Targeting and catching the iconic mangrove jack is bound to generate buzz from any angler. These fish are an apex predator, they smash lures, they look good and they go like a freight train. Who wouldn’t want to land one?
After years of chasing them, jacks are still one of my favourite target species and I often make the drive from north Brisbane down to the Gold Coast and Tweed to target them. So what can you do to maximise your chances of hooking and landing one of these brawlers?
There are a few key ingredients to a locating a successful jack spot: structure, bait and moving water, especially if it creates eddies.
Structure on the Gold Coast is plentiful and the key areas we target are rock walls, bridges and pontoons. Probably the biggest mistake anglers make, especially when bank fishing, is to cast out into the middle of the river and then commence the retrieve. Jacks love structure, so the more time your lure spends near the structure the more time it is in the strike zone.
For this reason when fishing rock walls, take the time to climb down to the base of the rock wall. Remember to wear appropriate footwear and be careful, but you really want to get down close to the water and make your cast parallel to the wall.
Once the lure hits the water allow all the ripples to disappear, let the lure sink to the bottom, when fishing plastics, and commence a slow retrieve. A slow retrieve generates the most success, so don’t be tempted to crank the lure, but retrieve it really slow. Then about a 1m to 1.5m out from the wall, allow the lure to bump the bottom and structure as much as possible.
Locations that are plentiful in bait can also be productive. Bridges tend to hold bait and when the water is moving, eddies form on the down-current side of the pylons. A cast thrown to one pylon again limits the amount of time the lure spends in the strike zone, whereas casting parallel to the bridge tends to be more successful. Use the same dead slow retrieve, running the lure past four or five pylons in the one cast.
Pontoons are also often loaded with bait. When targeting pontoons work the lure along the front and back of each pontoon, but again focus your attention on areas with tidal movement that are holding bait, including baitfish and prawns.
When fishing the Tweed, which has more natural structure, focus on the bends of the river, targeting the deeper side and also work any deep holes that you find on the sounder. Focus on the most vicious looking snags and get the lures as close as possible, again keeping an eye out for water movement, eddies and bait.
No matter what structures you are fishing make sure you throw a few casts before moving on. When targeting rock walls for example, we throw 10-15 casts, then move maybe 5m and commence casting again. At times it’s a matter of annoying the jack until they strike out of territorial aggression.
It is also important to be quiet when working these areas, especially at night. When fishing from a boat kill the motor a fair distance from where you are wanting to fish and move into position using the electric motor or an oar.
The Gold Coast is renowned for big mangrove jack and we commonly land jack in the 40-60cm range.
Gear for targeting these fish needs to be reasonable quality and I prefer a baitcaster rod and reel as it provides good control of the fish and lure. A baitcaster allows you to free spool a soft plastic down after the cast. If a fish strikes the lure on the drop it’s quick and easy to turn the handle to engage the reel, set the hooks and extract the fish…hopefully!
At times a fish may bury you in a snag and the baitcaster allows you to free spool, taking the pressure off the fish and hopefully it will swim out, at which point you can again engage the reel quickly, set the hook and go hard. I landed a solid 53cm jack after free spooling it for two minutes in a snag before it eventually swam out.
I use a 10-20lb rod, loaded with 20-30lb braid for quicker hook sets and more control and a 20-40lb leader. Deep diving hardbodied lures work well, including Rapala suspending X-Raps and the Jonesy Nifty B, but using hardbodied lures does tend to become costly if you get smoked a few times in the one night.
Soft plastics are more economical and we have been catching plenty of jacks lately on the Z-Man 4” SwimmerZ. These plastics are made from ElaZtech, which is soft, extremely stretchy and up to ten times more durable than other plastics. This means less ripped and torn plastics and more fish per lure.
I recently landed a 58cm jack on my first cast and a 53cm on the same 4” SwimmerZ on my second cast and the lure was still fishable.
The Z-Man lures are also buoyant allowing a variety of rigging options and also giving them plenty of action even at the extremely slow retrieve speeds I prefer for jack. I rig these on 1/4oz TT Lures Tournament jigheads with 5/0 hooks and have caught plenty of fish recently on the Red Shad colour.
You can also have some good fun on by-catch when jack fishing, with plenty of cod, sometimes ten cod to one jack, some solid flathead and plenty of tarpon. Probably what I like most about jack fishing is the amount of awesome fishing stories that come out of these night adventures, from epic bust-ups and crazy rod work to extracting 60cm+ fish from snags and some of the quality by-catch landed.
A few of my favourite memories that spring to mind include: catching a small tarpon and having a 60cm+ jack smash it at my feet, annihilating the tarpon but missing the hooks; a crazy morning session landing 20+ cod to 55cm, a 50cm+ jack and a big tarpon; and another session when a mate of mine Declan had three hits in three casts, first was a bust off and then came consecutive jacks of 40cm and 45cm.
So remember the key ingredients: structure, bait and eddies formed by water movement. Add to this recipe for successful jack fishing, slowing your lure retrieve and keeping it in the strike zone. If you haven’t caught a jack give it a go, hooking one is the start, landing it will leave you with some great fishing stories and some amazing memories. – Matt StottReads: 19776