The Always Under-appreciated Amberjack

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What fish gets dissed by anglers on a regular basis, and called “trash” even though they tug so hard they can yank your shoulders out of their sockets? The amberjack, of course.  Also called AJs, jacks, and “reef donkey,” few fish can pull as an amberjack does and no angler can deny them respect when one is on the end of the line. But amberjacks have a soft, oily meat (similar to that of bluefish) that smells and tastes strong and fishy. Worse, sometimes its full of worms. So, lots of people out there sneer at the thought of targeting them in specific.

angler with an amberjack

Few fish can tug as hard as an amberjack.

You say you’re not worried about filling the cooler with dinner, you just want to go mano-a-mano with fish that can pull harder than a tractor? Then set your sights on hooking up with a reef donkey, and remember to:

  • Fish over reefs and wrecks. You will occasionally encounter amberjack in open water, but they are usually very structure-oriented and will be hunting in close proximity of significant wrecks or reef outcroppings.
  • Look to find the fish in mid-depth zones. Unlike some species they don’t hang super-close to the structure, nor do they often feed right up on the surface (though it does happen on occasion). When you see five or six very large returns on the meter one third to one half of the way up the water column directly over structure, it’s a good bet those are the amberjacks.
  • Stick with fairly heavy gear; most anglers will target amberjack with heavy action rods in the 30 to 50 pound class, braid line, and 50 to 80 pound leaders.
  • Live baitfish work great for amberjack, but speed-jigging spoons often trigger vicious strikes. Don’t jig them vertically but instead use the crank-pump-crank retrieve common to the Butterly system. While many other species attack a spoon as it falls, amberjacks tend to chase them up from below and smash them as they’re trying to “escape.”



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