One of the hardest fighting species in the Gulf of Mexico, the greater amberjack will provide anglers with the ultimate battle when the AJ season opens August 1.
As I have written before, I’ve been fortunate to catch a variety of species in the Gulf of Mexico and not even a 100-pound-plus yellowfin tuna can put up a fight like an amberjack in the 65- to 70-pound range.
The only drawback, other than needing a rest after reeling one in, is amberjack hang out in deeper water. Although AJs can be caught in somewhat shallow water, say 70 to 100 feet deep, amberjack typically prefer to live around structure in 150 to 200 feet of water. For Gulf anglers, that means a pretty decent boat ride of 30 miles or more, so have plenty of snacks for the ride out and back.
AJs like structure with vertical relief, like large wrecks or petroleum platforms. When you find the amberjack, it’s best not to skimp on the tackle. Go with at least 50-pound test line, possibly heavier if you can’t keep the fish away from the structure.
When you target amberjacks, set your sights on the larger artificial reefs or wrecks in Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zone. If you head farther offshore, be sure to drop a bait near the offshore oil and gas platforms.
Another thing is the AJs will hold rather high in the water column around the structures, so forget trying to catch them on the bottom. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but your chances of hooking an amberjack are better if you don’t let the bait all the way down.
Live hardtails (blue runners) or other finfish fished with large circle hooks and enough weight to keep the current from moving your bait off the target zone are your best bets for amberjack.
If you find a spot with a plenty of small to mid-sized AJs, you can drop down a large jighead with a plastic curly tail and hook one of these fighters. Vigorous pumping action with the rod is the only way to get the amberjack’s attention with the jig.
If your spot has bigger AJs that overwhelm your regular tackle, switch to beefier tackle with at least 80-pound line. If the fish keep getting into the wreck, find the reel spooled with 130-pound test line to keep the fish from cutting you off in the structure.
For more people, the best option to catch amberjack is to hire one of the numerous charter boats in the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores. The charter captains know where the AJs live and can make for a very productive trip.
By the way, for those who want the ultimate trip, book a charter trip on August 1, 2020. The seasons align so that anglers on charter boats, on that day only, can catch red snapper, triggerfish and amberjack.
The amberjack season is scheduled to stay open through Oct. 31.