Jack cravelle: Bull dogs of the sea
Rusty chinnis | submitted
Captain Rick Grasset with a Jack
cravelle in New Pass.
Jack Cravelle are not a target species of most anglers who fish with fly, spin or bait casters. The majority of these fish are caught inshore by anglers looking for trout, redfish, snook and other species. Small Jack cravelle are even considered trash fish by many anglers, but once they hook one over five pounds they usually have a new appreciation of these bull dogs of the sea.
During the summer months, it’s not uncommon to see large schools of big Jack cravelle along local beaches where they pursue schools of baitfish. While even small Jacks can put up a feisty battle, larger members of the species are incredibly challenging. A big Jack on the west coast will run about 15 to 20 pounds and can put up an awe inspiring fight. It’s not uncommon for a 10- to 15-pound fish to fight for 15 to 20 minutes on a 12-weight fly rod used for tarpon.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate these tenacious marauders, and while I don’t usually target them, I never turn down a cast at a big fish. When you encounter large schools of fish the best choice of lures is a popper. There’s something about the disturbance on the surface that drives these fish wild. Catching them on a fly meant for a tarpon is another challenge, but there’s a trick to enticing them. On numerous occasions I have fished the edges of a school of feeding Jacks only to have them inspect and turn down my flies.
After a little experimenting I found the secret was to toss the fly into the center of the school and to strip as fast as possible. The fact that the fly is surrounded by Jacks seems to kick in competition, and the fly is usually taken after only a couple of strips. Once on the line Jack cravelle make long head shaking runs before settling into a circling pattern where they use their wide bodies to put up as much resistance as possible. The battle is usually won when the angler is able to get their heads out of the water, robbing them of much of their power. Even after an exhausting battle for the angler and the jJck, they are easily revived and seem relatively unscathed by the experience.
About 10 years ago, we began to encounter big Jacks schooled under the Longboat Pass Bridge. They would attack a plug, popper or other noisy lure with a ferocity that was amazing, but were almost impossible to land before they cut you off on the barnacle festooned bridge pilings. After many failed attempts, we came on the idea of tossing a hook-less teaser under the bridge to pull them away from the pilings and fenders. There we could present poppers and have a chance at landing them. Before long we were vying to see who would toss the teaser because it was such a breathtaking experience to see them explode on the plug.
The same tactic can be used to lure a school of fish on the beach close to the boat for a cast. Jacks don’t have teeth, so a heavy leader isn’t necessary, but they don’t seem to be particularly leader shy. When one is hooked it needs to be fought just like a tarpon, with maximum pressure from the time of the take until it is ready to land. When they travel the beach, they are usually in large schools, while inshore they are more likely to roam in pairs or small schools. If you think Jacks aren’t worth the effort, cast a popper to a school of big fish sometime and try to keep it away from them. I guarantee you’ll have a new appreciation for this species.