Targeting Amberjacks In The East Region With Capt. Mike Holliday

Late July and all of August are a great time to chase amberjacks in my region because there’s a lot of bait schools on the offshore wrecks and reefs. This is the time of the year when the grunts are everywhere, and there’s also sardines, threadfins and pilchards on the shallower wrecks, and blue runners and goggle-eyes on the deeper wrecks.

In my region, the best shallow wrecks to target amberjacks on are the older ones, the wrecks that don’t get a lot of pressure like the Hawlsey, The Amazon and The David T. The deeper wrecks like the Rankin, Mulliphen and Wickstrom have the largest fish, as it’s much more difficult to accurately bottom fish these deeper structures. Then there’s the Six and Eight Mile reefs, which hold amberjacks all over the structures.

Amberjacks will tend to hold above the wrecks and will show up on your bottom machine as big marks ten to twenty feet above the relief of the wreck. These schools of AJ’s work in unison to ball up the baitfish as they hunt their food, and any baitfish coming too close to the school is an easy target. On the shallow wrecks (less than 80 feet), you can sometimes chum the amberjacks to the surface using live or dead pilchards or glass minnows, but chumming requires days of little current. Your best bet when targeting amberjacks is to drift over the structure and present a bait or lure down deep.

Power drifting the wrecks takes some practice, but once you understand the principle, it becomes second nature. What you want to do is mark the wreck and do a long drift over it, watching for the amberjack schools and noting where they’re holding over the structure. Then motor back up-current of the wreck and do another drift, only this time deploy your baits down to the depth they’re holding so that the bait goes by the fish. Just about any live bait will do, from a mullet or pinfish, to the herrings like sardines and threadfins, or blue runners or goggle-eyes. If you’re looking for a big AJ, use a big bait to eliminate the smaller fish.

When targeting amberjacks, I like to use 50 to 80 pound braided line on spinning tackle. Use a three-way swivel to attach to your braid, then add enough weight to one of the other swivel eyes to get the bait down quickly. To the last eye, tie an 80 to 100 pound fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 to 10/0 VMC circle hook, depending on the size of your bait. Hook the bait through the nose or the back just in front of the dorsal fin, and drop it down to the desired depth and hang on.

You can also use four to eight ounce feather jigs with a glow worm on the tail or the more popular jigging spoons like a Williamson Speed Jig or Vortex Jig. Bright colors like orange and chartreuse work best, as do the natural colors like mackerel. Drop the jig down to the bottom and work it up through the water column about halfway to the boat and then drop it back down and repeat. You’ll know if you get a bite, because you’ll be working to retain possession of the rod.

Captain Tips