Jack attack!

Mangrove jacks are inherently cool fish. Tough, aggressive and willing scoffers of baits, lures and flies, the jack is a mainstay of tropical sportfishing. They are definitely up there in my personal top 10 of favourite sportfish, not least because a fresh jack fillet is one of the tastiest fish meals you can get.

Last week I was lucky enough to revisit one of my most-loved fishing scenarios: the famous “jack attack”. For the uninitiated, this means a red-hot session to end all red-hot sessions.

Together with well-known Territory guide Mark West and fellow angler Damian Kerves from Rapala, I was fishing a small creek junction in a coastal estuary system about 40 minutes boat ride from Melville Island Lodge, where we were staying. We’d travelled far up the system and had reached a section of river where the water was stained dark with the tannin coloured freshwater still flowing off the surrounding floodplains. There was a nice looking bushy snag at the base of a small mangrove island dividing the water flow.

According to Westy, who has guided these productive waters for many years, jacks really like a snag with lots of fine branches, dead leaves and cover. I was on point at the bow and flicked a goldy coloured Rapala X-Rap 10 into a gap between the branches. I’d barely clicked the reel into gear when there was a surge, splash and instant bust-off. That had been a big fish. A barra or a monster jack? There was only one way to find out.

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Rapala’s Damian Kerves and another solid jack.

Damo flicked a cast in while I re-rigged and was rewarded with a solid jack of about 40cms. I quickly tied on a pearl white X-Rap and instantly scored a slightly smaller fish on my first cast back in. Damo had already landed two other fish by the time my fish had been released. Westy expertly positioned the 6.5m plate boat to allow us maximum casting efficiency and from then on kept busy dodging from the wheel to the net, unhooking and releasing fish as our whoops and yells of delight woke up the fruit bats nesting in the surrounding mangroves, causing them to start chittering and squawking as what seemed like an endless procession of fiery red mangrove jacks crashed our lures and tried to bury us in the snags.

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Well known NT guide Warren “Wazza” Smith displays a lighter coloured model.

The jack attack lasted for maybe 15 minutes. We boated probably 12 fish, had as many again miss strikes or fall off the hooks and also landed a couple of small barra. The bite slowed as the incoming tide caught us up, causing the eddy around the snag to dissipate and slow. The final fish we caught was a fat old cod. If a cod gets in on the act, it’s always a signal the jacks and barra have gone quiet.

The jacks we landed coughed up a variety of small baitfish, plenty of crabs and one of the bigger ones had a small snake protruding out of his throat. They smashed our X-Raps with gusto, their sharp teeth scratching the paintwork off the tough plastic lures. At the end of the day, after yet more jack attacks and plenty of small to middling barra, plus cod, tarpon and the usual juvenile queenies and GTs, my favourite white/pearly X-Rap was beaten up, almost totally devoid of colour and had had two sets of trebles bent, straightened and refitted. Jacks have no respect for bright, shiny new lures…

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This white pearl X-Rap was a great jack producer.

Check out the September issue of Fisho for a full run-down of my Melville Island trip, which will include details of a session in the famous Goose creek, offshore trips targeting macks, cobes and trevally and plenty of barra action, plus reports on how Rapala’s latest lures performed. In the meantime, go to to find out more about this top class sportfishing resort.

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Plenty of 40cm + jacks were caught in Melville’s unspoilt creeks and rivers.

As well as jacks there were plenty of barra and archer fish hungry for lures. 

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