If only they tasted good. And weren’t potentially poisonous.
Jack crevalle, a prized gamefish, may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in our waters. Get a 5-pounder to bend light tackle and an angler’s heart might beat as if they’re fighting a fish twice its size. They are not to be eaten because of a ciguatera poisoning threat.
Jack crevalle are an odd, sometimes overlooked species. Snook are excellent fighters, but not quite like the ruthless jack. Redfish are bullish, but don’t have that jack zip. And trout, well, it’s a good thing they’re tasty, or they might be lumped into a tournament’s trash can.
Jack crevalle are running in schools as they chase the small glass minnows that are abundant in inshore waters around Tampa Bay. At the Sunshine Skyway south pier, anglers are catching more jack crevalle than the Skyway pier staple, the Spanish mackerel.
“Some guy thought he was catching big pompano,” said James Followell from the south pier bait shop. “I said, ‘No, they’re jacks.’”
Anglers are catching the jacks on small gold and silver spoons, or small jigs. The key with catching jacks is using jigs, flies or spoons that are small, between 2 and 3 inches. Pompano jigs have been working at the piers, and anglers can use C.A.L. shads, Love’s Lures, curly tails, grubs, etc. Jack crevalle aren’t exactly picky.
Which is why they are a good choice for fly-fishermen. Talk about a fight on the fly — jacks are willing biters on any glass minnow imitation. Capt. Ray Markham, an artificials specialist from Terra Ceia, likes the Carl Hanson Monobody glass minnow. “For a glass minnow,” Markham said, “it’s as good as anything I’ve ever used.”
Jack crevalle are also common far up the Upper Manatee River, past Rays Canoe Hideaway, in brackish waters where some 15- to 20-pounders will roam around the end of December.
“That’s when anglers will troll up and down,” said Mark Stukey, owner of Rays Canoe Hideaway. “They’re some real line burners.”
Jacks live inshore and offshore, with bigger adults preferring deeper waters than juveniles. Inshore, jack typically inhabit shallow beaches, seagrass beds, reefs, flats and sandy bays.
When jack crevalle schools are big enough, anglers can see them pushing water from afar. Sometimes, they’ll push the water a foot high, roaming in unpredictable patterns.
“The fact is,” Markham said, “you can definitely tell something is heading your way.”
Jacks love to attack baits, copping waters in a frenzy. Anglers can just throw a shiner in the mix and hold on.
Anglers who want to hit the Sunshine Skyway piers should consider that the cost is $4 per vehicle, plus $4 per person, with the exception of children between 6 and 16 ($2). Children under 6 are free.