Fishing for mangrove jack with David Irvine

11th October 2021

Fishing for mangrove jack with David Irvine

Catching southern jacks on lures is about as far from a sure thing in fishing as you can possibly get. In the words of Australian fishing icon Steve Starling “they’re funny fish, they don’t always bite”.

If you’re willing to put in an insane amount of casts for a fish that can sometimes feel like a myth then southern jack lure fishing is for you. On the plus side when you hold a nasty red fish filled with incredible attitude, there’s no better feeling. 

Deckee ambassador David Irvine shares with us his preferred methods for targeting jacks.

Getting to know mangrove jacks 

The mangrove jack (Lutjanus Argentimaculatus) is definitely my favourite fish. In my experience, they are one of the most vicious estuary predators in northern New South Wales. I’ve watched 60cm+ fish patrol along oyster racks almost daring me to be stupid enough to cast at them.

Whilst we don’t have the same numbers as Queensland, they are still a worthwhile target in New South Wales. Jacks are actually quite an active predator, I’ve watched them patrol shallow edges chasing small fish out into open water before smashing them. 

Picking the right gear

There is no point in targeting jacks without suitable gear. The good news is you don’t need anything special or particularly expensive. A 6-8kg baitcast or spin outfit loaded with 20-30lb braid will generally suffice. Add some 30-40lb fluorocarbon leader and you’re all set. Personally, I prefer a baitcaster for accuracy and stopping power, accuracy is far more important than cast distance.

Which lures to use

There are plenty of lure options, my personal preferences are shad or minnow style hardbodies 65-75mm covering a depth of 2-3.5m. I’ve also had success on 3 and 4inch paddle tail soft plastics especially rigged weedless. Jacks aren’t particularly fussy with lures as long it gets in front of them, but it’s definitely worth upgrading trebles especially on the cheaper lures as I have lost many a fish from a straightened treble. Some of the lures I’ve had success on are:

  • Zerek tango shad 68mm

  • Sebile koolie minnow 76mm

  • Jackall squirrel 68mm

  • zman 3” minnowz

  • zman 4” diesel minnowz

Where to cast 

The area where most people struggle with jack fishing is spending hours casting where the jacks aren’t. While they move around and feed in a variety of areas, when targeting jacks it’s best to focus on areas where they’re most likely to be. The best areas I’ve found for targeting jacks are river edges in the upper reaches of the saltwater. The best edges have a combination of a steep drop off into at least 3-4 metres of water and sunken rocks and timber. The other area I occasionally cast for jacks are rockwalls, both natural and manmade.

When working a likely area, start at one end and work your way along casting into the edge at everything. The aim is to land your lure as close to the edge as possible and work it back out along the timber. This is just like a mullet heading for deeper water. A simple rolling retrieve works best for jacks, occasionally a bit of speed on the retrieve can get a reaction strike.

It’s important to cover water so keep moving to cross paths with an active fish. If you have limited time and then older trees covered in barnacles that have resident small fish like butterfish and bream are more likely to have an angry resident jack.

The fight

As the saying goes: when you get a hit, if you have to ask was that a jack then it wasn’t a jack.

The hit from a jack is generally hard and fast which turns into a brutal run without a pause. The fishes aim is to get back to structure as quickly as possible and many times I’ve been blown away by a big jack in the blink of an eye. The aim of the fight is to turn the fish as quickly as possible. A tight drag is a must because once the fish gets momentum up there’s no stopping it. Once the fish is turned they’re much more manageable, generally just making lunges rather than runs.

When onboard jacks demand respect as they love to bite an unsuspecting fisho.

The by-catch 

The least known secret of jack fishing is the by-catch, in particular cod. Cod are a good sign you’re fishing the right areas. They’re relatively unintelligent, always hungry which makes them far easier to catch and they like the same habitat as jacks. When I first started jack fishing I was told by a very successful jack fisho “if there’s Cod there, there are Jacks there too” and I have to agree. 

The other point about by-catch is if it didn’t exist neither would jack fishing. In my local estuary, fish like black-spot cod, giant trevally, moses perch, flathead and big-eye trevally break up the monotonous fishless casts that can be jack fishing. The by-catch are often great fish in their own right in particular big cod which pull like a bulldozer.

I hope these tips are useful to help put you onto your first jack.