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Amberjack a feisty fish to target

Defeating an amberjack requires diligence, determination and strategy. Something else that helps? A bit of leverage.

DAVID A. BROWN | Special to the Times

Defeating an amberjack requires diligence, determination and strategy. Something else that helps? A bit of leverage.

If you're looking for speed, try wahoo or sailfish. If you want acrobatics, tarpon is your game. If the stealth game thrills you, stalk tailing redfish.

But if you just want to roll up your sleeves and duke it out with a no-frills, in-your-face scrapper, then look no farther than the nearest amberjack.

Short on style and long on strength, this powerhouse of the deep will give you all the fight you want — often more so.

Aggressive feeders, amberjack seldom take much convincing, but once hooked, these brutal battlers prove their reputation as some of the sea's toughest residents.

Expect a challenge and you won't be disappointed. Expect no mercy and you won't be offended.

Figuring out what they like

There's not much that amberjack won't eat, but matching the hatch works just as well offshore as in those placid northern trout streams. That means feeding amberjack what they're used to seeing.

On gulf wrecks, reefs and springs in 100-plus feet, these predators eat a lot of pinfish, blue runners, grunts, spadefish and vermillion snapper. Dropping light knocker rigs or double-hook "chicken" rigs baited with squid will bring several fresh baits to the boat.

Of course, amberjack appreciate variety, so don't hesitate to feed them threadfin herring, pilchards or Spanish sardines.

Throw the cast net or work sabiki rigs around nearshore bait sites before heading offshore and you'll arrive with plenty of ammo.

Supplement your supply with indigenous baits once you reach your fishing destination.

A preference on presentation

Jigging with a shiny, elongated lure called a diamond jig will bring amberjack to the boat when the fish are very aggressive. Most of the time, live baits work best.

From an anchored boat, fish livies on 7- to 7½-foot boat rods with 4/0 or 6/0 conventional reels loaded with 80-pound monofilament and about 4 to 6 feet of at least 100-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to 8/0 circle hooks.

Separate the main line and leader with a 6- to 8-ounce in-line sinker (weight determined by depth and current).

Drop the bait to the bottom and reel up five turns to keep it in clear visibility. If the depth finder shows amberjack suspending higher in the water column, reel the bait into the strike zone.

Now, the only problem with straight drops is the propensity for losing baits to the barracuda that patrol the same structures as amberjack.

Notorious for intercepting baits before they even reach the amberjack, barracuda are fun to fight but a royal pain if you're seeking other targets.

The answer is controlled depth presentations — specifically, downriggers.

Once you locate your spot, swing off the number, deploy a bait 100 feet behind the boat and clip the line onto a downrigger.

Sink the bait to about 50 feet above the structure and troll it under the barracuda's radar and into the amberjack.

Downrigger presentations overcome the stealth issue as well when amberjack show signs of spooking away from heavy terminal tackle.

Essentially, the boat and downrigger weight clear the area well before the innocent and vulnerable baitfish arrives.

Strategic fighting based on method

Responding to an amberjack strike depends on your fishing method.

When a fish hits a downrigger bait, it's generally hooked firmly by the time you lift the rod from the holder.

For anchor fishing, avoid the temptation to haul back on the rod when the fish strikes.

At these depths, line stretch is significant. Moreover, you'll usually have a good bow in your line, and bass-style hook sets do little more than send just enough vibration through the line to prompt an amberjack to release the bait.

The more effective option is to simply let the fish's weight pull the rod tip to the surface. Thumbing the spool for a few seconds helps ensure a solid connection.

Especially with circle hooks, smooth, steady pressure yields optimal hookups. When the fish comes tight, just start reeling.

One thing to consider is that structure-oriented fish often run back to the fortress when hooked, so work hard to pull the amberjack away from a stronghold. Win the first 10 to 20 feet and you'll usually win the fight — if you execute well.

You'll need to work the fish with a smooth cadence of raising the rod, reeling down and repeating.

A common mistake occurs when anglers gain line on the lift but then lose it back when they lower the rod without reeling.

Use a fighting belt for extra leverage and for super-sized amberjack — those heavier than 50 pounds — don't hesitate to stick the rod in a gunwale holder and crank every time the fish rests.

Fight hard and you'll be rewarded with thick, firm fillets that cook up nicely on the grill or in the smoker.

David A. Brown can be reached at [email protected]

Amberjack a feisty fish to target 07/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 3:37pm]
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