Targeting Mangrove Jacks on the Gold Coast

January and February have always been my favourite months to target jacks because they tend to school up and feed more freely before the cooler winter period arrives. Unlike some of the systems in the far north of the country, the Gold Coast and Tweed River systems do not hold plague proportions of jacks, but it is believed the small concentrations of fish in our area hold a number of the largest-sized fish in the country.

This is of course great news for us anglers given the aggressive fighting capabilities of these big fish, but it also means we have to work a lot harder to catch them. Let’s first discuss some of the best places and times to target these fish because proper planning is a must for any chance of success.

Heavy structure such as rock retaining walls, trees that have fallen into the water, bridges, natural rock bars and jetties all prove great homes for mangrove jack to find cover and ambush their prey. Once you have found your chosen spots, the next consideration is the times and tides to fish. Trolling for mangrove Jacks is often a technique used to find great ground to throw swim baits at, but it also allows you to cover more ground and get down deep where these predators site in deep holes and underwater canyons.

I have always tried to plan my trips around the tide changes, either from high to low or low to high, during the grey light periods and at night. By grey light periods I mean either as the sun is rising in the morning or even better in the last hour of the day at dusk, which I call the fruit bat period because that’s when they start flying around.

One of my regular clients once said to me: “Isn’t it funny how you tend to tighten up the grip on your rod as you see the first bats flying around.” This is a fair comment considering the number of strikes you get during this period. The next step is being lucky enough to have one of those stinking hot balmy days that we get in summer when you could almost cut the air with a knife because it is that humid and late-afternoon storms are building up to the west.

Having the right equipment is another very important part of the preparation because finding these fish is one thing but stopping them from busting you up in the snags is another. And trust me, if they can find a way, they will. I know a few anglers fish quite lightly for jacks and have good success but I tend to play the percentages and fish a bit heavier.

Mangrove Jack Gold Coast

Nerang River Mangrove Jack

However, at times I still get destroyed by them. My lightest outfit is a 6-8kg spin rod loaded with 20lb braid, which I use for casting lures. My next outfit is a 6-8kg spin setup filled with 30lb braid for live baiting. Rounding out my equipment are a couple of 8-10kg baitcaster combos, one with 30lb braid and the other with 50lb, which I use for trolling deep-diving minnows.

Once again I fish heavy and use high-quality Toray braid and leader materials that are shock and abrasion resistant, with the lightest being 30lb and the heaviest 50lb for trolling. OK, so now we are ready to hit the water let’s have a look at some of the techniques you can try for jacks.

I love trolling deep-diving minnows because you get the opportunity to cover a lot of ground and the big deep-diving minnows seem to have a way of finding the XOS fish. The shallowest water I troll my deep divers in is about 4m, with most of my work occurring in the 6-10m range.

Some of my favourite models are my own Digga lures that I have been making for years as well as Sebile Koolie Minnows, RMG 125 Crazy Deeps that plunge to 8m, Pontoon 21s and Atomic 85 and 95 Double Deeps. The key to success when trolling deep divers is to have your lures running close to the bottom, or even better, to have them occasionally crashing into the rocky structure.

This can result in a lot of snag-ups and at times lost lures, but my old saying is “no guts, no glory” because you have to keep close to the structure and play Russian roulette with the craggy areas that jacks call home. Live baiting is probably the easiest way to fish for jacks.

It can be a very rewarding technique after taking the time to anchor up correctly and ensure you are in a good spot to be able to properly position your lives. Some of the best live baits for the job include poddy mullet, whiting as long as they are of legal length, and to a lesser degree herring, which aren’t as good because they are frail, die easily and at times the bream seem to pick the guts out of them.

Live garfish are another good choice and you could also try introducing a few quality cut baits to the water. Strips of tuna, mullet and tailor are on the jacks’ menu. Soft plastics are an option for targeting jacks and they are very versatile due to the fact they can be jigged vertically around deep structure or cast to the bank and worked along the bottom with a slow rolling action.

Casting to different forms of structure along the banks is very popular and rewarding because this is a really hands-on thinking game and works well when using plastics and hard-bodied diving minnows. Just be prepared to put in multiple well-aimed casts.
Casting surface poppers and stickbaits for jacks has become hugely popular in recent years.

The visual aspect of a big jack hammering the lure off the top is the ultimate reward. Accurate casting is required for optimum results and I have found that surface lures worked close to and parallel to rock walls are the way to go because the lure is kept in the strike zone for a longer period.

Well that’s a little round-up on how to target a species that could in many ways be described as the holy grail of our local waterways. As such, mangrove jack should be treated with respect in the form of catch and release management or only taking one for a feed.

As with all species, we have to fish for the future.

If your keen to jump on a Jack charter, drop me a line here at Gold Coast Jack Fishing Charters

Trolling for Mangrove Jacks

G’DAY; I hope you had a great Christmas and new year holiday break. There is no doubt the mighty mangrove jack are bucket-list fish for most anglers in southeast Queensland and northern NSW due to their aggressive, hard-fighting nature and the fact that they will respond to an array of well-presented lures and baits.LAST RS Jack on Nerang River Young Boy 2-resized

It should also be mentioned the jacks caught here in our backyards are consistently rated as being some of the largest in the country. Being contracted to catch jacks for breeding and aquaculture programs over the past 15 years has given me insight into some of the research being conducted around this species.Jack Fishing Brad Smith

It appears that jacks stay in our rivers for a longer period before moving to offshore reefs than they do in the more northern parts of the country. I could go on about this more, but the point of this article is to pass on one of my favourite techniques for targeting the red devils: deepwater trolling.

