Everything You Need to Know About Jack Fish

Crevalle jack and other members of the Carangidae family inhabit warm water. These jack fish are predominantly piscivorous, and they’re easy to catch on a variety of lures in relatively deep water.

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Everything You Need to Know About the Crevalle Jack

Let’s take a close look at the crevalle jack, a popular saltwater game fish, as well as its close relatives in the Carangidae family.

With this knowledge in hand, we can discuss tips to improve your odds of catching members of the jack fish family.

Two guys holding jack fish

Crevalle jack basics

The crevalle jack, known to marine biologists as Caranx hippos, goes by many regional nicknames. Known as the “common jack,” “black-tailed trevally,” “jack crevalle,” and often referred to by other local monikers, this popular game fish is common in the warm waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Crevalle jack fish map

While crevalle jack can be found as far north as Maine, they’re notably intolerant of cool water. Water temperatures below 9 C (48.2 F) are apparently lethal, and these fish migrate south when the mercury begins to fall as summer comes to an end.

But in warm temperate and tropical climates, crevalle jacks are present all year, spawning between March and September, with extremely active post-spawn feeding from May to August in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida seaboard.

Growing to lengths of as much as 48 inches, crevalle jacks are more commonly caught at just under two feet, at which point they’ll weigh between less than 5 pounds.

Making its home both inshore and offshore, the crevalle jack is highly adaptive to varying salinity levels, allowing it to thrive in shallow, sandy bays, beaches, lagoons, and other areas subject to frequent freshwater intrusion. Adults typically prefer deeper water, heading offshore to hunt, but they typically remain on the continental shelf at depths above 350 meters (1,100 feet), though they can dive deeper in search of prey to rich habitats like wrecks and reefs.

Crevalle jacks are schooling fish, and until they grow to sizes far exceeding the average, they’ll form large, fast-moving schools. By contrast, larger specimens are solitary, seeking out deeper offshore water and hunting alone.

Crevalle jack diet

Guy holding Crevalle jack fish

Crevalle jack will hit a variety of lures that look like fish.

Crevalle jacks are predominantly piscivorous, but they will consume invertebrates like shrimp and crab.

Voracious predators, they’ll prey on any fish they can catch, and are largely indiscriminate about the species. However, repeated studies have demonstrated that unlike most other predators, they prefer smaller prey sizes.

And unlike many species, crevalle jacks cease feeding at night, but are active all day.

Other Jack Fish: the Family Carangidae

Jack crevalle are closely related to a variety of other game fish in the family Carangidae, sharing several general traits with these “cousins.”

First, these popular game fish tend to be piscivorous, preferring fish to other prey items. That said, their precise diet tends to vary with location and availability.

Second, they’re cold water intolerant. Each species of game fish in the Carangidae family prefers warm water, retreating southward when winter arrives.

Finally, this family tends to prefer deep water, moving offshore when sexually mature, though typically remaining on the continental shelf. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, however, and some members of this family begin life in deep water, migrating into relatively shallow coastal waters.

Pompanos

Pompano jackfish

Various pompanos are members of the genus Trachinotus and the family Carangidae, but the most important game species is undoubtedly the permit (Trachinotus falcatus).

Growing to sizes that rival the crevalle jack, this jack fish loves warm water. And while present off the coast of New England in warmer months, permit are far more numerous in the sun-baked waters of Florida and the Gulf.

Another important relative of the crevalle jack is Trachinotus carolinus, the Florida pompano.

Florida pompano jack fish

Few fish are as prized on the dinner table as Florida pompano.

Much smaller than the permit, the Florida pompano is typically less than three pounds and 17 inches when caught, though they can reach larger sizes.

This jack fish is much less tolerant of low salinity than the jack crevalle, preferring truly salty water between 70 and 89 F. 

As a result, you won’t typically find them in estuarial environments or near fresh-water inlets, creeks, streams, or rivers. Moreover, they’re intolerant of both hot and cold water, and this drives the Florida pompano north in summer and back south again in winter.

Florida offers perfect conditions for these fish for much of the year, and the waters of this state produce approximately 90% of each year’s catch.

Beloved for their hard-fighting aggression, Florida pompano are far more fun to catch than their size suggests!

