Pound for pound, one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean is undoubtedly the Jack Crevalle. These fish often get a bad wrap due to their poor table fare, but if you are looking for some solid rod bending action, targeting Jacks should be at the top of your list.
This article will take a deep dive into how to target Jack Crevalle in Florida, what bait/lures to use, and review regulations on catching them.
Where can Jack Crevalle be caught?
Large, breeder size Jack Crevalle are migratory species and will move in and out of bays and coastal areas based on the movement of bait. Jacks prefer warmer climates and are commonly found in tropical places or regions where water temperatures are greater than 75 degrees. So, where can Jacks be targeted?
Jack Crevalle can be targeted from Southern Florida up to the Carolinas and as far west as the Texas coast. Jack Crevalle prefer water temperatures greater than 75 degrees, making South Florida the best year-round fishery.
While Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina can offer some large numbers of Jacks, for this article, we will focus on targeting this species in Florida specifically.
How to catch Jack Crevalle in Florida
Jack Crevalle are ferocious eaters and prefer a diet of various baitfish species. As baitfish such as mullet or menhaden migrate along the coastline, large Jacks will follow.
The best way to catch Jack Crevalle in Florida is by fishing bait pods along the beach or jetties and bridges that border inlet systems. A Free-lined live baitfish on the surface is the best technique to use.
Although a hungry Jack rarely refuses a live baitfish, other fishing methods such as fly fishing or using artificials can make for some incredible surface eats and rod bending action. These methods will be discussed in detail later on in this article.
For more information on Florida’s West Coast Jack fishing, check out Fishing the Panhandle of Florida: 9 of the Best Fishing Spots.
On the East coast of Florida, my home water of St. Augustine is a great place to target Jack Crevalle. For information on when to fish St. Augustine for Jacks, refer to my article Fishing in St. Augustine: A Complete Overview From A Local Guide.
Bullying the bait: Looking for the pinch
Jacks prefer to hang around bridge systems and rock walls to ambush moving bait. These structures allow Jacks to force the bait along the structure’s walls, making them an easy target. We call this “pinching the bait.”
By forcing the bait along walls or edges of bridges, it reduces the baitfish’s ability to escape, and the result is usually a feeding frenzy of hungry Jack Crevalle.
Crevalles are rarely solitary and prefer to hunt in packs. Where there is one, there are many. This is evidenced by hungry jacks tearing up bait on the surface in what is referred to as a “Jack Attack.”
When fishing around bridges or inlet systems, look for disruptions or thrashing on the surface, indicating feeding jacks.
What is the best lure for catching Jack?
Jacks feed almost exclusively on live fish. Occasionally, a smaller fish may eat a live shrimp, but your lure should imitate a wounded baitfish for the best results.
The best lure for catching Jack Crevalle is the Rapala X-Rap Magnum Fishing Lure. The lure color should match the appearance of bait present in the area and retrieved with a quick reeling motion.
Since Jack Crevalle feed primarily on the surface, this is a great fish to target using a topwater or sub-surface lure. When casting at a group of hungry jacks, the color of the lure is less important than the column in which the lure rides. However, it is best to match the color of the bait in the area. The most important factor is that the lure rides high in the water column.
I have had great success using various lures when targeting Jacks, but my favorite is the lip plug. They are easy to use as all you need to do is reel the lure quickly. The action of a sub-surface lip plug imitates a wounded fleeing baitfish that is rarely refused.
Fly fishing for Jack Crevalle
Dubbed the “Poor man’s Giant Trevally,” fly fishing for Jacks is becoming more and more popular as the shape and size of the Jack Crevalle rival the highly sought after Giant Trevally. For anglers who cannot visit exotic areas such as Christmas Island or Seychelles, targeting Jacks is a way to experience the same rod bending action on a friendlier budget.
When targeting jacks on the fly, it is very similar to that of using a lure. Instead of a lure, you are casting a fly into the group of hungry fish. Once you have located a pod of hungry jacks, it is best to shut down the engine and use a trolling motor to approach the fish until they are within casting range.
One of the most frustrating things about fishing for jacks is how quickly they can move around. Fish may appear in one spot busting the surface and then disappear only to resurface 100 yards away. Being ready to make a quick fly cast and keeping an eye on baitfish moving through the area will increase your hookup chances.
When fly fishing for jacks, the stripping action should be very fast. It is unlikely to move the fly too fast, therefore as quickly as you can move the fly is best. Using a double-handed strip, where the rod is placed under your arm to use a hand over hand stripping motion, will allow you to move the fly more quickly.
What is the best fly for catching Jack Crevalle?
Many fly-fishermen seek the opportunity to use surface flies for incredible topwater eats. This is your chance to do just that.
