The gIt’s hot, it’s humid, and a storm threatens as towers of darkening clouds reach high in the western sky. Many fishos seek the comfort of air con and shelter, but not you and your mates. You race to the boat ramp, launching with heightened anticipation into an ebbing tide.
The sky darkens as you approach the gnarliest snag in the creek. It looks perfect. Baitfish shimmer nervously along the muddy bank and a terrified prawn skips away from the root ball. You shove each other as you reach for your weapons of choice. Two casts fire off simultaneously, both aiming at the shady overhang where the tree was torn from the bank in a recent flood.
Your lure skips twice and stops mere inches from the mud. Your mate’s lure falls short, too short, and you struggle to hold back a grin as you flick your rod tip. That’s all it takes and your rod is almost wrenched from your grip. The sheer ferocity of the strike and the flash of maroon confirms the culprit – it’s a jack! And it’s a good one!
You’ve been here before, and you relish the adrenalin-filled moments as you engage in a do or die battle with the toughest adversary any creek might spawn. It is touch and go, with you and your tackle stretched to the limit. Your anxiety level is peaking as you ponder your lure’s hardware and the excessive strain that extracting such a trophy demands. Your exhilaration as your mate slips the net beneath your PB mangrove jack is all that bit sweeter as you savour his complexion turning green as he admires your fish.
It is summertime here on the fabulous Fraser Coast, and you (and your mates) can put yourself in this picture.
We are absolutely blessed with a climate and a topography that enables our waters to support an incredibly healthy population of mangrove jacks. Not only do we have an abundance of varying waterways from which to target these magnificent fish, but our waters support true trophy-sized specimens the envy of those in more tropical climates.
From the pristine waters of the Baffle Creek system and other creeks a short drive to our north, to the four snag-filled rivers of the Burrum River system, the myriad of creeks that feed into the Great Sandy Straits delta and Fraser Island’s fish-rich western creeks - we live in mangrove jack paradise. Their presence isn’t limited to our marine waters either, as some absolute stonker jacks and plenty of their brethren inhabit our local freshwater ponds as well.
And it doesn’t even stop there. Whilst jacks grow big in our estuaries and sometimes achieve true trophy status in excess of 60cm, the very same fish eventually make their way out to our reef systems and mature further to become massive soul-destroying reef jacks the rival of any in Qld. If you think stopping a tenacious 50cm jack from bricking you can be tough, try to contemplate the scene offshore when a monster reef jack over 80cm hits the afterburners!
Staff member Dane with a cracking reef jack that measured 85cm and weighed 8.2kg
Whilst offshore reef jack fishing is the domain of rather heavy tackle and live baits or lures capable of probing the depths during the witching hours, the inshore and estuary scene is a lot more accessible and within the realm of possibility for any avid fisho.
Lure fishos will choose between baitcast and spin tackle, and sometimes have a need for both. Rods need to be responsive, with tips light enough to deliver and work the lures, yet tough enough through to the mid-section to set the hook, and with enough grunt in the back end to haul the fish out when demanded.
Matching reels need to be tough, yet light. Quality engineering will uphold against a rampaging jack. Smooth drag systems, capable of heavy settings are paramount, yet typically part of the right reel’s make-up. Braid and suitable leaders are equally as important too, not only for sheer strength and shock resistance, but for effortless lure delivery and workability.
Check out our recommended rods and reels
- Shimano Tranx 150A baitcast reel
- Quantum Smoke S3 baitcast reel
- Daiwa HRF PE Special 7.3R-TW baitcast reel
- Dobyns Fury 663C 6’6” 10-17lb baitcast rod
- Shimano Zodias 166ML 6’6” 7-14lb baitcast rod
- Edge First Strike MBR684-1 6’8” 8-14lb
Mangrove jacks respond to so many lures and fishing techniques it can be a little mind-boggling. Trendy techniques include skip-casting the likes of weedless frogs and plastics of various ilk, to dancing topwater presentations such as walkers, fizzers and poppers.
