Fishing & Boating News


Find the Right Spot and Multiple Methods Tempt These Offshore Bullies

by: David A. Brown,

Never underestimate the amberjack's strength. Gear up for a big fight and hang on!
Photo by David A. Brown
This amberjack fell for a Shimano butterfly jig.
Photo by David A. Brown
(Sep 8, 2017 - ) They’re not the most complicated fish in the sea, they rarely jump and there’s not much hope for a modeling career; but if you’re looking for a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-on street fight kinda deal, the amberjack will give you all you want. Tackle tester, arm stretcher, ego reduction specialist; this offshore bully red lines the aggression and fights you all the way to the surface.

Not to be confused with “bottom fish” such as grouper, snapper and triggerfish; AJs like holding around and above structure. Faves include wrecks, reefs, ledges and springs — neighborhoods rich with baitfish schools, larger forage and plenty of angles and edges for ducking excessive current and pulling fishing lines into perilous engagements.

Hailing from Florida’s Port St. Lucie, Paul Michele looks for amberjack on his Raymarine eS12 and particularly values his CHIRP DownVision for the all-important recon. Standard sonar, he said, may show a cloud of fish, but Raymarine’s superior target separation enables him to pinpoint the amberjack and accurately deploy his baits.

“It’s one thing to see that there are fish there, but when I can really get the details about what size the fish are, I can usually say ‘Well, here are some amberjack, here are some snapper,’ and better identify what fish are on that wreck.

“Once you have that target separation from that DownVision, I can say ‘This is the area the amberjack are in; this is where I want my baits to be when I go over that wreck.’”


Speed Jigging: Ask Michele about his favorite AJ tactic and he’ll quickly tell you it’s firing down a 7- to 12-ounce Shimano Butterfly jig. No doubt, slender metal “speed jigs” of various makers rigged with free-swinging hook harnesses do a fine job of duping amberjack into thinking a wayward baitfish has scampered across their radar.

“I love dropping jigs on heavy spinning outfits with 65- or 80-pound braid and 80-pound fluorocarbon leader; that’s absolutely the most fun,” Michele said. “They hammer the jig, they give you a great fight and you catch all sizes.”

Favoring pink, glow and blue/green for his jig colors, Michele prefers a beefy 7-foot spinning outfit with plenty of fish-fighting power, yet enough flexibility to make that jig do what it’s designed to do — imitate some poor baitfish suffering a full-blown panic attack at the sight of approaching amberjack jaws.

“If you use a rod that’s too stiff, you just don’t get the right action,” Michele said. “It has to have some backbone, but I actually like a softer tip, so when you’re speed jigging, that jig flutters as you’re ripping it.

“If the rod is too stiff, it just doesn’t work the jig right. The jig just kind of pops up and it doesn’t have enough flutter. And when the amberjack hits a jig on a stout rod, you don’t get a good hook set.”

Best way to describe the proper jig action is “erratic.” Michele burns his jig at a fast clip, kind of a jigging-while-burning action that keeps the jig moving upward, yet twitching the entire time.

Some add a “stinger” hook harness to the jig’s aft end to increase hookup percentages; and that’s not wrong. But here’s the thing with amberjack: they don’t exactly nibble. If they decide to eat something — and that usually requires only that they see something — it’s a done deal.

And if a hooked AJ happens to come unbuttoned, there’s almost always a handful of its brethren following their struggling schoolmate. Suffice it to say that these gluttons won’t hesitate to gobble any meal another fish releases.

What does that mean to an angler? Just keep working that jig and you’ll find a second-rounder.

Live Dropping: Now, shifting gears from the active, engaged presentation of speed jigging, AJs won’t refuse a hefty live bait like a blue runner, mullet, pilchard or threadfin herring. A great way to introduce novice anglers to the beasts from below, this drop-and-hold-on technique is kind of like that a teeth-clinching moment when you’re clickety-clacking to the peak of that roller coaster plunge.

Bait descends, line peels off the reel, you wonder when it might hap … BOOM! Here comes the crazy!

Michele drops his amberjack baits on a sliding fish finder rig with an 8- to 16-ounce sinker (current depending) and 3-10 feet of 80- to 100-pound fluorocarbon leader with an 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hook.

“I’m using a 7- or 8-foot rod, but I want it a little heavier than what I’m using for speed jigging,” Michele said. “I want a tip that’s just soft enough to see the blue runner bounce, but it’s generally a stouter rod.

“With those blue runners, you usually catch bigger fish and that’s why I’m going to the heavier tackle. Plus, you may also pick up a nice size grouper when you’re dropping those big baits.”

Slow Trolling Livies: Getting amberjack to eat a live bait is no problem — unless someone else gets to it first. Typically, that’s the guys with the nasty choppers; barracuda. When these aggressive interlopers hold higher than AJs you’d have to deploy live baits in a NOAA semi-submersible to make it through these offshore thugs.

Solution: Sneak you baits into range. That renowned Raymarine target separation Michele mentioned will show you the slender profiles of barracuda, so once you note their depth, pull 50-100 yards off the target site, deploy your livies on downriggers set below the trouble zone and simply walk them into the AJs.

Vertical, horizontal — amberjack do not discriminate on meal delivery angles.

Topwaters: For a visual spectacle, chum the AJs topside with dip nets full of live baits, or beat the surface with a rod tip to simulate surface feeding. Once you have them swarming, work a jumbo surface popper across their noses and get ready for the explosion.

It’s not uncommon for fired-up amberjack to knock a plug skyward several times before connecting; but once a fish comes tight, it’ll feel like you’ve lassoed a freight train.


In closing, Michele offers insights on a couple of key points in the amberjack game.

Fight Right: Hook a legit monster (50 pounds plus) and the battle may become a debate over who has whom. But don’t let these brutes intimidate you; settle into a comfortably stable posture (rod belt helps), hold firm and weather the storm.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do when that amberjack runs, but I want to get his head turned so he doesn’t get down in that structure,” Michele said. “Usually, I’m drifting so when you hook up, usually, the current will pull you far enough away from the spot that you can boat the fish.

“If there’s not a lot of current, you might have to fire up the engines and try to drag him away from the spot. More times than not, when I hook an amberjack, I just have to put enough heat on him to turn his head. Once you get his head turned, you can usually move him up far enough that they’re high enough off the wreck that even if they dive back down, they’re not going to reach it by the time they spin around.”

Position Principles: Ledges and springs present less risk of AJ loss, as the fish has to reach bottom to find any line cutters. Conversely, wrecks and some reefs stand tall enough for fish to reach on an unrestrained run.

That’s why Michele will not anchor on such sites. Power drifting — engine(s) in gear, bow into the current — is your best bet for fish separation.

Clean Up: Amberjack caught within local size and season limits reward diligence with firm, tasty fillets fit for a variety of cooking styles. Michele’s fond of blackened/grilled AJ, but pan seared, fried and smoked also works.

However you prepare your amberjack, follow these three steps to maximize the table fare: thoroughly ice your catch; when cleaning, check the meat for worms (typically near the tail, if present); and remove the “blood meat” (dark flesh running along the middle of the fillet). Remember, amberjack will not make this easy on you, so make the most of your victory meal.
Capt. Jesse Mayer knows that getting amberjack to eat is the easy part; getting them to the boat is the real work.
Photo by David A. Brown
A double hook harness gives jiggers two shots a hooking an amberjack. 
Photo by David A. Brown
Paul Michele found this big amberjack with his Raymarine unit and put the breaks on the brute with stout tackle.
Photo by courtesy of Paul Michele