Welcome to our “How to Catch Amberjack Fishing Guide” where we tell you every possible Tip for catching the Greater Amberjack fish that we have ever used, heard of, and found. Amberjacks are 40 lbs. on average and put up a world-class fight once hooked. It’s one of Florida’s Hardest Fighting Fish!
[Page Updated – 22 July 2021. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
HOW TO CATCH AMBERJACK FISH—Guide
- Size: 9/10 stars
- Fight: 10/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 6/10 stars
- Taste: 2/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Amberjack FACTS
- WHY catch them?
- WHERE are they found?
- What do they EAT?
- HOW to catch Amberjack?
- WHEN is best time to fish?
- GEAR? (our best recommendations)
- LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK this fish?
PRO TIP – Amberjack are also called AJs, reef pigs, pigs, slobs, long jacks, jacks, and other choice adjectives, depending how big and how hard it is to land!
Amberjack (Amber Jack, Almaco Jack) Facts
Species: Seriola dumerili in the Carangidae family and Seriola genus.
Similar Species: Crevalle Jack (Caranx hippos).
IUCN Redlist Status: Least Concern (LC) this fish is not considered threatened in any way at the present time. They exist in sufficient numbers to be considered a healthy population.
Appearance: Like a long Crevalle Jack. Stretch out a Jack and it will look similar to an Amberjack. Now, put a redfish on it and that’s what it really looks like. Almost. Long bodied fish that can easily reach 5 feet in length.
Color is typically light with some olive green or brown dorsal. The sides are silver, similar to redfish coloration. There is a darker stripe running from the nose to the front of the dorsal fin. The anal fin is about 2/3 the length of the second dorsal fin. 11-19 gill rakers on each arch. No scutes on this fish.
Length: They grow to around 1 meter (40-inches) in length on average, like an adult redfish, but they are so much more powerful. Reds have that slow twitch powerful tail. The entire body is made for speed and it’s powerful too.
Weight: 30 lbs to 140 lbs as adults, this is a big and powerful fish. Most fish are right around 40 lbs. in weight.
Range/Distribution: South Florida starting in April and May.
Habitat: Found offshore over reefs and wrecks – boat wrecks, plane wrecks, near offshore rigs, etc. You can find them (using sonar) in water 50 to 300 feet deep. Occasionally you can find big fish off piers in South Florida. Younger of the species will cluster around floating objects like Mahi-mahi do (dorado) and you may be fishing for dolphin and end up with a very strong pulling a-jack instead!
Diet: Squid, fish like Goggle Eyes (mackerels) and Blue Runners, crabs, other crustaceans.
Fishing World Records
176 lbs is the world-record. 142 lbs. is the size of the largest amberjack ever caught in Florida. This occurred near Islamorada.
Why Catch AJs?
This is one of the best, and some say THE BEST fighting fishing in Florida. Hooking them is not that difficult, especially on live bait. They are voracious eaters. They prefer eating live Goggle-eyed Macks on a very strong circle hook. This is a phenomenal gamefish, pure and simple. They’re not good eating, and they have worms. Catch and release is the name of the game.
You will require some serious equipment if you want to step up and catch AJs over the boat wrecks off the Florida coast. They are usually in deep water and your rod and reel had better be up to the challenge. This large fish can break your $100 rod or reel in a few seconds. They are probably responsible for more destruction of equipment than any other fish
Where To Find?
Habitat – AJs prefer deep water around 250 to 300 feet off the coast. In Florida, that means you have to go for a boat ride to find water that deep. Get yourself a map showing boat wrecks and reefs in the area you’re targeting, and drop your live Goggle Eyes down to meet them. Once you find a wreck, they will find YOU.
When Florida fishermen talk about going to catch Amberjack, they mean the GREATER AMBERJACK. That is the big one and the one we talk about in this article. There are 3 more specific types briefly mentioned below.
- Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) – The largest and best-fighting fish in Florida. This is the fish that anglers target most often. Nobody targets the other species, but sometimes they are caught anyway.
