Jigging for Jacks
Throughout the Florida Keys there are many ship wrecks and rubble piles that hold all sorts of fish in all sorts of depths. Under 100 feet to over 400 feet of water, these underwater structures are used as shelter and habitat for bait fish that feed on micro organisms coming by in the current. It gives them a place to hide versus the open water should a predator come by looking for a meal. Probably the most common predator that preys on the smaller fish are amberjack commonly referred to as “AJ’s”. They’re strong fighters as most jacks are and love to eat a quick moving target. Live bait works well for them but finding such baits is not always an option. A quick and easy method is vertical jigging.
These jigs come in many different styles, colors and sizes. My preferred colors are pink/silver, blue/silver and purple/silver. As far as styles, this refers to the shape of the jig and the action that this shape gives to it. I don’t really pay much attention to this as I’ve had success with just about all of them. The size is what I pay attention to. The smaller jigs are about 3 inches long and the largest I use is 8-10”.The smaller size works great for almaco jacks which are a close cousin to AJ’s but they are smaller in size and better to eat. Blackfin tuna also tend to hang around the deep wrecks but up a little higher in the water column and they love to attack a small vertical jig. The larger sizes are for the full-sized jacks ranging from 30-100+ pounds.
The most important thing about vertical jigging is the way you jig it. If done wrong... well, these fish simply will not eat it. A fast jig is best with the rod being lifted up every half second and traveling a foot or two on each lift straight up. As you come down, one crank of the handle is all you need. It will take some practice before it feels natural but once you get the hang of it, the rewards will come in the form of fish after fish. You should be able to see the fish on the sounder sitting above the wreck and this will give you a good idea of how far to work the jig before you can drop it back down. Sometimes the fish will be hugging the wreck while other times they might be up 100 feet above it.
When working jigs in deep water, braided line is very important. It has no stretch which allows the jig to have full action. Mono can still work, but your jigging motions will have to be extremely exaggerated and the hook-up will be tough.
Speaking of hook up...this of course is the best part! You’ll be jigging like crazy and all of a sudden you’ll jig upwards and the rod will stop! Then line will start screaming out and the fight is on. Sometimes the jig will not hook in well enough and come loose. When this happens, your first reaction might be to stop reeling, thinking the fish is gone and all is lost... this is not the case! These jacks swim in schools where the competition for a meal is huge! The fish that ate the jig most likely has all his buddies right behind him. The jig comes out of his mouth, and if you start jigging again right away, another will usually gobble it up.
Vertical jigging is hard work and will make you sweat and your shoulder ache. Once you think you can do no more... a fish will eat it and your real work will have just begun as you hook into a monster fish that will have your knees against the gunnel begging for mercy! Its fun though I promise...
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