Fishing

Anglers of the Caribbean, Part II: Meeting Captain Jack

Earlier this summer, my wife and I enjoyed an unforgettable adventure in Belize — a trip made all the more memorable by the do-it-yourself fishing charter I wrote about in Part I.

In three days of fishing off Turneffe Atoll, I caught more than a dozen ocean species. From bonefish and barracuda to snappers, grunts and trunkfish, I never quite knew what my next catch would be.

But of all the fish I tangled with in the Caribbean, my absolute favorite was the bar jack.

I did most of my fishing on and around the resort pier. Using some snorkel reconnaissance — a nifty trick I’d like to try on freshwater — I learned that most fish stay pretty close to the pier, using the wooden, barnacle-covered structure as protection from rolling waves, big barracudas and hungry frigate birds.

But the bar jack is a different animal. The locals have an island name for them that means “wanderer,” and it’s a spot-on nickname.

Whereas many species hang out in the same area all day, small schools of bar jacks will suddenly appear, frantically hunt down any small baitfish in the vicinity, and then move on down the coast like a pack of marauders.

I was jigging for snappers one morning when my first group of bar jacks came through. I quickly reeled in and tossed my white squid lure out in front of the school. One jig. Two jigs. WHAM! The biggest fish in the school pounced on the squid, and chaos ensued.

Jacks are tuna-like, lightning-fast muscle torpedoes. This was a good-sized fish, roughly 20 inches long. It zipped and zagged through the water, making every attempt to wrap my line around the pier. As it swam, other jacks, snappers and toothy needlefish gave chase, creating an almost comical scene as they darted to and fro.

After a lengthy fight, I lifted the fish onto the pier. One of the snorkel instructors, Natalie, gave a big thumbs up.

“Nice jack!” she exclaimed. “Great eatin’. Take it to the kitchen — they’ll cook it for you.”

I tied the fish to a stringer and quickly cast back into the sea. BOOM! Less than five seconds after hitting the water, the squid was inhaled by another good-sized jack. The scene unfolded in nearly identical fashion, and I eventually hauled in a second jack for the dinner table.

The mayhem repeated itself throughout the week — a school of jacks would come through, I’d immediately catch one or two, and the rest would disappear as quickly as they’d shown up. On my last day, I caught a nearly two-foot-long jack that swam within inches of my feet as I waded off the beach and then annihilated my lure less than 10 feet in front of me.

What a thrill!

I’ll always remember the bar jack as a perfect ocean game fish. Fast, hyper-aggressive and capable of the long, forearm-burning runs every angler craves, they were one of the highlights of my time in Belize. And Natalie was right — the filets were delicious!

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.

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