- Lesser Amberjack (Seriola fasciata) – Very similar in appearance to S. dumerili but the size is considerably smaller. Lesser AJ spend more time in the deeper water and are similar in behavior, breeding, and diet.
- Yellowtail Amberjack (Seriola lalandi) – Smaller, and with a yellow line instead of a darker line from the mouth to the tail fork. These are fast fish and good fighters, but they are not as fun to catch as the Greater AJ. This fish is found in the Southern Ocean south of the equator.
- Banded Rudderfish (Seriola zonata) – Shape and coloration of this species is similar to but not the same as the Greater AJ. Look for thick (1-inch) bands of darker color on this fish. Five bands on the body, and even extending to the tail for 1-2 bands is typical. These are smaller than any of the others and are also rarely targeted.
Diet – What Do They Eat?
Fish, squid, crabs, crustaceans. Artificials! Whatever you put in front of them, really. The ideal bait, we’ve found, is live Goggle Eyes on a circle hook – a big 9/0 circle hook. AJ are voracious eaters and will hit anything put in front of them for the most part.
How to Catch—Techniques
From a Small Boat – Kayak, Canoe
Uh, you’re on your own here. There are a couple of problems with catching these fish from a kayak or similar boat. First, you have the problem of balance. Not only while you are reeling fish in, which is extremely difficult to do from a proper offshore fishing boat, but also when you do get it to the kayak and want to pull it up for photos. A 30-lb. fish? OK. A 70 lb. amberjack? Not sure about that.
The second problem we have with fishing from a kayak for this strong fish is that sharks absolutely love the size of AJs and when they see one hooked, they go berzerk. Probably no better way to attract large sharks to your kayak than hooking a struggling fish.
From a Fishing Boat
We strongly advise you are on a proper boat when fishing for this one. Some leverage can be helpful in trying to land the beasts. If you think a grouper is hard work, wait until you hook a nice-sized AJ! Let the fun begin! It’s essential to bring them to the surface as fast as possible so you can avoid the sharks which are almost always present when landing big game.
Note – your drag must be set on the heavy side. The first run is strong and will probably be for cover and structure. If the fish makes it, he’ll rub your line against sharp coral or other things to break it off. You must have the drag set very heavy (30+ lbs.) for good size amberjack.
When Is the Best Time to Fish?
Spring and summer months seem to be best as the bite turns on on both coasts. However, in some areas, you can catch them year-round.
Gear—Big, Tough Tackle Necessary
Best Rod for these heavy fish?
I prefer the smaller rods that don’t give as much (bend as much), but some people prefer the longer rods that make landing a big amberjack a little easier because the long rod bends more and takes more of the power out of the fish. I just prefer to try to muscle them up to the boat fast, so shorter rods for me = better.
We recommend the following short rod at just 61 inches. Super-sturdy and good for 50-80 lb. test line
Fiblink Heavy Rod for Catching AJs by Boat
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
My strong preference is for using strong Penn trolling reels for catching the tough AJs. Gone are the days of buying the bare minimum in gear because I found I break stuff and have to rebuy it over and over. The cost ends up being roughly the same for most rods and reels, but the problem is that I lose too many fish in the middle of a battle – and it tweaks me off and ruins my fishing trip. Nothing quite like stopping the fishing trip to go in-shore to try to find another fishing reel or rod. Not fun AT ALL. What we usually do is just use another inferior reel as a stand-by and that doesn’t cut it either. I’ve broken 2 reels in one outing!
Please just buy the best reel you can afford. Rods are cheaper, you might choose to skimp a little bit, but definitely have some standing by for when you break your economy rod. Reels I don’t mess with any longer.
Best AJ Trolling Reel, Made in America (Philadelphia, PA.)
Best Spinning Reel? The DOGFIGHT – expensive, and really, probably more than anyone besides pros want to pay. Check it out and see if it’s within your budget. If not, get the trolling reel above.
Sixty pound (80#) braided line is necessary for big amberjack, heavier if you can find it. Keep in mind, you’re going to need 250 feet of it minimum to get down to the fish – they prefer 250 to 300 feet depths for the right temperature and cover. Spending money on quality line and hooks is essential if you want to catch big fish.
