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Mangrove jack: fish of a thousand casts
  |  First Published: April 2003



I got jacked in a big way the other day. The trip had been fairly uneventful and like two other similar recent wipe-outs, it was the lack of early action that caused me to let my guard down and cop a straight right to the chin.

The trip was a canoe assault on a typically skinny and tidal northern NSW coastal creek – a short estuary that, like so many others, begins life at the back of a popular surfing beach.

On the way up the creek we fired out our normal array of gold shallow-running divers, including Deception Lancasters, Bombers and Smiling Jacks. We targeted the normal structures that produce fish, including coffee rock walls and tumbledowns, sunken trees and bridge pylons. Our tackle included baitcasters filled with 15kg braid with 24kg leader with loop knot attached to the lure. I was using an Ian Miller Boomer Bass rod while mate Mike Colless toted a home-built, fast-taper stick from the popular Samurai range.

Fish a jack creek often enough and you build up a mental map of all the spots where you’ve pulled fish. As we unsuccessfully peppered each shadowy haunt, the elevating sun was becoming the harbinger to yet another jack skunking. The fish of a thousand casts, and an equal number of sandfly bites, was again proving elusive, even for a couple of seasoned campaigners like Mike and me.

Snaggy bend

A bend with at least three sunken trees would probably be the most productive spot in the entire creek. As we cast fruitlessly to the bases of the snags and sticked the lures back erratically along trunks, it was hard to believe that after the big tide during the night there wouldn’t be at least one jack or trevally prepared to take a swipe at our lures.

I gave the handle on the electric outboard a turn and guided the canoe into the next snagless straight as Mike fired a long cast right up the guts of the creek, whether out of frustration or just to clear some line from his reel. I wasn’t watching when the first boil occurred, nor did Mike say anything about the red flash and swirl he’d seen a few turns into the retrieve. When a jack around 55cm to 60cm hit his lure beside the boat, you’d have to be Blind Freddie to miss the action! Unfortunately, it failed to connect.

Why such a big fish was feeding in an open straight was just another inexplicable part of the North Coast jack puzzle. We eventually reached an overhanging tree, where I fired out a cast that had the lure over the branch and into the water behind. My bass instincts took over and I couldn’t help myself as I left the lure dangling, just touching the water.

The surface exploded as a jack hammered the lure and with drag locked up and the electric in reverse, I held my ground as the heavy leader rubbed over the madly swaying branch. The fish settled down and we were able to collect line as we motored over to a jack of 37cm. Had he been in the class of fish that had swiped at Mike’s lure, I doubt I would have been so lucky. When casting for jack there always has to be a safe exit route in your pre-cast planning.

Earlier in the week I’d picked up a couple of new sticks to test out and had kept the lighter bass rod to test. Leaving my gold Lancaster on the Ultimate stick I’d been using all morning, I tied on an untried Leads diver to my new back-up rod to prospect deeper snags in the timbered corner near where Mike had missed his fish earlier in the day.

I cast over the top of where I figured the biggest of the three stumps would be lying, just off the mud in about three metres of water. Holding my rod tip to the water, I felt the little lure bump twice as it scraped across the top of the tree. Getting more used to the new rod and lure, I fired my third cast farther out and along the bank, allowing me to generate a little more depth by the time it reached the tree.

Log monster

The lure bumped once, scraped for a second and was absolutely slammed by a fish that had the rod doubled inside-out, the canoe turning and line leaving the reel and going down from the rod tip at an angle I never knew possible in such a small and shallow creek. With the huge jack surging along the length of the log, all I could do was attempt to get above it and pull it out backwards and, for possibly 10 seconds, this seemed achievable. We even got a quick look at the leader knot.

Less than 20 seconds after the punch-up started, the 24kg leader gave way and the last 30cm of what was left of the two-metre leader looked like it had been attacked by razor blades, I counted six slivers of line at one point. Lesson 1: Jacks love barnacle-covered snags; Lesson 2: Never use sloppy rods when chasing them!

Transparencies

1

This jack used its head – or did it – to attack a gold Bomber.

2

Mick Booth with a pair of jacks which were the results of an early morning paddle

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3-

A classic jack snag –plenty of deep timber.

4

Jacks know where the nearest snag is and this one almost got away.

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