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Jack Attack

Ryan Dixon

Shaking, lost for words and weak at the knees, but filled with determination. That was how I felt when I had my first encounter with a mangrove jack. I remember retrieving my bream lure on Queensland's Sunshine Coast as a teenager, learning the ins and outs of lure fishing, when a 50cm mangrove jack grabbed my lure as I was about to pull it out of the water. At that stage I'd never witnessed line screaming off a reel so quick, nor had I witnessed a fish so strong, only to have me busted off before I knew what was going on. From that day my fishing focus quickly turned to catching a mighty mangrove jack.

Since that day I've learnt different techniques, all mostly through trial and error, have spent plenty of time on the water searching for areas that are best to target jacks and also determining the best times to enhance my chances of catching one. The mangrove jack isn't the type of fish that you can go out and catch every time you go fishing. They are definitely a rewarding fish to target as many hours can be put in without yielding a fish, but when you do, all the hard work is forgotten.

Mangrove jack can be found in many different types of structure but the type of structure I've had most success fishing in is natural structure. Natural structure consists of mangroves, rock bars, undercut banks and fallen tree snags, all of which are ideal haunts for mangrove jack as they provide cover from where they can ambush prey. Additionally, more often than not they will hold bait which is very important when looking for jacks.

Knowing what time of the tide to fish different types of structure is also very important. I find the outgoing tide the best time to target jacks, with the last hour of the run out tide being the time when they are most aggressive. Towards the top of the tide I find the best places to target jacks is under mangroves and undercut mangrove banks, where the tide has washed the sea bed away from the roots of mangrove trees. Ultimately these undercut banks should be as deep as possible and the further they go back the better. Undercut banks really are an underrated type of structure for holding jacks as they provide a perfect hunting ground for jacks to ambush prey as it comes past with the tide or when bait drains out of the mangroves as the tide drops.

Fallen tree snags are my favourite type of structure for chasing jacks and are the type of structure I've had most success on in my local waters of Brisbane. When looking for possible jack holding snags, I look for one that is in at least 1.5 metres of water at both high and low tide, and one that has a deep hole or drop off nearby.

I've found the best tree snags are ones I've found using my depth sounder, as most snags that are clearly visible get fished heavily by every Tom, Dick and Harry. When I find a likely looking snag I make sure that I position the boat so that it will firstly allow me to retrieve my lure in a way that will have the lure in the strike zone for as long as possible, while ultimately in a position that will give me the optimal chance of landing a jack once hooked. Once I've positioned the boat I make up to 20 casts at the one snag, trying different lures with different retrieves. I always retrieve my lures with the current when possible.

Lure selection is very important whilst fishing for mangrove jack. Attempting to match your lure selection to the bait in the area will definitely increase your chances of encountering a fish. It's no secret that the mangrove jacks favourite foods consist of mullet, herring, whiting and prawns, and there are many different lures that imitate these morsels. My favourite lures consist of the ZMan 4" SwimmerZ, the ZMan 3" MinnowZ, ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ and its bigger brother the ZMan 4" Scented ShrimpZ.

I believe that colour choice is more of a personal preference, using what you are most confident with being the best option. My favourite colours are Houdini, Motor Oil, Pearl and Red Shad. The three lures mentioned above can be rigged in different ways to suit the structure, current and the situation that is before you. Choosing the appropriate size and weight jighead, whether it be a standard jighead or a weedless style hook like the TT Lures SnakelockZ to match your plastic, will also increase your chances of catching a jack. If you are having trouble matching a hook size to your plastic you can use the Tackle Tactics rigging guide to help you out with your selection.

When using a ZMan SwimmerZ for mangrove jack, I prefer to use a standard jighead and the retrieve that I find is most effective is a rather fast retrieve with no movement of the rod tip. The paddle tail on the ZMan SwimmerZ has plenty of action and with a fast retrieve I believe it is more of a reaction style bait that will perform best with a small loop knot between leader and jighead.

When using a 3" MinnowZ I use either a standard jighead or a TT SnakelockZ and I try and keep the weight as light as possible. I use this bait when I want to choose a slow retrieve and I want to keep it in the strike zone for as long as possible. The ZMan Scented ShrimpZ is a bait that I like to use from January through to March when the prawns are at their most prolific in the creek systems.  It's a bait that can either be fished on a standard jighead or weedless on a TT SnakelockZ. Again, I like to fish this bait as light as possible with sharp flicks of the rod tip to imitate a prawn flicking up off the bottom. Adding a dab of Pro-Cure to your plastic will definitely increase your chances of encountering a jack, with Mullet, Shrimp and Inshore Saltwater flavours being the pick when it comes to jack fishing.

Mangrove jack are the ultimate fighters and more often than not require heavy gear to extract them. As a guide I use no lighter than 15 pound braid as a main line, with a minimum of 20 pound fluorocarbon leader. I will upgrade my line depending on the severity of the structure that I'm fishing and will increase my leader to 40 pound if need be. Bait casting tackle is best when fishing for mangrove jacks, but if a spin rod is being used a reel from a 2500 to 4000 size is most effective. A 4-6 or 5-8 kg rod is perfect for jack fishing and a tight drag is crucial.

I've had many a trip without catching a jack and it can sometimes be disheartening. The most important thing is to be confident in what you are using and treat every cast and retrieve like you are going to catch a fish. Being 100% ready for when that bite does come will turn your stories of the one that got away into stories of how you landed the elusive mangrove jack.

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