Amberjack Season is In
After a two-month closure, August 1 marked the re-opening of amberjack season in the Gulf of Mexico.
When the season will close again remains unknown at this time. So if you are up for an epic tug of war with a fish known commonly as a ‘Reef Donkey,’ the time is now.
A good rule for targeting ‘AJ’s’ is to head to deeper water structure around two hundred feet or more. Oil rigs and platforms off to the southwest are always a hot spot, but Captain Don McPherson of Gateway Charters says you may not have to run that far to find them this month.
“We see amberjack as close in as six or seven miles off the beach, and that has never happened before.” McPherson credits the recent season closure and increased size limits as factors for seeing more fish in shallower water but says it’s most like a result of feeding patterns. “Like any other fish, amberjack follow the bait fish and this year we have had so much bait in close that the amberjack have just followed the food supply.”
Anyone who has ever tussled with an amberjack knows it is an entirely different fight than even that of a really big red snapper. Rods get pinned to the gunwale, and anglers are brought to their knees after hooking up with an amberjack. Bruises from body parts being jammed against rods and reels are worn as badges of honor. ”It doesn’t matter the age of the customer or how many amberjack they have caught in their lives. After the battle ends, every one of them still gets the same thrill as if it were the first one they ever caught,” said McPherson
With our very healthy amberjack population, a livewell full of pinfish and hardtails fished on circle hooks with egg weights will give you plenty of chances at catching your one fish limit. Another fun way to catch an amberjack is on a jig. Just a regular lead head jig with a big twister tail or a butterfly style jig worked through the water column will produce shoulder aching strikes.
Captain McPherson has caught amberjack up to ninety-eight pounds on his boat but said they don’t have to be huge to test an angler’s mettle. “Of course, forty and fifty pound fish put up great battles, but even fish less than the legal thirty inch fork length will give you all you can handle.”
Sometimes undervalued as table fare, amberjack can be prepared in any number of ways to provide a great meal. Grilled, smoked, baked, or broiled are options, but the most popular style is blackened, which is fitting since after a day of catching amberjack you are likely to find yourself ‘black and blue’ from the battles.