Have you caught a jack crevalle? If you have, you know what great sportfish they are. They are strong, fast and spirited, and they never give up even when they’re pulled out of the water. Pound for pound, they might be the hardest-pulling fish in our waters.
They have only two drawbacks: They don’t jump, and they don’t have a great reputation as table fish (although I know a few people who will argue that). A lot of anglers regard them as trash fish — something to be avoided while targeting redfish or tarpon. But if you’re not a fish snob, you can have a lot of fun with these “trash fish” while those other guys wait all day for a bite that might never come.
They are sometimes nicknamed canal tuna because they are frequently found patrolling local saltwater canals on both the Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda sides of the river. Tuna are renowned for being amazing fighters, and so are jacks. Sure, it’s a silly nickname, but I like it anyway.
Jacks, like tuna, are open-water fish. They are relentless predators and find their food mostly by sight and sound rather than smell. Knowing this behavior pattern offers you some clues in how to target them. While a dead bait sitting on the bottom might catch a jack very occasionally, you’ll do a lot better with something that is swimming near the surface or at midwater.
For those of you who prefer to fish the low-key way (casting bait off the dock, then retreating to the pool cage to lounge around and watch the rod), these are going to be tricky fish to catch. First, you need to hang your bait under a float. Live baitfish are better, but shrimp will work too. But a bait under a float — well, it floats. It might drift out to the middle of the channel and become an obstruction to boats coming through. Or it might end up against the seawall. Neither is good.
And then, if a jack eats your bait, you might not have anything to do by the time you get to the rod. Did I mention how fast they are? In the 30 seconds it takes you to push off the chair, scramble over the door and make your way to the dock, there may be no line left on your reel. Set your drag tight enough to solve that problem and the fish might just break your rod instead. Stay out on the dock, where you can react right away.
Since they love to chase their food down, artificial lures are very attractive to jacks. Casting them from your dock might work. If you see them cruising down the canal (they kinda look like a pack of miniature submarines pushing wakes, usually right in the middle), toss a lure at them and they’ll usually whack it. Hard plastic jerkbaits and poppers work very well.
If you think there might be jacks around, you can sometimes attract them with noise. Put your rodtip in the water and start making figure-8s. Don’t be subtle about it, either. The idea is to simulate the sound of predators crashing bait at the surface of the water. When jacks hear it, they will often come running to investigate. Be ready to put something in front of their faces.
But the most productive method by far is trolling. A Storm Twitch Stick or Rapala SXR10 is a killer bait (they love the wobble). I run two lures. One is about 50 feet back, with the rod held off to the side or in the back corner rod holder, where it will swim past docks or boats. Sometimes snook will dart out from cover and thump this lure. The other I run straight back about 75 feet. Set the drag just a tad light and be ready for the hit.
Most jacks will run somewhere between one and 3 pounds. Doesn’t sound big, but they fight a lot bigger than they are. If you hook one between 5 and 10 pounds, you’ll probably drop a few words that aren’t safe for church. Every now and then, you’ll hear about someone catching a 15- or 20-pounder, which is usually an overestimate. But recently I saw a photo of one that was weighed at more than 31 pounds. That’s less than half of the current world record of 66 pounds, but still an enormous fish.
Jacks are lots of fun on light tackle, but bumping up to heavier gear is not a bad idea. A big jack running up a straight and wide canal is fun, but one heading for a seawall corner or bridge is going to end in a fish story if you can’t control it — and it takes tarpon gear to control a big one.
If you fish for glory, jacks may not be your thing. But if you fish for the sheer joy of hooking into something that almost forces you to grin like an idiot, canal tuna are going to be right up your alley. Get out there and have fun.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.