What is a Jack Crevalle?
To be successful fishing Jack Crevalle, it’s helpful to know a bit about this fish, its habits, and its habitat. Most fish have several common names. That means, if you’re fishing the Northeast, the fish you’re after could go by a completely different name than if you’re fishing the Gulf. So, it’s handy to know a few of those names. The best way to refer to a specific fish is by its scientific name. While this might not help much in casual conversation, it will narrow down your search effectively if you’re trying to get information (like maps, regulations, populations) from places like the Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey, and NOAA. This section will cover all of that info and then some.
The scientific name of Jack Crevalle is Caranx hippos, but it has many common names. Depending on what region you’re in, you might hear this fish called: common jack, crevalle jack, black-tailed trevally, couvalli jack, black cavalli, jack crevale, kingfish, horse-eye jack, caballi, cabalo, couvalli jack, green jack, horse crevalle, horse mackerel or yellow cavalli. Those are just the English names. You can find many more names for the same fish in Spanish, French, and Portugeues. Jack Crevalle is related to other gamefish like the Pacific jack mackerel and the giant trevally. Jack Crevalle are usually around three to five pounds, but can get up to twenty. They’re usually between one and two feet long, the females being the larger of the two. They have a blunt profile with a steeply sloping head. The fish has two dorsal fins, the second having a matching fin underneath the fish. The top half of the fish is a green-gold to blue-green color and the underside is often bright yellow or silvery yellow. You’ll find two black spots on either side of the Jack Crevalle, one on each gill cover and one on each pectoral fin. The throat of this fish has no scales, just skin. Like a lot of fish, the young ones have a completely different coloration, swapping it out as they age. The juvenile Jack Crevalle are striped with five dark vertical bands across their bodies.
Jack Crevalle are top level predators and are abundant in their home ranges. For this reason, the ICUN has classified them as species of least concern. However, make sure to always check local rules and regulations on catch size and number regardless. They breed in large schools, but often pair off and move away from the group to spawn. Males reach adulthood in about four to five years and the females reach maturity in another year. Their breeding season is year long, another factor that leads to their high numbers. When they’re about to spawn, they congregate by the hundreds or even thousands. Each female is likely to lay a million or so eggs in her lifetime. Jack Crevalle can live upwards of ten years. The oldest known fish of this species was 17 years old. Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine has a very comprehensive article about Jack Crevalle, that you can read here.
Where to find a Jack Crevalle?
With large schools of hundreds of individuals, you might think it’s easy to spot a school of Jack Crevalle. You’d be right, but only if you know where to look. Since the world is around 70% water, there’s a lot of room for fish to move around in. So, let’s look at not only where in the world you’re most likely to find Jack Crevalle, but what type of water they live in and what they interact with in their own habitats. This section will cover what to look for on the surface to find the fish underneath.
Jack Crevalle can be found on the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia down to Uruguay, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the East Atlantic including the Mediterranian. They prefer warm water in the mid-60’s to low-70’s and different salinities, depending on their life stage. The biggest adult Jacks are found in deep water at depths of up to 300 feet. When hanging out offshore, these fish like to be in the surf in an area with a flat sandy bottom, but they also gravitate to wreckage and artificial reefs. The juveniles prefer brackish water and usually live in shallow upstream currents. Most Jack Crevalle stick to saltwater above 30 ppt (parts per thousand).
When fishing any top feeding species, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out on both ends of the food chain: the animals that eat them and the animals they eat. Both are normally much easier to spot than the target fish simply because the surface of the water disrupts your view. Some fish are really good at hiding too, using cover and camouflage to disguise themselves. In the case of Jacks, look to the skies. Seagulls, pelicans, and ospreys don’t always go after a fish that big, but often catch the same fish Jacks eat. Follow these birds when they’re diving and you’re likely to find schools of baitfish. Minnows, shad, and anchovies will froth up the surface waters, sometimes in an area the size of a football field. Find these guys and you’ll find the Jack, bass, and other predatory fish. For a world map of Jack Crevalle ranges, check this one from Wikipedia.
Best Bait for Jack Crevalle
These fish are diurnal, so you’re much more likely to find Jack Crevalle feeding in the daytime than at night. They can hunt all levels of the water, top to bottom, when they’re not drawn to a big school of minnows or shad. Since they’re the peak predators in their habitats, they have a wide variety when it comes to their diet. Bottom dwellers like crab, shrimp, and other crustaceans are fair game. If you are witness to a surface feeding frenzy, cast your bait right into the middle of the action and be prepared for a fight. Jack crevalle are strong, lively fish that will not submit easily. Ensure that your line and rig are up to it.