Greater amberjack

Amber jackfish

Greater amberjack, Seriola dumerili, is an epibenthic and pelagic species commonly found hunting near wrecks, reefs, drop-offs, rocky outcrops, and other structures that provide their prey a rich diet and plenty of places to hide. They cuisine near the bottom, looking for food, and aren’t often caught higher in the water column.

Larger specimens prefer relatively deep water, and are commonly found between 18 and 72 meters (59 and 236 feet), but do dive deeper in search of a meal. Immature greater amberjack can be found in shallow inshore waters, though they, too, can be found offshore.

As you’d expect from a relative of the jack crevalle, greater amberjack are sensitive to cool water, preferring temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters world-wide.

Primarily piscivorous, these members of the jack fish family are famous for their fighting strength and aggression.

Lesser amberjack

Lesser amberjack

Lesser amberjack, sometimes called the “false” or “little” amberjack,” prefers warmer, offshore waters throughout its lifecycle. Given its close relation to the crevalle jack, that really doesn’t come as a surprise.

Lesser amber jack fish map

Adults are typically found near the bottom in 55 to 130 meters (180 to 427 feet) of water, while juveniles seek the open ocean, migrating to the continental shelf as they grow toward maturity.

From February to June, these warm-water jack fish will feed around structures like reefs, wrecks, oil rigs, and other prey-rich locations, where anglers can find them in relatively large schools near the bottom.

There, they feed on fish and cephalopods almost exclusively.

Jack Fish Fishing Tips

The jack fish family is extensive, but what they have in common in terms of behavior, habitat, and diet means that you can make some very educated guesses about where, when, and how to catch them.

Jack fish lure selection

Since jack fish tend to be piscivorous, meaning that they prefer a diet of fish, lure selection should reflect that.

Plugs, jigs, and live fish are excellent choices for crevalle jack and its relatives, and pretty much any pattern that gets deep enough to target the where they’re actively feeding will draw strikes.

Small vertical jigs can be very effective on a variety of reef and wreck fish, and that’s certainly true for the jack fish family.

Bluewing salt water jig

Small plugs can also be effective when you find jack fish in shallow water, especially marshes, sandy lagoons, and other shallow-water environs that may tend towards brackishness.

Mirror lure small plug

If it looks and moves like a fish, jack fish will hit it; that makes lure selection pretty simple as long as you remember to keep your lure size on the low end.

Remember, crevalle jack prefer smaller prey items, and this is true to a large extent for all the jack fish.

Live bait works wonders, and everything from blue runners to mullet and menhaden work well, especially when rigged properly.

Location

There are two general locations that I work for jack fish: estuarial zones and offshore over wrecks, reefs, and other submerged structure that provides a rich variety of prey.

If I’m fishing specifically for jack crevalle inshore, I’ll look for shallow lagoons fed by freshwater inlets, salt marshes with clear water and plenty of grass, and other shallow, prey-rich areas along the coast.

Keep in mind that these areas tend to hold immature crevalle jack, and you won’t tie into a 48-inch monster here. But when you do find a large school of 20-inch jacks feeding voraciously on finger mullet or menhaden, you’ll be glad you chose the shallows!

For Florida pompano and permit, intolerant as they are of low salinity, I’ll search out jetties, breakers, channels running parallel to the beach, and other spots that prey items tend to congregate like grass beds. I stay away from any location that has freshwater intrusion, as that’ll drive pompano and permit away.

For sexual mature crevalle jacks, as well as greater and lesser amberjack, a trip to deeper water to fish over a wreck, reef, or hump that directs nutrient-rich water toward the surface, supporting an entire ecosystem in relatively shallow water, is a great place to look.

There, you’ll find mature fish hunting alone.

Time

Most members of the jack fish family are relatively inactive at night, preferring daylight to allow them to hunt with their keen eyes.

As such, they tend to be actively feeding during daylight hours, turning off as light levels drop to near zero. Keep in mind that in 200 feet of water, this happens faster than you might realize.

Dawn and dusk are still great times to fish, but the hou8rs before sunrise and after sunset are likely to be slow.

Final Thoughts

The crevalle jack and its close relatives in the Carangidae family are popular game fish for good reason. Not only are they delicious, they’re aggressive and hard-fighting, making them easy species around which to build life-long memories with friends and family.

We hope that you’vc learned something about jack fish from this article, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John Baltes