The tide rips out along a seawall at the mouth of the river as I set the anchor. It drags for a few feet before grabbing and I lengthen the scope until she bites. I turn to my client and tell him to cast his fly as close to the wall as he can, and then strip it back fast. He makes a good cast a few inches from the rocks and begins to bring the red and white deceiver back with big strips. The third strip is the charm. There is a loud pop as the jack whacks the fly followed by the singing flyline as it zips back through the guides.
Sight casting is productive for jacks — the birds often tell you where they are.
If there is a better fish than crevalle jack to learn big fish fighting technique with a fly rod, I need to know what that species is and where you find it. Few fish are more willing to strike anything you put in front of them, and on a pound-for-pound basis, few pull harder.
If a fly fisher can routinely hook and land 10 jack crevalle, that angler is ready for bigger and badder fish such as tarpon, cobia, trophy snook, and bull reds.
Jacks are a year-round target on Tampa Bay, but the biggest fish are generally caught in the winter months. They are temperature sensitive, and in a cold winter they can disappear if the drop in water temperature is sudden. If it happens really quick as it did in January of 2010, they become part of the fish kill.
Many articles call for an 8/9-weight rod as the all around choice for saltwater fly fishing, but a little more muscle is in order for jacks. And if you also tangle with bull reds or big snook, it pays to err on the strong side. I like a 10-weight for much of my inshore fishing, particularly if I’m casting from a boat. Besides the advantage of extra power and stiffness with the heavier rod, the 10-weight also is going to cast better in the ever-present winds.
Bar stock aluminum reels are much less expensive than they used to be, but even a good quality die cast aluminum reel will suffice. The best place to spend your money on a saltwater fly-fishing outfit is on the line. Better quality fly lines cast better and last longer. A floating line with a saltwater taper is all that’s needed for jacks, so long as you have plenty of backing and a stout leader.
A 7-weight rod is plenty for fish this size. Once they get to be above 7 pounds the 10-weight is a better tool.
Managing fly line when targeting large powerful fish is critical, because any mistake you make — stepping on the line, getting it caught on the reel, or throwing one of those annoying knots — will likely result in a breakoff. This is when using a strip basket makes good sense.
I don’t do a lot of blind casting when fishing for jacks. If there are pilchards on the flats I will fill the live well and chum with them. Broadcast a handful of injured sardines into the current and you will soon know if there are any jacks about. Better still is to look for them roiling the surface in a frenzy. Some of the schools we see in the fall cover acres of water. Throw a fly into the wash and it will get clobbered soon as it hits the water. Birds will also follow the big schools around to feast on the bits of baitfish choked up by the voracious jacks.
A 10-weight rod will shoot plenty of line without lots of false casting. When sight-fishing on open water, the fish are generally moving fast. When you put a fly in front of a jack it’s important to keep it moving. If you slow the fly down and give him time to get a good whiff, the fish will figure out quickly it’s not something to eat. Better to sweep the rod tip in a long arc with as much speed as you can muster while keeping the fly in the water. If the jack wants the fly, the only way to take it away is to put it in the air.
They don’t call ’em rod benders for nothing!
On a typical good day for jacks, I can usually hook more fish than I care to fight. Even baby jacks will wear you out. With the bigger fish, you have to fight them at every turn, always pulling opposite to where they are headed. You need to keep a good bend in the rod, and never let the fish have a chance to catch his breath. Even when you do everything right, the fight can seem to be never ending.
Targeting crevalle jacks with a fly rod is indeed a learning experience, and losing fish is going to be a big part of the game in the beginning. They may not considered to be top flight table quality, but no one can disparage them as fighters — great gamefish in their own right.
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