Some anglers consider trolling as perhaps being lazy or lacking the more hands-on approach of casting and retrieving lures tight into structural areas, but trust me, when you get slammed by a big jack while trolling it makes the hairs on your neck stand up.

The equipment I use when trolling for jacks is very important and must be well maintained because these fish will find faults in reels that might not have a good drag system. Your knots and leaders must be tied correctly and checked in order to take the brunt of a jack’s bone-crushing strike.

I use 10-12kg baitcaster rods matched with quality baitcaster reels loaded with 30 and 50lb braid. I like a 40-50lb shock-resistant leader on the 30lb braid and a 50-60lb leader attached to the 50lb braid. Toray braid is my choice because it is very strong and has a finer diameter for its breaking strain than most other brands.

Book a Mangrove Jack Gold Coast Charter

Some of my favourite trolling lures for the job are the Mann’s Stretch 20+ hard-bodies, though they are becoming increasingly hard to find these days, and Halco 8m-diving Crazy Deeps. Lively Lures Mad Mullets work well, as do Sebile Koolie Minnows, and I always carry my own Digga lures as part of my arsenal.

A lure that has received a lot of attention from me and is working exceptionally is the Atomic Shiner 85 Double Deep. These are smallish lures in terms of length but crash dive very well.

Another important and inexpensive piece of equipment to carry is a Tackle Back, which is basically a device for retrieving snagged lures. Mine has saved me from losing plenty of lures and, therefore, money.
RS Brads Son Jack Pic-resized

The times and tides are also important when planning a mangrove jack trip. I have caught heaps of jacks through the middle of the day but by far the most consistent time to target them is very early in the morning, or even better, during the late afternoon and night.

I’ve lost count of the number of fish I have hooked around what I call the ‘fruit bat period’, and that is of course as the sun is about to set and the bats hit the sky. If you can manage a trip at this time that coincides with a tide change you are giving yourself a great chance of success.

Locations are also important, and the Gold Coast and Tweed regions have plenty of spots to choose from. Long stretches of retaining walls are a perfect place to start because they provide structure, which jacks 100 percent rely on, as well as plenty of depth. Some walls have collapsed in places, and this combined with the natural reef that you will often find in these high-erosion stretches provides the perfect hideout for jacks.

The trolling technique is not at all hard if you follow the basic principle that your lures must be kept tight and close to the structure at all times, with the ultimate scenario being crashing and bouncing your lures along the edges of the wall or hitting the reef along the bottom.

This is a no guts, no glory style of fishing and if you are not prepared to lose the odd lure, even with the help of a Tackle Back, you are not in the mix for consistent success. Always try to troll as slowly as possible, and I do most of my trolling against the tide for jacks, unlike when I’m trolling for flathead, bream and whiting, where I usually troll with the tide.

The only reason I troll against the tide is to slow the boat, and the tidal flow pushing into the lure helps to suspend it while it’s crashing through the rocks, which decreases snagging. This type of fishing can become a bit mundane because sometimes I will troll the same stretch of wall over and over for one or two hours without so much as a sniff. But trust me, when you do get smashed you will soon forget about the laborious time and effort you put in.

If you have the presence of mind, which in most cases you won’t because the strike is so brutal and fast, try to get the boat away from the wall and into the middle of the river or creek in order to try to pull the fish away from the craggy hideouts it will attempt to bust you up in.

Well that’s it for another month; I must start preparing my boat for a jack trip. After writing this I am as pumped as ever to fish for mighty mangrove jack.

Gold Coast Fishing Charters

A day fishing with Brad Smith began over 20 years ago with the objective being to only take a maximum of two people to ensure that all clients receive personalised attention.

With the growing demand for my charters and the reputation that it has acquired I also offer a larger vessel that can comfortably cater for five people with two alternating hand chosen personally trained skippers. This boat caters for small groups and families that are looking for a great day on the water while still maintaining our objective and that is to guarantee that you catch fish and learn the skills on how to get the most out of this wonderful sport.

Jack Fishing Brad Smith

Educating my clients on the skills and techniques on how to read the conditions and tides whilst catching a wide variety of different fish species on lures is why my operation is unique and held in such high regard.
It is also worth noting that this operation stays in touch and sometimes ahead of any of the evolving advancements in technology, equipment and techniques that are required to ensure that you catch fish.

Often there is a healthy bag of flathead, bream or whiting before lunch. Then as the afternoon and depending on tides again, there might be time for a yabbie slowly drifted down a canal to extract a few ‘resident’ whiting or perhaps a lone trevally cruising the jetties and pylons that frequent the tweed and broadwater canals.

Perhaps your lucky enough to be in the summer months on Gold Coast Fishing Charters and be ready to try your hand at the top tiered Mangrove Jacks in the early evening. Hold on though, they pull like nothing else!

Myself and my skippers are very proud of what we do and cherish the opportunity to share our knowledge of the local waterways with beginners to accomplished anglers and for people of all ages.

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