Yakin’ for Jacks

By Dave Brace

The afternoon spells of a storm brewing, whilst glancing to the distant ranges towards the west. Darkened clouds begin to build, peering at its enormous front rolling with velocity as it approaches. The air is warm, thick and heavy as another bead of sweat trickles down either side of my face from beneath the brim of my Akubra. The odd rumble of thunder breaking the air alerts me that there is a change of season. Aroused by the commotion, there is one species set firmly on my radar, a belligerent, hard hitting, redcoloured fish… none other than the mangrove jack.


Pound for pound these aggressive brutes would have to be one of the premier sportfish targeted in the southeast corner of Queensland, especially during the warmer months of spring and summer. Mangrove jack make their way from the outer reefs of the ocean to the many estuaries lining the Queensland coast, increasing the chances for recreational anglers to target this special species. They are renowned for the dirty fighting and hard hitting strikes, adding to the euphoria associated with chasing these fish. Once a baitfish finds itself clutched into the jaws of this particular fish, there is no escape. The dog like teeth of the mangrove jack are built to snatch and grab their prey and it’s done with aggression, lightning speed and precision. They are typically red tinged in colour and depending on the environment that they are living in, the colour of the jack can differ through shades of pinks, copper, browns and oranges. They are commonly found in the warmer waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and are not isolated just to Australia. Being carnivorous and a ferocious ambush predator, they prefer to feed at night, however being opportunistic also means that they can be caught just as well during daylight hours.


Mangrove jack got their name for obvious reasons, finding comfort and cover amongst the roots of mangrove lined creeks and rivers, where small mullet, garfish and crustaceans can be easily exhumed. Being ambush predators, structure such as rock walls, root balls from fallen trees and snags, where smaller prey seek protection, are all good compositions where you may locate mangrove jack. Fishing these areas is most productive on the last couple of hours on an ebbing tide and the first couple of hours of the run in, exposing the fish closer to the edges of the mangroves. Other prime spots where they can be located include, around pylons of bridges, jetties and wharfs. During the night the lighting on these bridges attracts baitfish to the area and in turn larger predatory fish like the mangrove jack take full advantage of an easy banquet.


Targeting mangrove jack at water level in kayaks can be absolutely manic and at times you have to think quickly on your feet or backside, whatever the case may be, to gain that upper hand. There are no rules when fighting these fish, you just got to do what you can do to keep these fish on a short lead. Stopping them from taking your lure back through the maze of structure, from where they originally came to smash your imitation bait, is what it really boils down to. Don’t be caught out using light line in tight structure. I prefer to use 20lb Platypus braid as my main line with an attached 30lb-40lb leader. Tighten the drag on your reel up and hang on when the fish strikes, attempting to get as much line back on that spool as quickly as possible.

There are some advantages fishing for jacks from a kayak, hence the reason for having a tight drag. The kayak acts a drag mechanism, giving the fish some advantage, without snapping the line. Broadsiding the kayak to the structure is also advantageous, as for a split second or two you are able to react to how and where the fish is intending to take you. More often than not, after this very short moment, your kayak will pull toward the direction of the fish and your momentum and speed will increase towards the structure that you’re intending to stay clear of. All in all it is unbelievably fun. Some battles you lose and some you win, however it’s the adrenaline that suckers you in for more punishment.


Soft plastic lures are a great choice of imitation bait when targeting these fish and jighead weights and sizes can be altered accordingly to suit any conditions. When fishing tight structure a ZMan 3” MinnowZ or ZMan 4”SwimmerZ paddle tail soft plastic is a preferred selection, rigged on a lightly weighted TT Lures ChinlockZ hook. When casting lures amongst pylons or adjacent to the roots of mangroves in more open water, my preferred option is rigging these two distinctive types of plastic lures on TT Lures HeadlockZ HD jigheads in either a 3/0 or 5/0 hook size, comparative to the lure’s length. These are proven and will certainly attract these fish. The heavier the jighead, the more rapidly that the lure will sink within the water column and hence a faster retrieval pattern is required to keep the lure above the structure. A reaction strike from a mangrove jack when using this technique and lure selection is very ominous, so be prepared.


Casting these plastics to tight structure, using lighter weighted jigheads to fish in the upper column of water is a preferred technique that I tend to use, having greater success in landing these aggressive fish. The reason being is that generally when the fish strikes the lure, controlling it on a short lead with your rod tip will prevent the fish from delving back towards the intertwined timber below. A simple rolling (continual winding) retrieval pattern, when using soft plastics, is sometimes all that is required when targeting these fish. Varying your retrieval speeds or breaking it up with quick pauses and twitches of the rod tip are also very effective techniques. For extra attraction, applying Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel Scent to your soft plastic lure can prove to give you that extra advantage. Trolling for mangrove jack is also a great option, especially along the edges of mangroves, allowing you to cover plenty of ground. Keeping the lure trolling at a maximum distance of about ten metres behind the kayak is very beneficial; again you don’t want to give these brutes too much advantage. Upon a mangrove jack striking your lure, when trolling within close proximity to their root bound lairs, you might be tempted immediately to take the rod out of the rod holder and begin fighting the fish. Let’s face it, it’s very hard not to. However, taking a few very brisk strokes of the paddle first, steering the kayak and the fish out into more open water, will increase your catch rate dramatically!

Check out the action! Fishing some gnarly structure on the Sunshine Coast just recently, I managed to catch and release this fun fighting mangrove jack using a 3” MinnowZ in one of the newer colours ‘Calico Candy’ rigged on 1/4oz 3/0 HeadlockZ HD jighead. Fish On!

Mangrove jack are an extremely forceful, belligerent fish when first smashing your lure, with even harder, more destructive pulling qualities once they know they have been hooked. To avoid disappointment whilst trying to subdue these dirty fighters yak side, especially when targeting them in areas of very tight structure, be sure to bring your ‘A’ game ready for when they turn up the heat. Best wishes… Dave Brace

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