Catching Amberjacks In The Panhandle Region With Capt. Pat Dineen


Captain Pat DineenAmberjacks in my region are going to always be on the deep water structure, the deeper the structure, the larger the fish. They like natural bottom and man-made structures like the artificial reefs, with the best action in anywhere from 150 to 380 feet of water. 

When you get to the area you want to fish, make a drift over it before you put out the lines to get a feel for where the fish are holding and what they’re doing. They’ll usually be above the reef or wreck in 150 to 200 feet of water holding in a tight school. Mark the location, then motor back above that location, set the baits and drift towards the fish. 

When targeting amberjacks you want to use a fairly large, lively bait like a big threadfin or blue runner— something that can swim pretty fast and will try to get away from the fish. If you put a lethargic baitfish in front of the amberjacks, they usually won’t eat it. You want that fish to try to leave town when it sees them, and that will bring out their aggressiveness. 

The standard live bait rig is 40 to 60 pound braided line on a 6000 size spinning reel or large conventional reel and heavy action rod. The line should be tied to a three-way swivel, with a six to 12 ounce sash weight on one of the other loops and a 30 to 40 feet of 60 or 80 pound monofilament and an 8/0 circle hook on the other. You want a long leader so the bait has a lot of area to swim and try to elude the fish. That’s what gets the fish fired up, and when one amberjack gets fired up, it seems the entire school follow suit. 

You want to always fish several baits at a time, because if one guy hooks up, that hooked fish pulling hard will fire up the rest of the school and then everyone will be hooked up. You’ll go from nothing happening to everyone in the boat fighting a fish. 

We’ll also target the fish with jigging spoons like a Williamson Vortex Jig. We’ll do that with spinning tackle and 40 pound braided line. The fast action of the jigs really fires the fish up, but most of the amberjacks we catch on speed jigs are smaller fish. Usually the bigger baits weed out some of the smaller fish. 

The smaller amberjacks are usually on the shallow reefs and wrecks in like 65 to 100 feet of water, and those fish can be live-chummed to the surface using juvenile pilchards or sardines, and then you can target them with topwater plugs or flies. You really need calm days to do that, and every now and then a big amberjack will show up in the mix, so you always want to have a heavy rod ready to pitch to any big fish.

Captain’s Tip of the Week #18 Amberjack - 2015
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