The Greater Amberjack is among the most popular recreational species targeted off Florida’s East Coast. When Amberjacks are talked about, most Floridians are referring to the Greater Amberjack. Their ‘lesser’ counterparts and other similar species just do not reach the same length.
AJ’s make for great table fare; perfect for the grill, smoker, or the oven. They put up a great fight which will just boost your hunger! Whether you are looking for a hearty dinner or a good fight, greater amberjacks are always a fun species.
Greater AJs Appearance
Greater Amberjacks (sometimes called Amberfishes or AJs) will have a brownish, olive green or bluish-grey back that fades into silvery-white sides. They are thinner than their Crevalle counterparts. The dark stripe that runs along their side from their nose to the front of their dorsal fin will ‘light up’ when in feeding mode. Amberjacks anal fins are about 2/3 the size of their second dorsal fin.
Upon catching or cleaning this species, watch out for their 11-19 gill rakers on either side of their gill arch. AJs can reach up to 60 in (176lbs) but are mostly caught at around 40 in and under 40 lbs. The Greater Amberjack is the largest of the Jack species.
Juvenile Amberjacks will have a more yellow and silvery color to their bodies. The smaller juveniles will have transparent fins. Until they mature, they will also display 6 dark vertical bars along their sides. Greater Amberjack generally mature between 3-4 years of age.
The females of the species tend to live and grow longer than the males. This species spawns primarily from March – June, depending on location. They typically spawn near reefs and shipwrecks. Females have been known to release approx. 18-59 million eggs during a single spawning season. Greater Amberjacks have been known to live for up to 17 years!
Where Can I Find Amberjacks?
Amberjacks are primarily an offshore species. They are commonly found swimming around rocky reefs, wrecks, offshore caves and drop-offs. Adult AJs have been known to lurk in waters between 60-240 ft deep. This is not to discount that the largest of the Amberjacks can be found in even deeper waters. In south Florida, nearer to the Gulf Stream, they have also been caught near-shore.
Juvenile Amberjacks are attracted to floating objects and debris. The younger, smaller AJs tend to stick to waters of 30 feet or less. However, they can be found rather far offshore surrounding floating algae pockets. Greater Amberjacks are often solitary swimmers or, at max, in small to moderate size schools.
Globally, you can find Amberjacks in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and even the Indian Ocean. They like subtropical and tropical seas throughout the world. Locally, you can find most of these fish in the Gulf of Mexico and down into the Caribbean.
Rules & Regulations
Greater Amberjack are monitored differently on either coast of Florida. Gulf state and federal waters require a minimum fork length of 34” and 1 fish per person per day. The gulf offers a month-long mini season in May and then opens for its regular season August 1st – through October 31st. The Atlantic state and federal waters call for a minimum fork length of 28”. You can only bag 1 fish per person per day, but the season is open year-round!
Part of the monitoring requires specific gear to be used. Legal gear for the Greater Amberjack includes spears, seine nets, gigs, cast nets and hook & Line. The Greater Amberjack is part of the reef fish program, meaning the reef fishing gear requirements also apply. Some of these requirements include circle hooks when using natural baits and that a dehooking device be on-hand for instances when they will be re-released back into their natural habitat.
Fishing Tips & Tricks
To start, Amberjacks are generally not picky or shy so you can make as much noise as you want and use endless varieties of gear. Just about any ‘lively’ bait will attract these fish, especially when they are excited. With the lack of picky-ness, it is not getting this species to bite that is the problem, it’s the fight they put up afterwards.
When riled up, they have been known to break the surface in an explosive jump. Greater Amberjacks have great endurance and put up strong fights. They do not tend to tire easily and are likely to fight the whole way up to your boat. While most Amberjacks are caught in the pelagic zone or closer to the seabed, chumming the water can effectively bring them up to the surface.
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The average line needed for this species is 60-100 lb. test; although, if you are targeting smaller Amberjacks, you could probably get away with lighter tackle. With the severity of the fights, you will want to have a sturdy backboned rod. To avoid broken or lost lines, it is imperative to have the drag pre-set to match the strength of the angler and the equipment.
Spinning tackle or conventional tackle can be used. If you are looking for more of a challenge, spinning tackle can give you a run for your money but beware of the AJs taking your line too close to their structured habitats. Conventional tackle will give you more of a chance to pull the fish away from their safety structures and into the open water. Another popular angling technique is to troll the surface using live and artificial baits.
Adults like to feed on squid, crustaceans, and other small reef fish. Juveniles will likely feed on plankton, crustacean larvae, and other small invertebrates. Baitfish that are commonly used when targeting Greater Amberjacks include: blue runners, pinfish, mullet, sardines, cigar minnows and the list goes on. Their aggressive nature makes them a perfect fish for vertical jigs. Spoons and diving plugs should also catch the eager AJs’ eyes.
Preparing Your Greater Amberjack
While Amberjack fillets can be found in your neighborhood grocery stores, these fillets are not as common in chain grocery stores as Amberjack lovers would hope. It is more likely that you will find them at your local seafood or meat market. If you cannot find them there, we suggest going out and capturing one on your own; we promise you will not be disappointed with the fight. Fresh is always better!
When cleaning and preparing your catch, it is suggested to remove the first few inches from the tail. Amberjacks have been known to be infested with worms; removing the portion above the tail will remove the worms and any portion of the fillet that should have been contaminated by them. When filleting the fish, be sure to remove any bloodline that runs through the fish. The red portions will carry a distinct fishy flavor into your dish, and you do not want that.
Amberjack is best eaten fresh. When cooked fresh, the meat remains tender and has virtually no oily-fish flavor. Once prepared, Amberjack fillets are extremely versatile. You can fry, broil, bake and grill them. The AJs also make for fantastic smoked fish.
AJs can be cooked in a variety of cuisines across the globe. Blackened Amberjack is a popular tactic. When fresh, the fish is so sweet, tender, and tasty on its own that many will use a simple salt & pepper seasoning and plop it on the grill. Does that make your mouth water? Try our simply grilled Greater Amberjack recipe. Marinating in citrus is always a win with whitefish. Whatever you do, do not add salt to your marinade because it may tighten the meat and reverse the goal of the marinade.
Greater Amberjacks are not a shy species and are readily available for catching. Use moderate tackle with natural bait or lively artificial lures to attract them to your line. Once caught, be sure to brace for the fight to come; enjoy the chase and work up an appetite. Cook up your catch your favorite way and enjoy!
Remember to fish responsibly. Amberjacks are often caught by accident. If you by-caught the fish, choose whether to keep or release quickly. Sport fisherman should humanely dehook their catch and release them gently and alive. Family fisherman who plan to keep the catch for dinner, be sure to only take what you will use.