• Published:October 4, 2017
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Amberjack deserve some respect.

Sure, there are prettier fish in the sea and more acrobatic jumpers but considering their brute power, insatiable appetites, aggressive feeding and solid table fare, the amberjack has a solid resume. Ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mid-Atlantic, AJ's are well worth your angling effort, so consider these points for maximizing the action.

Amberjack like structure, particularly wrecks, Gulf of Mexico drilling rigs, offshore radio towers and even sharply sloping ledges. These habitats cause two presentation challenges. First, deep water currents can blow your baits off course to the point of sweeping beyond the fish’s radar. A motor drifting test drop can save you a lot of time and frustration. If AJs are home, you’ll rarely have trouble hooking up, so make a pass to determine your drop speed and adjust as needed to achieve the right angle.

If the current is cranking, you may not want to ditch the anchor and stay on the motor drift. One advantage here — especially around drilling rigs — is the ability to quickly pull a fish out of the line-busting neighborhood.


One of the amberjack’s most appealing traits is its indiscriminate appetite. The savvy angler will carry a variety of natural and artificial baits. The latter may include topwater poppers, big baitfish profile flies and various jigs — diamond style or slender blade jigs like the popular Shimano Butterfly models.

For baits, blue runners, pinfish, pilchards, threadfin herring, grunts and mullet will tempt these brutes. And while you’re at it, don’t overlook the wisdom of “match the hatch.” Sure, the first few AJ’s will pounce on whatever you hauled offshore, but when the bite tapers off, you may find the fish amenable to a second round of action with indigenous forage.

Assign one dedicated bait catcher to sabiki rig duties, or leave a bait rod in the holder and let the boat’s motion “work” the rig for a constant fishing effort. Just keep close watch on the bait rod, as kingfish, cudas and sharks will help themselves to your string of unattended baits. Also, watch your spacing and angles to avoid the hassels of tangling the amberjack lines with a bait line.
"I once watched a man that could not have weighed 120 pounds soaking wet whip a 50-pound amberjack by using the railing of a head boat as his leverage point."
-- David A. Brown
And here’s a tip for avoiding a common offshore hassle: Straight dropping livies to a wreck or ledge can become a lesson in futility when barracudas swarm atop the AJ zone. If you mark cudas at a steady depth, deploy your baits on downriggers 50 yards or so from the site and sneak them into your targeted species — below the cuda line.


Amberjack are a gluttonous lot, a trait often displayed in the gang of jealous schoolmates running alongside a hooked fish. Theory has is that AJ’s will readily grab any meal another fish drops, vomits or rejects. That means opportunities aplenty for astute anglers. Here’s a handful of ways it might play out:

Chumming: Tossing a handful of live sardines or threadfin herring will bring hungry AJ’s charging topside. This may be your best opportunity for multiple hook-ups, as the school’s fierce competition will drive each fish to grab its share of the feed. Sight-fishing or free-lining live baits works well here.

Teasing: Similar to chumming, anglers often tease amberjack topside by beating the surface with a rod tip to simulate feeding flurries or working a big, noisy popper across the target zone. In either case, drawing the fish to the surface makes them easy targets.

Follow-Up Bites: Given the ever-present pressure of feeding competition, a thrown jig, topwater plug or even a big fly won’t go unnoticed. If your hooked amberjack comes unbuttoned, quickly resume the action and you’ll stand a good chance of finding another taker.


You might get away with light tackle for snapper, kingfish and the like, but if you step into the amberjack’s world, you’d better be ready for a fight. Notwithstanding the flexible technique-specific jigging rods, most of the amberjack game is best played with stout conventional or heavy spinning tackle, braided main line and beefy fluorocarbon leaders.

Don’t expect a second of rest with these stubborn beasts, but remember this point -- leverage over power. Yes, you need to pour the coals to a big fish, but you’ll make more progress with a disciplined cadence of smoothly raising the rod, reeling back down and repeating. Don’t be ashamed to strap on fighting belt. Use the gunwale or your knee to create a fulcrum that helps your force more leverage on the with without overdoing it with your arms and back. I once watched a man that could not have weighed 120 pounds soaking wet whip a 50-pound amberjack by using the railing of a head boat as his leverage point. Leaning his scrawny backside into that rod butt created enough force to break the fish’s will and bring him to the gaff.

However you get the fish to the boat is fair game in this fishery.