Many 3-5 inch soft plastics were born with mangrove jacks as one of their primary targets. Paddle-tailed varieties are well proven, and the plethora of prawn imitations available today are increasingly popular. Matching such presentations to either weedless or conventional jig heads is typically determined by the terrain being targeted.
Hardbodied lures have always been jack slayers, and with current technological advancements, they are getting better and better. There will always be demand for the tried and true favourites of old, but today’s keen jack fisho is always eyeing off new lures with the desire to prove its worth against an old adversary.
Left to right, top to bottom; Zman Herculez 4", Zerek Flat Shad 4.5", Berkley Hollow belly 5", Molix RT Shad 3.5" & 4.5", Castaic Jerky J Swim 5", CAST Prodigy 4.1", Squidgies Fish 100mm, Keitech Swing Impact 4.1", Zman Swimmerz 4", Daiwa Baitjunkie Minnow 4", Zman Diezel Minnowz 4" & Zman Minnowz 3"
Left to right, top to bottom; Jackson Jester 78SF, Rapala Shad Rap elite, Daiwa Steez Current Master 93, Tilsan Barra, Jackall Squirrel 79, MMD BonySwim, Samaki Redic DS80, Predatek Spoonbill, Rapala X-rap SXR10 & Reidy's Little Lucifer
Left to right, top to bottom; Rapala Skitter Pop, Lucky Craft G-splash, MMD Splash Prawn & Zman HL Frogs.
- Molix RT Shad 3.5" & 4.5"
- Zman Diezel Minnowz 4"
- Pro-Lures Clone Prawn 92mm
- Lucky Craft G-splash
- Rapala Shad Rap elite 7.5cm (Specifically Gilded Twilight Zone colour)
- Samaki Redic DS80
Selecting a lure is only one part of the puzzle. A jack fisho must then work out how to retrieve it to trigger a bite response. Observing or second-guessing the jack’s prey is the first step, which then suggests the desired retrieve.
Paddle-tails and hardbodies can be wound at a medium pace to mimic a baitfish such as a mullet or gar. Twitches and flicks of the same lures can impersonate the movements of wounded herring or indeed a prawn.
Surface presentations offer without doubt the most exciting means of catching jacks, and the possible array of retrieves varies yet again. Short, sharp pops and fizzes imitate the motion of agitated prawns or smaller fish feeding. Straight retrieves or walking the dog fools fish into thinking they are tracking a wounded baitfish.
During daylight hours, perhaps the most important part of any retrieve is splashdown, or where the lure lands. Estuarine jacks tend to lurk deep in the shadows (their big eyes being built for nocturnal hunting), so if your lure lands short of the shade or target structure, then it is a wasted cast. Accuracy becomes paramount and is often the difference between the success rate of you and your mate on a given day.
There is no better time than right now to be out and about hunting mangrove jacks in our estuaries. Your chances of connecting on lures has never been better. All the same, many budding new jack fishos, and indeed many old hands that just enjoy catching them old school, will reap the benefits of a bait fishing session or two.
Creek jacks love to eat mullet. They also scoff prawns, crabs, squid, herring, garfish and just about any other creature silly enough to swim within striking distance. Live baits work a treat as a bait fishing option, however, it has been well-proven over time that a simple fillet from a freshly-caught mullet is virtually unbeatable. That goes for the rivers and creeks at least. Seek out the bruisers on the reefs and deeper ledges and you should resort to the live bait approach.
Not only are mangrove jacks tenacious fighters and handsome to boot, they are exceptional table fare as well. Many of us today will only target them for sport and take a quick happy snap before releasing them a little warier for the experience. Take one home for a feed one day though, and not only will you relish the flavour and texture of their delicate flesh, but you might also get that sweet taste of revenge for all the lures and gear lost getting that one to the plate.
It is jack time! Go get ‘em