It’s a hot summer day off Miami. The sundial shows half past 12 and the fish box is empty. Our customers are drenched in sweat and complaining about the broken a/c and the lack of fish. I keep reassuring them it’ll all be worth it. I’ve been through this before and I always find the fish. We spent the entire morning trolling east with a spread of feathers, ballyhoo combos, and daisy chains. There was a bit of chatter on the radio with a few dolphin being caught but reports were few and far between.
Moral was low but i kept thinking to myself, “this isn’t amateur hour. I’m a winner, we’re going to find fish and show these customers who’s boss.” I was in the middle of a conversation with myself when I hear Kristjan yell at the top of his lungs, “Big floater!” He slammed the binoculars down, pushed a customer out of the way and frantically retrieved the spread. I put the boat on plane and thought to myself, “we’re gonna be ****ing heroes.”
Kris wasn’t kidding. As we got closer I realized this wasn’t your average floater. There were 4 frigate birds falling out of the sky in a circular rhythm. One after another they were hitting the deck as massive sprays of flying fish breached the surface. The floater was a royal palm, over 10 feet in length. I knew it was about to get real. I pulled the boat off plane and yelled at Kris to pitch a bait as we got closer. A shadow the size of the boat rose from the depths and his bait disappeared the instant it hit the water. The blackjacks were SWARMING.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Miami’s blackjack fishery, it’s difficult to explain. Unless you’ve gone FAD fishing in Costa Rica or bait and switched a big blue on the North Drop, you probably haven’t experienced excitement quite like a large frenzy of blackjacks. Blackjacks, otherwise known as “Pelagic Perch” or “Black Gold “ are ferocious little bastards that travel in large schools off Miami, particularly during the summertime. Like any trophy fish, blackjack fishing success requires planning, patience, and execution.
Blackjacks are difficult to target with most traditional techniques so we usually resort to bait and switch bucktail fishing if we’re looking to fill the box. The key to getting blackjacks fired up is to buy about a dozen bucktail jigs (3/4 or 1 ounce), use bolt cutters to break the hooks off, and tie one on every rod on the boat. When you roll up on a school of solid fish, have your anglers cast in every direction (preferably in a criss-cross pattern). Next, have your anglers retrieve the bucktails at full speed until the jig hits the rod tip. After the rod tip breaks, have them reel the handle backwards until it comes off (this comes naturally for most customers). At this point you should have at least 6 combos with no handles and broken rod tips. Put these rods away. After bait and switching the blackjacks properly, the whole school should be in a frenzy. You can tell a blackjack is fired up because the bar on its side will turn extra black.
We like to use an extra heavy goggle eye quill on a 50 wide for blackjacks (any lighter and you risk losing the combo entirely). DO NOT take the rod out of the rod holder. The designated blackjack rod should be spooled with at least 50 lb monofilament and be placed in a reinforced rod holder with a backing plate.
The thrill of hooking 10 blackjacks at once is really indescribable. We like to use a 2lb lead and only fish one rod while blackjack fishing for safety reasons. If you have done everything right up to this point, the technique is fairly simple. Drop the weight in the water, wait about 10 seconds, then hold on! If the rod isn’t ripped out of the boat, you should have a stringer of tasty morsels ready to be de-hooked in the boat. We like to use a 50 gallon garbage can for the dehooking process. Once the garbage can is full, use 2 people to dump it in the fish box. Most old timers would agree that blackjacks taste better after curing in the sun for a few hours. If you hit the motherload toward the end of a trip, ice is optional.
If you are charter fishing, be sure to tell your customers that blackjacks are an invasive species and highly venomous. If you play your cards correctly, you should be left with a box full of blackjacks and a maximum 5% tip. The best part about blackjacks is they can be Illegally sold right off the dock after the charter! We like to do a BOGO sale for blackjacks. A 50 gallon trash can full of blackjacks should be at least 800 fish. If you sell the blackjacks at $5 a piece and emphasize that they are “buy one get one free,” you should sell out in no time. 400 pairs of blackjacks at $5 per combo is $2,000 in revenue! Who cares about the 5% tip and the bad reviews?! You have more money than god!