Jack’s back
  |  First Published: February 2004

THIS is the pick of the season for tangling with big mangrove jacks. The water temperature has risen and the fish are just loving it.

Smashing strikes and brute force are the order of the day for these fish. The power developed by jacks at this time comes from their active feeding patterns and from the abundance of food. Large schools of herring, mullet, garfish, prawns and tailor are abundant in many parts of the system.

Places like bridges, rock bars, fallen timber or undercut banks are all purpose-built for these fish and for the food they love to wait in ambush for. The best locations must have deep water with plenty of water flow.

There are a number of methods to target mangrove jack. I don’t like using cut bait for jacks because you attract unwanted species like bream and, more often than not, jacks they need to be allowed to run some distance before striking. The result is that the fish will be hooked deeply, where real damage can be done.

If you’re not into releasing these great sport fish, you should be – their populations can be impacted upon to the point where fish take years to repopulate a location.

Live bait has proved very effective. Large herring, rock prawns and mullet are prime live baits. A running sinker rig with two No2 or No 3 suicide hooks is ideal for live-baiting. Snell the first hook about 10cm above the bottom hook. The rock prawns are simply hooked in the first segment behind the main body a one hook-running rig. These prawns are prevalent at night in the entrances to cane drains or the smaller creeks. Catching them involves a trip with a torch and a small scoop net. The bait fish can be jigged up or caught in bait traps.

I fish my reels in free spool with the ratchet on. Let the fish take line before striking and go as hard as you can once it’s hooked. Many fish are lost in the initial stage of the fight so don’t be afraid to give it everything you have.

I love catching jacks on lures. The strike is instant and hard, with the hooks finding their mark more regularly. Many bream anglers who fish small hard-bodied lures or soft plastics are seeing more jacks. Improving bream techniques and the availability of more quality lures are big factors. Bigger jacks, however, do not have a problem with light outfits. If you’re chasing a big fish, 6kg will give you a chance.

Light levels have a big effect on lure-fishing success. Low light or shade provides jacks with a better chance of success when they hunt and many baitfish shelter in darkness. So deep, undercut banks, rock walls and rock bars in some current flow are great locations to target jacks on lures.

Many soft plastics will attract strikes from jacks. A lure that acts naturally in its descent or in the flow of current is what you’re aiming for. Jig head weight is crucial to the presentation. For deeper water start with 1/4oz while 1/8oz generally suits most bankside presentations.

Crankbaits must suit the location. If the area contains small herring, keep the size down. If you’re luring a big rock bar, a Mann’s Stretch 20 or equivalent may match the mullet and other larger bait fish in the area.

A whole chapter can be written on colour but a few have worked for me over the years. Natural colours and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, bright greens, fluoro orange and the like will work. I prefer lures with a loud rattle.

The turn of the tides and just after see more activity. Some days the run out fishes best while on others, it can be the top of the tide. Some locations fish better on run in and others are better fished on the run out. These things come down to local experience.

Your local tackle store can often have staff who are very keen anglers. Gold Coast Fishing Tackle has a bunch of blokes with a wealth of experience in many aspects of fishing. It’s also one of the few stores where many imported lures can be found. The guys here buy and use them everywhere from Cape York well down into NSW.

Finally, understand the local regulations on bag and size limits. If you want to see the fishery improve, release fish like jacks. You may not think it achieves a great deal but years of many anglers taking fish has a definite impact on stocks. Like many other top sport fish, jacks are too good to catch only once.

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