Cocodrie Catch! Amberjack rife in local waters during warm weather months; season ends June 1

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With incredible raw power, a deep-water leviathan inhaled the bait dangling nearly 300 feet below the surface and steadily pulled line from the big game reel as if a nuclear submarine tangled the straining braid.

“This is the biggest fish I’ve ever had on a line,” screamed Jen Carroll who used to fish professional women’s bass circuits. “I’m trying to get it in, but it’s not moving. It’s my workout for the week – two weeks – and what a workout!”

Cranking furiously on the big Penn reel, Jen regained two feet of line only to lose four to the monster from the deep even with maximum drag. Eventually, Jen subdued the beast weighing nearly as much as she did. After a lengthy battle in the Gulf of Mexico, she finally horsed one of the most powerful fish in the world to the surface.

“There are some monster amberjack in the gulf,” remarked Capt. Tommy Pellegrin of Custom Charters (985-851-3304, “Divers tell me they’ve seen amberjack in the 120- to 130-pound range with several hooks hanging out of their mouths. Sometimes, we hook something we can’t move. We call it a UFO, an Unidentified Fishy Object. Usually, that’s a big amberjack or grouper.”

Often compared to winching an anvil off the bottom, battling big amberjack can challenge just about any angler or tackle. When hooked, amberjack don’t display the flash of a king mackerel or speed of a tuna, but they exhibit incredible strength. Bill Weldon holds the Louisiana state record with a 139-pounder he caught in South Timbalier Block 300 in May 2009, but the world record topped 156 pounds.

“If people struggle to catch a 40- to 50-pound amberjack, think how much trouble they’d have fighting a fish with double that power,” explained Pellegrin who runs out of Boudreaux’s Marina (985-594-4568, in Cocodrie. “We catch bigger tuna and marlin because we have a lot of line and the fish are running away from structure into the open. An amberjack runs right to structure to cut the line. With the power of an amberjack swimming next to a rig, the chances of landing a 100-pounder are slim. To catch a monster amberjack next to a platform, use a reel with a welded drag that won’t give. Attach that to 

an unlimited class rod and fish from a good boat with a good rod holder. Use the power of the motor to pull the monster away from the entangling structure.”

Sometimes dubbed “reef donkeys,” amberjack prefer to stay in 70 to 400 feet of water around rock piles, shipwrecks, coral reefs or at the bottom or an oil platform. They look for hard cover where they can ambush prey. Voracious predators, amberjack feed heavily upon squid, crustaceans, reef fish or anything else they can gulp. Although smaller AJs may congregate in schools, bigger jacks rule their deep, dark domain alone — and that’s how most other reef species like it! Typically, when big amberjack cruise through an area, everything else moves out.

To find big amberjacks, look for good structure. The oldest petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico make great places to start. Years of growth on steel platform legs builds artificial reefs from the surface to the bottom. In addition, anglers typically find more fish-holding debris around older platforms.

Search all around structure to find fish. Sometimes, amberjack hold on one side of a platform or reef, but not on the other side depending upon where currents hit the structure and other conditions. Sometimes, one spot might only hold small fish, but lunkers gather only a few feet away. Also search the bottom with electronics for additional objects away from the main platform. Sometimes, anglers find bigger fish 40 to 50 yards away from the rigs, reefs or wrecks.

To catch big amberjack, most anglers simply drop a hook baited with squid, fish chunks or Spanish sardines to the bottom on extremely heavy tackle. To make baits more tempting, some anglers “butterfly” a baitfish. Fillet both sides from the tail forward about halfway to the head, but leave the pieces attached to the body. When currents hit the bait, the two slabs undulate, making the bait appear alive.

Hardtail jacks, mullets, croakers and other live baitfish also tempt big AJs. Anglers can often catch fresh bait around structures by working a sabiki rig tipped with tiny flies on light spinning tackle. For monster AJs, use large baits. A 100-pound bruiser can engulf a hefty meal.

Anglers can also use artificial tackle. Heavy lead jigs mimic baitfish as they flutter down to the bottom. With jigs, anglers don’t need to worry about tiny nibblers stealing chunks as the lure descends. After hitting bottom, jig the lure up and down a few times. If nothing bites, keep moving it toward the surface in 20-foot intervals to find where the fish want to suspend and work that depth.

Big amberjack don’t always hang near the bottom. Sometimes, they rise in the water column or may even approach the surface to investigate activity. Chumming can entice amberjack near the top. Chop bait or trash fish into bite-sized morsels and toss them into the water. Then, rig a drift line with live bait. Don’t use any weight so the fish can swim freely. Besides amberjack, a drift line might also attract grouper, big red snapper, cobia, mackerel or wahoo — perhaps even tuna or sailfish.

Some anglers troll live bait or diving plugs around oil platforms and over reefs. Circle the platform several times and use various lures of diverse colors that dive to different depths to find out what works that day. Around reefs and natural bottom contours, run the baits just over the top of the structure. A hungry amberjack may rise off the bottom to grab a meal.

Louisiana law allows each angler to keep one greater amberjack per day, each with a fork length at least 30 inches long. The Louisiana season closes from June 1 to July 31 this year.

Editor’s Note: John N. Felsher grew up hunting and fishing in south Louisiana. To contact him or to invite him on an adventure, visit his website at

Steven Felsher and Dave Duncan show off an amberjack that Felsher caught during a recent trip. Cajun Sportsman Outdoors Guru John Felsher said that amberjack are always hitting in local waters, especially in Cocodrie. The time is now to snag the offshore fish, because the season takes a break beginning on June 1.