I’m a simple man. While fish that require specific flies and exacting presentations are the mainstay for some, I really appreciate a fish that isn’t picky. Maybe that’s a result of too many days on the front of a bonefish skiff. When I feel the need for a fish that will willingly eat whatever I throw at him, and then fight as tough as they come, I go looking for my friend Jack. Jack crevalle to be exact. Pound for pound, the jack crevalle will put most other fish in his neighborhood to shame. And as an opponent for the fly rodder…at least where knock-down, drag-out, tug of war fights are concerned, this is the fish.
The jack crevalle is a deep bodied fish with long pectoral fins, large head, and silvery gray to amber coloring depending on whether you find them out in the ocean or in stained backwaters. His relatives sharing the jack line are well known; permit, pompano, amberjack and bluefish are just a few in this large family of fish. I think the crevalles, however, must have been the chronically mean fish in the family. Like a junkyard dog. Cornering baitfish and then relentlessly hammering them produces a sight that resembles almost nothing else with the exception of bluefish or tuna. They slice through the water not so much like a fish as a battering ram. A pit bull with fins is what I like to think of them as.
Though the more glamorous fish such as snook, tarpon and redfish are more highly sought after, jacks have saved many a day for anglers getting little or no cooperation from their target species. Almost as a rule, if you can find the jacks, you can get them to eat flies. Competition in schools is so high, all you need do is get an offering into the vicinity and move it erratically. A hit is usually very short in coming. Their aggressive, cooperative nature make the smaller fish in the three to ten pound range great for beginner fly anglers, though even old pros get just kid silly catching them. And they attain weights in excess of forty pounds, and let me tell you, when you’ve battled a beast like that to the boat, you KNOW you’ve been in a fight. Typically, fish over thirty pounds will still be pulling hard at the end of an hour. And forget about them laying over on their side and giving up. Surrender is not in a big jacks vocabulary
Where do jacks live
Speaking from my experience around Palm Beach Florida, where do you find jacks?
Well, everywhere basically. They do travel around constantly. They have the mouth and gill structure of a fish that has to keep moving to ensure good water flow over their gills. They never stop moving. Keeping track of where they are from day to day takes a little work, but they cover every habitat in my area. Flats, seawalls, channels, deep holes, running the beach and even out on the reef in a hundred feet of water. Where you find good current and food, you can find jacks. You may find them in areas of no current and no food, but they are on their way to someplace that has both I assure you. And they are probably doing it at a good pace.
How about when to find them? All the time would be the answer. Huge schools of “juvenile” jacks flood into inshore water during the cooler months of the winter. An average size is five to ten pounds for these fish. Shortly after these fish appear, smaller schools of medium sized jacks move in. These fish run in the ten to twenty pound class and can have up to a hundred fish or more in the school. Both size groups of jacks remain in inshore water until late spring/early summer when they start traveling north. These are the main bodies of fish, there are good numbers of smaller schools moving through the area at all times.
Then we come to the local bullies. These fish are resident monsters. Scary fish. They run from twenty five to forty pounds. Some may reach fifty pounds. And they live here year round. If the thought to make a sporting event of playing with these guys crosses your mind, forget it. Break out the big gear and forget the rules. I recommend twelve weight rods and direct drive reels.
Strong as an ox and almost as smart
The fights you’ll encounter with jacks of this size can be epic, lasting hours. You Will need to chase them with the boat if you have a care for your fly line. Something happens to a jack when they cross the twenty pound mark. They’ll make long, screaming runs then stop dead. You heave back on the rod, and if it weren’t for that first run, you would swear you were snagged on the bottom. So you go after them with the boat, they see the boat and off they go again on a long run. This can repeat for a long time. Just keep at it, wear them down before they wear you out.
Flies for jacks? Anything. ( notice there’s a trend going here…) Anything that catches their attention and whatever they can wrap their lips around. Clouser minnows, Deceivers, and especially poppers. Mullet flies are hard to beat in the fall during the mullet run. Fishing the dark, stained water inshore, bright colored flies in yellow or chartreuse will be easier for them to see. And the big guys like really big flies. Like sailfish streamers eight to ten inches long. And the biggest poppers you can find or make. The bigger the jack, the bigger the flies. When they want to feed, there really isn’t a whole lot they won’t chase down and kill.
Scale your rod to match the fish. Six weights will make the most out of jacks up to five pounds. An eight or nine weight will do for five to ten pounders. Over ten pounds a beefy nine or ten weight, and if you know the jacks are going to be over twenty pounds, break out the twelve weight. I know a lot of people who haven’t pulled on jacks are out there saying”…a twelve weight for a twenty pound fish?” All I can say is just you wait and see. They can be done on lighter gear, but you won’t like it. Remember, more than likely, you won’t be hooking just one. And believe me when I say fighting jacks can wear you out. Exhausting actually. Luckily, they are very tough fish and won’t fight themselves into an unrecoverable state of exhaustion. But, if you insist on lighter gear, go ahead, knock yourself out… literally.
So, the next time you find yourself in Florida and the tarpon have lockjaw, the permit aren’t permitting, and the bones don’t know that they’re supposed to eat flies, ask your guide to introduce you to Jack.