in warm waters that range from Chatham, Massachusetts as far south as Brazil. If you’re looking for a tremendous fight from even a small fish, look to the little tunny. If you want a fish for the table, look elsewhere. Their dark, oily flesh is barely edible.
While the real name for the fish is the little tunny it has a lot of nicknames. False albacore, albie, and Fat Alberts to name a few, but my favorite is the Appleknocker. Appleknocker references their high season, when they leave our waters while the apples are falling from the trees. From their arrival in late July through early October, these fish are highly prized among light tackle and fly anglers alike.
They are one of the most interestingly shaped fish, and closely resemble a bullet. All head and shoulders, a very thin tail that ends in a wide blade, and fins that tuck into their body. Little tunny are hydro-dynamically designed which means they rip through the water when hooked. After their first blistering run you’ll work them back to find that they have enough juice to peel off all of your line again.
Applekockers race around the edges where shallow water suddenly drops off to a deeper depth. They frequent rips, sandbars, jetties and inlets and feed on small baitfish like bay anchovies, peanut bunker, silversides, and small butterfish. When a school of Applekockers are racing around you’ll see flocks of birds struggling to keep up with their blistering pace and baitfish spraying out of the water. Light tackle anglers throw tin. Small Kastmasters, Deadly Dicks, or small Hopkin’s lures, all thin in profile and flashy as a disco ball.
They are a fascinating fish to get into the boat. When you first haul ‘em out of the water you’ll see a bright green back with black, worm-like markings (sort of like a brook trout). As they are out of the water the color starts to fade, so when their shoulders turn light green or yellow green it’s time to get them back in the drink. Albies don’t taste good at all, so fishing for them is catch-and-release. But don’t revive them as you would a striped bass and rock them gently; instead, put one hand under them, hold their tail, and pitch them headfirst into the water as hard as you can. The rush of water over their gills jump starts them and away they go. Appleknockers have sharp teeth, so keep your fingers clear.
If you’re looking for a fish that will get your adrenaline pumping, head to the coast and search out a school. Lead ‘em like you would a wide receiver and cast far out front and maybe a little bit beyond. Don’t worry about being too far out in front; like a good wide out they’ll be at your tin in no time.
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Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits. When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters. His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.