They'll grab baits or lures cast by beginners or grizzled veterans. And, truth be known, there have been countless experienced anglers over the years who have been thrilled by jack crevalle.
Jacks range in size from one pound to 30 or more pounds. In southwest Florida, where they are as common as tourists, they average about 5 pounds, with fish up to 15 pounds a routine occurrence. The best thing about jack crevalle is that they can stretch your line, bend your rod and make your arms ache. In addition, they put big smiles on faces.
Jacks are not considered good table fare, and most are released. There is no size or bag limit on the species. Also called crevalle jack, crevally and ulua, jacks occur in all of Florida's coastal waters. They can be found from the deep ocean reefs to well up coastal rivers.
Jacks usually run in schools, so it's difficult to catch just one. When you encounter a school, it's often non-stop, rod-bending action until you decide to quit.
My first experience with large jacks took place on the Okaloosa Island Pier near Fort Walton Beach, Fla. during the spring of 1973. I was looking for the big cobia that roam the inshore Gulf of Mexico when a large school of hefty jacks swam nearby. I cast a 3-ounce jig into the school and began retrieving rapidly. A large jack inhaled my offering and tried to head to Mexico.
I was using a 9-foot surf rod, heavy spinning reel and 20-pound test monofilament. Still, it took nearly an hour before I was able to best that determined jack. The fish weighed an eye-popping 22 pounds and looked even larger.
Jacks are savvy battlers. They will flank into the current and defy you to reel them in. They will shake their head and love to fight in circles, slugging it out like a heavyweight boxer.
Around Sarasota, Fla., where I reside, there is large population of jacks that, unlike the tourists, hang around the West Coast area throughout the year.
Where to find them?
That's easy. You'll most often find them in the open bays where they'll herd up a school of baitfish and drive them to the surface. When they do, the jacks will cause a surface disturbance that can be seen from several hundred yards. In addition, pelicans and seagulls will home in on the action, and dive for any baitfish missed by the jacks. So, if you encounter diving birds, you're likely in for a jack battle royale.
Jacks also love canals, creeks and rivers. They especially like to hover around the mouths of those waterways. So, it's a good idea to fish around those openings prior to entry.
Tackle for jack crevalle can range from light to heavy, depending, of course, on the size of the fish you encounter and your sporting nature. Five- to 10-pounders can be taken on medium spinning gear and 8- to 12-pound test monofilament with no problem. When the fish approach 20 pounds, it's time to beef up. You won't stand much of a chance of landing a 20-pounder with tackle that's more appropriate for spotted seatrout or other lightweights.
Bait choices are numerous because jacks aren't very selective. They'll hit live shrimp, dead shrimp, pinfish, finger mullet, pilchards, Spanish sardines, small threadfin herring, grunts and almost any baitfish. As far as artificial lures go, jigs top the list, followed by spoons, topwater plugs, jerk worms and wobbling plugs.
Jigs are best because they're versatile and can be cast plenty far. Heave them toward the school of jacks and begin retrieving almost as fast as you can. Some anglers prefer to employ a retrieve known as the "Florida whip," in which they snap the rod upward in a jigging motion as they retrieve quickly. Those who favor spoons should simply cast to the school, then begin a rapid retrieve.
Fly anglers aren't to be ignored. Jacks just love to dine on feathers attached to steel, and most any fly pattern will work. The favorite in local waters is the Clouser Deep Minnow
, a pattern that was created by Pennsylvania fly shop owner Bob Clouser and fly-fishing icon Lefty Kreh. The fly was originally designed for smallmouth bass, but has become one of salt water's top patterns.
Other fly choices include Deceivers
, Seaducers, Hansen's Glass minnow and any other baitfish imitation. Popping bugs often will solicit savage strikes.
Fly rods can range from 6- to 9-weight for jacks up to 12 pounds. Anglers should employ 10-weight rods for larger fish. Floating, sinktip and intermediate lines all work well.
The largest jack crevalle will be found in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. Often these hefty fish swim alone or in pairs. They often are caught trolling large plugs around reefs.
The Intracoastal Waterway is another great place to find jacks. The area between Sarasota and Venice is especially good, with schools of 8- to 12-pound jacks common there during late fall and winter. The jacks converge on that area to dine on baitfish and because the deep water is just a little warmer than the water in the open bays.
A couple of years ago, Sarasota guide Rick Grassett and I drove to Stuart, Fla. to fish with guru Mark Nichols, inventor of the D.O.A. series of plastic baits. Using a prototype mullet, we encountered giant jack crevalle near the St. Lucie Inlet and Indian River. We had the opportunity to fish for that area's giant spotted seatrout and snook, but instead opted to spend our time battling jacks that were in the 20-pound range.
That's the allure of jack crevalle. They grow large, bend rods and put on a battle that few fish can match.
Few anglers, however, head out to intentionally target jacks. But there have been many outings saved by this most cooperative of marine fishes.
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