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All Jacked Up

Follow these tips for catching amberjack.

March 13, 2009
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What fish is easy to locate, tugs like a wild boar, and bites almost any bait? Amberjack. They provide a thrilling fight and are one of the most cooperative sportfish an angler can target. They don’t taste very good so most Atlantic and Gulf Coast fisheries are catch-and-release, which helps maintain or increase their numbers. Want to get a rod bent with these fighters? Use these tactics.

1. These fish orient to structure in relatively deep water, and they usually hold at mid-depth. You’ll often find them hovering over wrecks, reefs, and oil rigs. If there’s structure in 300′, for example, and the top of the structure is 100′ off the bottom, place your baits between 150′ and 175′ deep. Small (one-to-two-pound) bluefish, spot, and croaker all make excellent live baits for amberjack. Put a 9/0 to 10/0 circle hook through the bait’s back, just behind its dorsal fin. Rig up with a 5′, 80-to-100-pound leader and use just enough weight to put your offering in the target zone.

2. Amberjack are experts at dodging in and out of barnacle-encrusted wreckage. They’ll quickly abrade your line and break off if you don’t get them away from the structure immediately. Take a lesson from Gulf anglers who regularly fish around oil rigs–yank fish away from structure by applying full drag and throwing your boat into gear as soon as the fish is hooked. Once the fish is clear, go to neutral, back off on the drag, and fight it normally.

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3. Is there a school of jacks clustered close to the structure? It’s best to lure them away and bring them to the surface, where the possibility of your line getting snagged is lessened. Entice them by dropping a heavy spoon or jig, then ripping it back to the boat as quickly as possible. When fish follow the lure, keep them high in the water column by tossing chunks of bunker or butterfish over the side.

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