Flies for Oregon Coast Albacore Tuna
This past summer marked my baptism into a whole new realm of my addiction to tight lines and smoking drags; Oregon coast Albacore Tuna!
These fish are plentiful off the coast of Oregon and southwest Washington from late June, through early October as they make their migrations from the waters off Japan, across the Pacific to the west coast of the United States. On good days, when ocean temperatures, chlorophyll levels, and the weather align, it’s not uncommon to find Albies within 10-15 miles of shore, easily within the safe reach of smaller fiberglass ocean boats, and even aluminum jet sleds common to rivers. However, from July through September, distances of 20-35 miles offshore are more typical. Albacore Tuna range from 12-35 pounds and are capable of ridiculous speed and power, so stout gear is a must.
While all my trips last summer were spent targeting Albies on conventional rods and assorted tackle, the fly fisherman in me just couldn’t help but wonder just how bad my forearms would hurt from doing battle with these long finned bullets on a 12 wt. So, after a few talks with some local tuna gurus, some basic ideas were hashed out, and the patterns are slowly beginning to trickle off my vise.
My foundation for these flies is built off several main points:
Tuna are basically stomachs with fins. At times, they are capable of consuming 25% of their body weight per day! You’re not trying to fool spring creek Redbands here, you are throwing ‘food’ in front of a calorie burning machine. It doesn’t have to be super realistic or complex, they just have to think it will fit in their mouth.
They are strong fish, with raspy, sharp beaks, and you will lose gear. Flies need to stay cheap to avoid crying over the ones you lose.
How much time does it takes to tie a pattern? It’s finally getting to be that nice time of year where chores often outweigh available time. You don’t want to spend hours on beautiful sunny days cooped up inside, grinding out boxes full of flies at 20 minutes apiece.
You will notice that the ‘ingredients’ used in each fly are few. This is to help keep costs down, while streamlining and speeding up the overall process. The tricks here are building in layers, and securing the materials. The tying process is basically a series of ‘chevrons’ >>>>>, using sparse amounts of body materials which build upon themselves with each subsequent step. Use too large a portion of material, and you’ll be stuck trying to work around a bulky clump that doesn’t blend with the rest of the body. I like to tie everything in the middle, when securing the materials, fold the front half back, and then secure again. For example, a 4” fly would use 8” of Super Hair, tied, folded back, and tied again. This will prevent materials from slipping out when fished. Super Hair is great for this because it comes in 10.5” lengths. Other good materials are Unique Hair, Sea Hair, and Puglisi Fibers. As for flash, Flashabou, Krystal Flash, Polar Flash, and Mirage Accent are all great.
Coat the heads (from hook eye to behind the fly eyes) with thick cement like Flexament, or even epoxy, to give the heads good rigidity, further adhere the eyes, and most importantly, to give the fly an air pocket up near its front, which causes a pressure difference in the water around the fly, thus producing a bubble trail to flow from the fly and add realism. Bubbles are a good thing in tuna fishing!
The Flies In This Series
Fly fisherman and tyer Eric Martin grew up in the central Oregon town of Madras, Oregon, earned his degree in in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from Oregon State University, and has the great fortune of being provided with riverfront housing while working for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. During times when he is not at work, he can fish and tie to his heart's content. You can read more about Eric and see many more of his flies on his page on this site, Eric Martin Flies.