The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 16 No. 33 - June 15, 2016

reel time

Jack cravelle: catching is believing

Reel time

rusty chinnis | sun

Capt. Rick Grassett holds a jack cravelle he caught
while fly fishing for tarpon off Longboat Key. The
jack took a tarpon fly and waged a long battle on
a 12-weight outfit.

Jack cravelle are one of the toughest targets an angler will encounter. These tenacious juggernauts are not sought after by most anglers. The majority of jacks are caught by anglers fishing for trout, redfish, snook and other species. Small jack cravelle are even considered trash fish by many anglers. 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 when tarpon fishing. They cruise the beaches in packs, pursuing 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 wage a long battle on a 12-weight fly rod used for tarpon.

Over the years, I've come to appreciate these 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, they are easily revived and seem relatively unscathed by the experience.

A number of years ago, I 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 studded bridge pilings. After many failed attempts, I came up with the idea of having a fellow angler toss 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 so much fun watching 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 they are 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. Catching a big jack will make a believer of you.

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