Thirty miles offshore and the fish are biting. It doesn't take much to get a school of amberjack feeding. These open-ocean predators will hit just about anything that moves once the frenzy begins. And pound for pound, you won't find a better fighting fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
You can catch one, two, maybe even three of these tackle busters before you are bent over on the deck gasping for air. A 60-pound "A.J." in deep water will bring even a 275-pound NFL lineman to his knees.
The greater amberjack is the largest member of the jack family. Inshore anglers are familiar with its cousin, the jack crevalle, another voracious predator commonly found near the grass flats. But unlike the amberjack, the crevalle is generally not regarded as much of a food fish.
For years, amberjack were the mainstay of blue-water anglers during the summer months when other species, including grouper or snapper, were either hard to find or off limits. The species is now considered "overfished," which is why the recreational harvest is closed from June 1 to July 31 every year. But when other fish aren’t biting, you can always count on an amberjack to pull some line.
Fighting a 30-pound amberjack on 60-pound test will get your heart pumping. Hook a 60-pounder and you'll be wishing you spent more time on the Stairmaster. A fish that size will take some reel work. Once you venture beyond that weight ... good luck. That's rod-snapping territory.
Amberjack love wrecks, artificial reefs and blue-water springs. The challenge for the angler is to turn the fish before it can break the line on the structure below. We had no problem hooking and landing the first two fish, but No. 3 was another story.
Recreational anglers are not the only predators in the ocean. Goliath grouper and big sharks also like to catch amberjack, especially ones that have already been hooked. About five minutes into a recent fight, I felt a big "bump" and the rod bent over another 20 degrees. Then the line went slack.
But no problem – there’s more where that came from.