Hands down, the best bait for Jack is live bait. Whatever they’re eating in the area is good. You can even fish for the bait in that spot before you hook it and cast your line for the bigger fish. Mullet is always a good choice. You can also use sardines and anchovies. Check local forums and talk to shop owners to find out what’s biting that day. Nose hooking your live bait is the most effective method. A lively, fast-moving bait will attract more attention from Jack Crevalle than a limp, dying one so be sure you’re keeping your live bait fresh and alive. There are several options on the market for this, like round portable baitwells, baitfish nets, and DIY cooler setups. Just make sure the bait don’t sit around in the sun and have enough oxygen in their water. In a well, make sure there’s a bubbler to keep the water moving. Check out our article on peanut bunker for more live bait tips and tricks. Match your bait size to the size of Jacks you’re after: bigger bait for a larger catch. Remember, the deeper the water, the bigger the Jack Crevalle are likely to be.
When rigging live bait, there are a couple of ways to go: you can put a ring-eye hook through a mullet just behind the upper jaw, hook it through the cartilage near the ventral fin, add a wire and trailer hook through its back, or you can dangle it from a kite. Use a high-ratio reel that’s quick to retrieve, a couple hundred yards of 20 lb test mono, and a saltwater rod.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of keeping live bait in the boat, but still want to go with a natural option, you can use cut segments of bait fish. Worms aren’t normally in this fish’s natural diet, so are not likely to be effective bait. Squid and shrimp, on the other hand, are good choices. You could also throw on a chunk of crawdad for variety. For more on nose hooking live bait or lures, check out this Louisiana Sportsman article.
Best Lures for Jack Crevalle
Jack Crevalle is an aggressive fish that loves the chase. So, when choosing a lure, you want something that’s going to move fast, provide a smooth retrieve, and attract attention. Spoons and jigs are both good choices. For a spoon, pick out something shiny. One good choice is Cabela’s Casting Spoon. It can cast for a good long range and its shape and silver body make for a great minnow mimic. There are a few color options for this lure, but the silver one will get you the most strikes. A Dardevle spoon is another great option. These guys come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the target you’re after. The hammered nickel finish will catch the light in surface waters and look like a sardine. Hopkins also makes a hammered spoon that’s effective against Jack Crevalle. It comes in silver or gold finish, either of which should be shiny enough for this fish.
A soft plastic dressed jig that moves swiftly through the water is another popular option. These can sometimes be dull looking lures, so make sure you’re selecting carefully for features that will reflect light. A Lunker City Fin-S lure in either the black ice or the smoke pepper frost colors is swift and sparkly. The Storm Wildeye Live Sardine lure looks exactly like a sardine and has lifelike holographic eyes. One very affordable choice is the Sea Striker Got-Cha Shad, which comes in a 10-pack of bodies for around four bucks. You will have to invest in some jigs for the Sea Striker, since they’re not already on a hook.
When you do hook a Jack and fight it back to the boat, decide quickly what you’re going to do with your catch. If you plan to release the Jack, it’s best to keep it in the water as much as you can and don’t handle the main body of the fish. These fish are coated with a protective layer of slime. If that layer is compromised, say by a pair of dry human hands, they’re left open to a range of parasites and bacteria that can infect and kill the fish. For you own safety, remember that Jacks will fight just as hard out of the water as they did when on the retrieve. They’ve got sharp dorsal spines and very strong jaws. Do not put your fingers inside the fish’s mouth without securing it open with something else if you want to hang onto your digits.
How to Cook a Jack Crevalle
A lot of people elect to release a Jack Crevalle when they catch them because they’re not known to be the tastiest of fish. That said, a lot of people who hesitated because of this fish’s reputation have found out later they really enjoy eating it. It’s a very bloody fish and for this reason some anglers swear it tastes just like filet mignon. There are several recipes that look promising for cooking this large fish.
The Florida Sportsman suggests three delicious sounding preparations for Jack Crevalle. First, they floured and sauteed the fish filets with smoked tomato, red pepper, and a splash of white wine. Then, they threw some filets on the grill and dressed them with a drizzle of prickly pear puree. Finally, they chopped the leftovers into chunks and fried them with a crispy cornflake crust. Because of its likeness to red meat, the Pensacola News Journal recommends this recipe for Jack Crevalle Prime Rib with Horseradish White Barbeque Sauce. What can go wrong with scallions, fresh rosemary, and butter?
Don’t know where to start when facing a whole fish? Our article, Can You Eat a Jack Crevalle, has great tips on how to clean and fillet a Jack Crevalle.