We recommend the following line for AJ, just to be safe. It really hurts to see one snap the line!
80-pound Braided Line by PP, the top manufacturer (500 yds) – this amount good for spooling 4 AJ rods.
Don’t Forget the LEADER!
100 lb. clear or slightly tinted leader is preferred. Here is our recommendation. They are often sold out. If this link doesn’t show any available, search Amazon for it again.
100 lb. Clear Presentation Leader – for this, and other big fish. You’ll need about 40 feet per rig. This monofilament gives some elasticity, necessary for fighting these very strong fish. Something needs to give, and often the rod doesn’t have enough bend. The braided line does not stretch much at all.
The best hooks for amberjack are the strongest hooks you can get. Forged Vanadium Steel circle hooks are the best for this tough fish. You need a wide gap and ultra-tech manufacturing to ensure the hook doesn’t bend or snap. A sixty-pound fish pulls like a 100-lb tarpon. Don’t mess around and get inferior hooks.
Top Vanadium Steel Hooks Recommendation – May also be nickel. Simply the best.
Best Fishing Rigs? The ONLY Rig for Deep-down AJs
3 Way Swivel Rig – This is a basic setup that just works for amberjack. You’ll need the 65 lb braided line we mention above. Attach it to one end of the swivel.
You’ll need the 100 lb. leader. You’ll need a heavy 10 oz. sinker on twenty or so inches of 20-30 lb. clear line coming off one swivel loop. A less strong line so it can break off if stuck and you don’t lose the entire rig.
On the other swivel loop, add 10-12 feet of the 100 lb. leader. Attach a 9/0 Vanadium steel circle hook we show you above. These hooks allow for releasing the fish with as little damage as possible, usually hooking them in the side of the mouth.
Bait is live Goggle Eye mackerel. Thread the circle hook under the spine in front of the first dorsal fin closest to the head. These get HAMMERED by amberjack and it won’t be long until you have fish-on.
|Fiblink Heavy Rod|
5 out of 5
|Penn Trolling Reel|
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
|Best Braided Line|
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Amberjack Fishing Laws in Florida
Florida limits are split by coast and are different for federal waters. Fishing laws are constantly adjusting to protect fish which are in danger of overfishing or threatened by other factors. It is your responsibility to check the latest laws on the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
Legal Gear for Harvesting
Fishing with spears, gigs, hook and line, seine, and cast net are permissible.
Gulf Coast Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 34-inch fork length (length as measured from snout to
- Daily Bag Limit (how many you can keep): 1 per person.
- Season: Open May 1-31 and August 1 to October 31.
East Coast Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 28-inch fork length
- Daily Bag Limit: 1 per person.
- Season: Open all year.
Federal Waters Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: None mentioned.
- Daily Bag Limit: 1 per person. Note – for hire captains/crew cannot keep fish when out with clients.
- Season: Open August 1 to October 31.
NOTE – a full list of rules for fishing for amberjack can be found at the Florida Rules website here.
Get the Fishing App
If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
If you’re interested in learning more about how AJ is farmed, this link (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) will provide everything you want to know. The primary area in the world for farmed AJ is China.
How to Cook Them?
Do you REALLY want to cook it? AJ is not known as one of the best-eating fish. Some people eat them, but then some people eat anything. This is a rather tasteless and strong-smelling fish that picks up the taste of whatever you’re cooking it in. Better if smoked. Better if covered in a sauce of some sort. Really, it isn’t going to win you any friends if you’re cooking Amberjack for a family get-together! Throw ’em back in. They’re fighters, they’re not for eating.
PRO TIP – adult Amberjacks are known to have worms and parasites especially near the tail area. Just another reason to leave them off the dinner table. When given a choice, choose the smaller fish – for every species!
- NOAA Photo Library
- OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP); University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Image credits: Top of page – hooked amberjack from a screenshot of Florida Sport Fishing “How to Catch AJ” video guide here. In Why Catch Amberjack section – from the Florida Keys Public Library. In Gear section – Image courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library. In Law section – NOAA Photo Library. Last image at bottom of page – by G. Schmahl in the Gulf of Mexico.
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)