“Jack!” The angler on the bow of the boat was watching birds – gulls and terns – feed on bait. The surface below them was boiling, and if you spend enough time out on the water you can tell the ladyfish from the bluefish, and the macks from the jacks. Each of these open-water predators will chase baits to the surface, and in turn the birds – far above and it seems from miles away – show up immediately. The birds, the way the fish act when feeding on the surface (they do not leave the water like a mackerel will leave the water), and the smell that some anglers swear smells like watermelons are all indicators that the Jacks are in the water. Pound for pound, they are among the absolutely strongest fish in the water.
Things to Know about Jack Crevalle
Watch for Birds to Locate the Fish - These are open-water predators; their top jaw is equal in length to the bottom jaw and they are structured to chase and feed on baitfish running in front of them. They are caught in open water, where you see birds feeding on surface baits. The fish driving the sardines or herring to the surface can be mackerel, ladyfish, tuna, bluefish, or jack. More often than not they're Jack.
Jack Crevalle are Great to Catch - Anglers that consider themselves part of an elite few often consider Jack junk fish. They are not great to eat, but they fight like hell. To us, they're outstanding fish to catch, even though we do not often set out to target the species – instead going for more popular edibles, like snook, tarpon, redfish, bass, or a dozen others. But if you are out on the water and you see birds feeding, it always makes sense to throw a spoon into the school, real it quickly, and get one of the feeders to strike. They almost always will regardless of species, but if they seem to circle the boat while you fight them they're likely these beautiful cruisers. New fisherman and experienced alike, anglers find them an excellent fighting fish, and you should always test your wit using artificials and learning to fight big fish.
Jacks are all around our side of the world. This graphic gives you an idea of where you can go to catch Jack Crevalle. Again, they're open water fish, so an exact spot is hard to identify. You are more likely to find them inside bays near big structures like bridges, but out on the beaches you often see them well within casting range, and if you are in a boat you can see feeding birds – indicating a feed is happening and the fish you do not see are much bigger than the ones the birds are eating – from miles away and reach them easily.
Fish inshore for year-round action. Like many of our fine saltwater friends, Jacks use our coastal estuaries as nursery grounds for growing up. They can be caught inshore year round, up to about 10-to-12 inches, which make for great sport when you just want to bend the rods. The bigger ones do come inshore during certain parts of the year like fall when the mullet concentrate in big numbers there.
Fish inshore first thing in the morning. First light is the perfect time to hook into a monster jack in shallow water. As the day breaks, the jacks love to rush into the shallows, trapping the small baitfish between themselves and the land, and can be quite a sight to see. This is the perfect opportunity for artificial lures.
Target bigger jacks offshore. While the big jacks go inshore to chase bait, they are most often found just offshore. Here, they will be in the surf, over flat sandy areas just off the beaches, or on nearshore structures like shallow natural and artificial reefs, rock piles, wrecks, and ledges. Live fish is the best bait. The favorite prey of a Jack Crevalle is live fish. A live mullet, sardine, or herring will always catch jacks all day long, whether you’re fishing for smaller fish inshore, or bigger fish offshore. When fishing inshore, use a smaller size bait around two to three inches, and use a larger size offshore.
Fish-mimicking lures are best artificial baits. The best lures for Jack Crevalle are fish-mimicking ones. Use a heavy silver spoon, or a hard or soft plastic that resembles a mullet, sardine, herring, or anything else fast and shiny.
Reel fast! Jack Crevalle love to hit a fast-moving target. Just looking at its body shape can give you an idea of how fast these fish are – the large forked tail and torpedo shaped body is similar to most fast fish like tunas and other jacks. This is mostly geared towards using artificial lures like spoons or diving plugs, but a fast-retrieved live mullet will get a lot of attention, too.
Use medium tackle for all sizes of jacks. Jack Crevalle school in fish of similar size, so when you hook one, you pretty much know what the rest are going to be like in the immediate school. However, there are times when fishing inshore you come across schools of small jacks, and then a school of bigger jacks move in to steal the action. A solid medium tackle setup 12-to-14 pound test line is fun enough for the little guys, but more than enough for the big ones, too, as long as you let them run a little.
Target big jacks in the surf zone. The surf zone is one of the best places to target big jacks. This is especially true when baitfish such as mullet are migrating up and down the coast in the fall and spring, respectively. A heavy spoon or diving plug is really effective for casting far across the breakers. Use a fast gear ratio reel when using artificial baits. As mentioned before, jacks love to hit a fast-moving target. The gear ratio of a fishing reel affects how fast you can retrieve line -– the higher the ratio, the faster you can retrieve. A fast gear ratio will allow you to effortlessly retrieve lures in fast all day long without wearing out your wrist.
Bleed and ice the fish immediately if you’re going to eat it. Believe it or not, a lot of folks actually do eat Jack Crevalle. Although they’re mainly thought of as a sport fish, they are said to be quite tasty as long as you bleed them immediately by cutting the gill arches and holding the fish upside down for a minute, and then putting them in good ice. The ice helps firm up the meat and makes it easier to fillet.
A Few Last Comments About Jack Crevalle
These tips will definitely help you when you encounter these voracious eaters. You can catch them with live bait, and there are plenty of times they will grab a live sardine or threadfin you're using to catch something different. All fish eat natural baits faster then they will eat a metal or plastic or feathered lure.
But all around they are tremendous battlers, and if you have people on your boat or walking the beaches with you that have never caught one, their reputation as tasting terrible isn't on the table, so to speak. New anglers that have never felt a Jack fight are in for a real treat. If you get into a good-sized school of them, you can run with the schools if you're on a boat, and catch them all day long.
One last thing. Since you're not likely to eat them, make sure you treat them in such a way as to improve their chances of remaining alive. A lot of people treat them like trash because they're not envious table fare. Do not be one of these fools. Every fish can feel the event of fighting you. Do not take them from the water and damage their slime; it protects them and they'll die if you leave dry finger marks on their skin. Bend the barbs of your hooks down. Do not take them from the water; take pictures alongside the boat or get in the water if you're on the beach. Do not hold them for a photo opportunity. Treat them as if they can feel your intrusion into their lives, and increase the odds they will live to fight again.