For Gulf Coast anglers relieved to learn the season for greater amberjack reopens January 1, there’s a terrific how-to article in the January 2010 issue of Florida Sportsman.
You’ll remember the 2009 Gulf of Mexico greater amberjack “season” had been cut short on Oct. 24 because NOAA Fisheries Service calculated that the recreational sector had met its annual quota early. Bag limit is one per person; minimum size 30 inches fork length.
On the Atlantic side of Florida, greater amberjack bag limit is 1 and minimum size 28 inches fork length.
Veteran anglers know big reef-dwelling jacks are quick to pounce on a properly presented jig. In fact, the new metal “speed jigs” have proven to be extremely effective. Let’s have a look:
This is a selection of metal jigs from a variety of manufacturers. Many sizes, shapes and colors work for amberjack. Because we’re primarily fishing braided polyethylene line—which is very low diameter for its strength rating—we can get away with somewhat less weight than you might expect. A 3- or 4-ounce jig is more than adequate for reaching amberjack over wrecks in 180 feet of water or so, while the big 6- to 9-ouncers are good over current-swept seamounts. You’ll want to use some kind of leader; 60-pound-test monofilament is good. And tie strong knots, first doubling the braided line with a spider hitch or Bimini twist, and then using a back-to-back uni knot to affix the mono leader.
Amberjack gang up around abrupt depth changes, such as the Humps in the Florida Straights. You simply cannot anchor in this environment. Smart drift fishing is the key. After marking fish on a spot, note your heading and drift, and use those figures to plan a drift route which begins well upcurrent of the spot. Also, keep in mind that amberjack may not in fact show on the spot—at times they patrol well away from the site.
Manmade reefs also attract AJs—and also red snapper, as shown here. Remember those reds are out of season on the Gulf Coast, and flat out of the picture in Atlantic federal waters beginning Jan. 4.
What’s the secret to hooking an AJ? Hang on for dear life! If the fish are present and your drift is true, they will seldom refuse to snatch a jig. Drop the jig to the bottom (it might not get there. . .) and reel it up toward the surface while jerking the rodtip to impart some shakes and darts. An AJ often hits as the jig falls—you might not think you’ve got much there, as the line comes tight, but soon you will. . .
This guy is about to burst a blood vessel in his head. You can apply as much pressure as you possibly can, and still not budge the fish. Or, once you’ve drifted off the structure, you can ease up a little and “urge” the fish toward the surface.
The fight’s over, and a big jack comes over the rail. These fish are typically released, but we like to keep one now and then. They are good eating.
That’s a big AJ hooked out west past the Dry Tortugas. This was a few years ago when we first began using the speed jigs.
Nice thing about drifting is, a number of anglers can get in on the game.
Another sucker is born.
A key difference between grouper and amberjack: Grouper quit fighting about 20 feet off the bottom, while AJs thrash all the way to the surface. In water deeper than 150 feet, sometimes AJs fill up with air on the way up, and have a hard time swimming back down. If that happens, lay the fish on the deck with its back toward the gunnel and push firmly on the belly with your palm or knee, until the fish “burps” air. You’ll know it when you hear it.