Jacks (Caranx hippos) have an unfair reputation amongst fly fishermen. I believe this started when anglers targeting permit had small jacks aggressively swoop in and take their fly before the permit had a chance to eat it (or knowing permit maybe not eat it.) I get that, and I would be pretty pissed if that situation happened to me as well. But once those same crab stealing Jacks get bigger, they become a pretty awesome fish to target on the fly.
They are a member of the family carangidae, same as one of the most popular game fish on the planet right now, the Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis). Although they do not get quite as big as the GT’s you see on your instagram feed, they act incredibly similar. They thrive both inshore and offshore, and can eat just about anything. Similar to their cousins the GT, they are predators and will attack baitfish, invertebrates, and even birds. Once hooked, you better hang on as they are one of the hardest fighting fish on the planet. I once saw a reel smoke as a large jack peeled off line. In Mexico they call them Toros (Spanish for bull) which I think is a very appropriate nickname. The past few years they have even taken on the name Mexican Trevally as they will voraciously attack mullet flies like their cousins the GT. The only difference is you don’t have to spend 5K on airfare to the Indian Ocean.
You could be on a family vacation in Florida or at a fishing specific lodge in the Bahamas and you will have a chance at targeting Jacks in both. In order to be prepared, I like a heavy rod, depending on the size of fish I do not think a 9 or 10 wt is an overkill. Once you feel the pull of even a small Jack you will understand why. The best piece of advice I have for targeting Jacks is to do everything fast. If you are on foot and see one cruising, odds are it will be moving quick. You will want to run (yes actually run like Running Down The Man Style) to get in front of the fish. My go to flies for Jacks are large baitfish style flies that imitate mullet. You will want to get your fly out in front of the fish and strip fast. My big thing is to make the baitfish look like it is fleeing, because of this I start at a 50% strip speed and as the fish follows, I increase the speed. This is the difference from getting a follow versus getting an eat. If you start stripping as fast as you can, you won’t be able to increase the speed at all to trigger that eat. Another big thing to keep in mind when targeting a predatory fish like a Jack is the retrieval direction. You want to make sure you are set up at an angle to retrieve your fly like it is swimming away from the fish, not towards it.
Like most members of the carangidae family, Jacks are very efficient and adaptable, causing them to be able to live in a range of locations. Try targeting them and you will quickly understand why many consider them to be among the most underrated gamefish.
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Love Jacks… put most other to shame mano a mano!