Look for Wrecks and Reefs

Our summertime amberjack fishing in the Central East Region takes place on the deeper wrecks and reefs in 180 to 250 feet of water. That’s over both natural and man-made structures. You also find some huge amberjacks just outside the closed area of bottom known as the Oculina Bank.

The Oculina Bank is a stretch of water where a rare oculina coral resides, and there are these huge mounds of coral that stick up 10 to 15 feet from the bottom in 240 to 260 feet of water, so the bottom goes up and down and there are tons of ledges and drop-offs. The entire Oculina Bank area is closed to bottom fishing, but you can get outside the closed area and find some nice bottom with some big AJs on it as well. Just make sure you monitor your location at all times, and don’t drift into the closed area.

Our summer amberjacks are typically smaller than what we find in the winter—say 20 to 50 pounds, but we do see an occasional big fish over 70 pounds. The average fish are more in the 20-pound range, but because there are some 50 pounders you don’t want to use light line or you’ll be fighting the fish for hours.

Live pinfish or menhaden are the most popular live baits for amberjacks. With these baits, you want to use a 7/0 VMC circle hook and just enough weight to get the bait down in the current. The fish typically mark 20 to 50 feet above the structure, so you don’t want to be all the way on the bottom. You can drop down until you hit bottom, then crank it up 20 or 30 feet and hang on—you know you’re going to get pinned to the gunwale.

Bigger Baits Catch Bigger Fish

As a rule, you want 150-pound monofilament leader, which means you want to attach your hooks and swivels with a crimp. Bigger baits catch the bigger fish most of the time, and don’t overlook the value of a big blue runner. AJs really like those runners, particularly the largest amberjacks.

Go with the 80-pound sand-up or jigging-style rods and reels. You can go lighter if you want, but it only increases the amount of time you’ll spend fighting the fish, and also the chances that the fish will drag you into the structure and cut you off.

Most anglers use conventional reels with high-speed retrieves to get the fish up from those depths and away from the structure quickly, and with 80-pound braided line you can really tighten down on the drag and move a fish with the rod. The last thing you want is to be trying to lift an amberjack up with a rod that has no lifting power, so leave those soft-tipped rods at home.

Jigging spoons like the Williamson Benthos and Vortex jigs or Shimano Butterfly Jigs also work well on amberjacks of all sizes. Anything with a glow color (orange and glow, chartreuse and glow) seems to work better than the colors without it, although chrome is another good color.

A lot of times amberjacks sit up-current of the wreck, so don’t be afraid to pull just up-current of the structure. You’ll see them on your bottom machine and can drop down and watch your bait get eaten.

Tight Lines and Good Fishing,
Captain Rick Murphy