By Steve Waters
Amberjacks don’t get much respect from South Florida anglers, but they should.
They’ll bite throughout the spring when other species won’t. Getting amberjacks to the boat is challenging because they fight like mixed martial arts heavyweights.
When fishing is tough, many of the captains on the Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show, which airs from 6-8 a.m. Saturday on WINZ 940-AM and live-streams on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page, head for the nearest wreck because they know their customers can almost always hook up to an amberjack.
AJs, as they’re known, gather around local artificial reefs to spawn from March through early June. That makes them easy to target, but it also makes them difficult to land because they’ll head straight for the wreck when they’re hooked. If they make it, that’s pretty much the end of the fight, because it’s next to impossible to pull them out, and usually the fishing line ends up breaking on the wreck.
Local amberjacks range from 20 to 50 pounds, but they can be bigger, like 60 or 70 pounds. To give their anglers a fighting chance, most deep sea fishing captains use 50 pound outfits spooled with monofilament or braided line. Leaders range from 80 to 130 pound mono filament and are tied to a big circle hook.
Those captains use a variety of live baits, with goggle-eyes, small blue runners and small bonitos their favorites. AJs also will bite ballyhoo, mullet, speedos, pinfish and grunts.
The basic rig has a three-way swivel tied to the main line with a 10-foot or longer leader tied to the swivel along with a sinker on a short piece of mono filament. Sinker weights can range from 8 to 16 ounces depending on the strength of the current.
Fish hooks used with bait for amberjacks cannot be made of stainless steel in state waters off South Florida, which extend three miles from shore on the Atlantic coast, and anglers must have a de-hooking device aboard their boats to aid in the release of fish.
As soon as you hook an amberjack, you need to reel as fast as possible to get the fish away from a wreck, although a big AJ can pull enough drag to get back to its hangout. A good fishing boat driver can help by pulling away from the wreck after the fish is hooked.
Even then, the fight is far from over, because the fish will circle and dig all the way to the surface, then take out line just when you thought it was about to give up.
Another way to catch amberjacks is by jigging for them. Butterfly or flutter jigs can be dropped around a wreck and then worked almost to the surface by lifting the fishing rod up and down as you reel.
If the jig, which darts and flutters as it sinks, doesn’t get bit, let it fall back down and jig it up again. Bites can come on the fall or after the lure hits bottom and is jigged up.
Conventional or spinning outfits spooled with 50- to 65-pound braided line tied to five feet of 80-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader can be used to jig.
The only downsides to jigging: Even if you don’t hook an amberjack, it can be tiring after doing it several times. It can also be expensive if the AJs you hook get into the wreck and break the line. The jigs typically cost from $10 to $25, so a good day jigging wrecks for AJs can easily cost you $100 in lures.
Among the pluses: You don’t have to mess with live bait and the jigs also catch cobia and grouper, as well as almaco jacks, kingfish and blackfin tunas.
For more fishing tips, listen to The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. live on 940 WINZ, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where the fish are biting and how to catch them. If you can’t tune in live, the Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are available through:
WINZ: (click on podcasts) https://940winz.iheart.com/featured/weekly-fisherman/about/
iHeart Radio: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/53-weekly-fisherman-28270572/
You can also watch the show on Facebook Live by liking our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/The-Nautical-Ventures-Weekly-Fisherman-Show-136020173136939
You can watch past Facebook live shows at: https://www.facebook.com/The-Nautical-Ventures-Weekly-Fisherman-Show-136020173136939