The best fly for targeting Jack Crevalle is a Gurgler tied to imitate bait present in the area. The fly should be large enough to make lots of commotion on the surface yet small enough to be castable. If you prefer not to throw a gurgler, then a baitfish pattern 4 inches in length or greater will elicit the most strikes. Both flies should be stripped as quickly as possible.
Like casting lures, the color of the fly is less important than where they fly rides in the water. A sinking fly will be less effective than an unweighted or floating fly pattern.
What size fly rod do I need for catching Jack Crevalle?
The size of Jack Crevalle can vary quite a bit. The average size of a Jack is 10lbs, but they can grow much larger or smaller.
When targeting Jack Crevalle in the 10lb size range, the use of a 9′ 8wt rod is sufficient. If targeting larger Jacks in deeper water, a 9’ 10wt fly rod is best.
Jack Crevalle have incredible strength and will fight towards the bottom. It is essential to have an appropriately sized rod to avoid losing the fish or, even worse, breaking a rod. When fishing for Jacks, I would highly recommend using a 1-piece rod where practical. The standard four-piece rod creates additional breakpoints when the rod is under extreme pressure.
If you are new to fly-fishing or looking for a great rod at a reasonable price, check out my article Best Saltwater Fly Rod Under $300: 3 Killer Rods Tested and Reviewed.
On the higher-end spectrum of rods, my favorite rod to use is the Hardy Zane Pro. I use this rod daily and have caught very large fish using this rod. This includes Jack Crevalle over 40lbs in weight!
Catching Jack Crevalle in the surf
For the fisherman who lacks access to a boat and is forced to fish from land, catching Jacks from the beach is an option.
To catch in the surf, you will need access to live bait and have the ability to cast the bait past the surf line. Although Jack Crevalle can be caught from the shore of the beach, it is not the most effective method.
When trying to target these fish from shore, try to locate a bait pod that attracts predator fish. Scanning the beach for diving pelicans and hovering birds is a good tell that bait is in the area. Look for surface crashes that indicate that something is eating them. There is a good chance this will be a mixture of sharks, tarpon, and jacks.
Similar to fishing around bridges and inlets, you will want to fish the bait at the surface. Even though a Jack will eat at the bottom, you are more likely to get a hookup if the bait is swimming freely.
The use of a kayak will increase your ability to catch fish tenfold, as you can search more areas outside of the breakers.
How big can Jack Crevalle get?
As mentioned above, Jacks can range in size quite a bit. Smaller fish can be as small as a couple of inches and weigh less than a pound. In contrast, breeder size fish can be giant.
The most commonly caught Jack Crevalle will range between 3-5 pounds; however, larger fish in the 20-30 pound range are not uncommon. Jack Crevalle can grow up to 40” and weigh over 50lbs.
Jack Crevalle World Record
Currently, the all-tackle world record Jack Crevalle is recorded at 54 pounds, 7 ounces, and taken in Gabon, Africa. However, it is believed that larger Jacks have been caught, and Florida Fish and Wildlife lists the Florida state record at 57lbs caught in Jupiter, Florida.
Can you keep Jack Crevalle in Florida?
The majority of people fish for Jack Crevalle simply for sport and regard them as gamefish. You can, however, keep Jack Crevalle if you desire to do so. Be sure to check your local guidelines for size or weight limits that may be in effect.
What is the size limit for Jack Crevalle in Florida?
Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) lists Jack Crevalle as an “Unregulated” Species. Default regulations for unregulated species are Two fish or 100 pounds per person, per day – whichever is more.
Are Jack Crevalle good to eat?
Most anglers consider Jack Crevalle to be junk fish and target them because of their hard-fighting antics.
Overall, the Jack Crevalle eating quality is not very good. Jack are very oily, bloody, and bony fish with very little table fare value. If prepared correctly, Jack Crevalle is edible, but more commonly, they are thrown back.
If you decide to take a chance at preparing Jack Crevalle, it is advised to bleed the fish immediately, make sure it is kept on ice, and keep smaller fish as they will taste better.
Up until recently, Jack Crevalle did not receive the respect they deserve. Pound for pound, you will be hard-pressed to find a harder-fighting fish. They eat aggressively, destroying anything in their path, making an excellent target for topwater lures and fly fishing.
When targeting Crevalle, it is critical to make sure your equipment is up to the test. Jacks can vary in size from just a few inches up to a whopping 50 pounds. Even small fish can completely bend over a rod as they make their push towards the bottom.
When targeting Jacks, it is best to fish around inlet passes or bridges. Bigger fish will be in the ocean and inlet systems. Finding bait pods or large movements of bait is the key to finding Jacks.
Florida is one of the best places to target Jacks, as the warmer water year-round makes an excellent habitat for them to thrive. If you are planning a fishing trip to Florida, do not overlook these bullies of the sea.