Nothing spells the start of the mangrove jack season more than recent evening storm activity in the Great South East. This weather has brought days of strong wind, some vicious storms and welcome rain.
The past month we have also seen massive schools of herring boiling on the surface in a feeding frenzy throughout the Maroochy River, and no doubt in most coastal rivers. These herring are at the bottom of the food chain for most big predators and along with small mullet and river prawns make up the majority of a mangrove jacks diet. The green river prawns numbers increased at the end of the year in our local creeks, upper reaches and canals. This is when a cast net can become invaluable to an angler who is trying to match what the mangrove jack are feeding on. And you only have to look at the photos of recent 'Jack' catches to realise that we're approaching peak Jack-fishing season.
These fish are as comfortable around snaggy environments as I am with a fishing rod in my hands. Their favourite habitats include rocky structures, bridge pylons, and fallen trees, under pontoons, deep holes and, as adults, inshore reefs. Mangrove jack are drawn to these habitats as they provide great shelters and they can easily ambush prey or your bait with a vicious swift attack as it passes by their territory and lair. They will then dart back in to the deep coverage with the unsuspecting fish or when they become hooked, and this is when angler's lines tend to snap as they rub against the usually abrasive surfaces. Mangrove jacks are getting caught in their usual haunts. These include:
Live bait is generally the best, due to the appeal of a moving prey. Poddy mullet, diver whiting, prawns, gar, herring and hardy heads are all good locally found Jackfood. When Jacks are really on a hot bite they will take most whole fish types of bait like W.A. pilchards, whitebait and even strips of mullet fillet. Lures are the other option. Jacks are so territorial, meaning they will take most lures that pass by their patch. They don't always hit the offering because they want to eat it. Jacks may hit your lure or bait as a warning for it to move away from their home.
It is best to find out what the Jacks in your local area feed on and try to match or replicate it. For instance, in Petrie Creek, Jacks will feed on green prawns or small mullet. So I use a lure which mimics the prawn and and a soft plastic like a four inch Powerbait as a poddy mullet. Prawn Star lures look and swim similar to the river prawns. Make sure you work your lure in around overhanging trees, submerged snags, bridge pylons and rocky walls. Jack fishing legends always tell me 'you must be in their zone to make them angry enough to hit the lure or bait' which is obviously within a metre or two.
Dawn, dusk, the turn of the tide and overnight are all good times for jack fishing. Overnight is when jacks will tend to wander away from their structure in search of food, so the odds of a successful fishing sessions is much better over night.