It’s pronounced kri-VA-lē, sounding just like its Australian cousin the trevally. I’m guilty of consistently mispronouncing the fish’s name for as long as I can remember. But no matter how you say it, crevalle jacks (which many refer to as jack crevalle) will have another menhaden or mullet or pilchard or pinfish or whatever baitfish or lure you have available. They aren’t picky, and their agreeable appetite is what makes crevalle jacks my favorite fish.
More than 20 years ago, my dad and his friend Jamie hatched a plan to catch an International Game Fish Association line class record crevalle jack. We chased jacks every summer for several years, sometimes five days a week. Spend that much time with any fish, and you gain an appreciation for the way it carries out its daily life. Jacks are traveling, ambushing, eating machines.
We dogged crevalle jacks from daylight until just before noon. Once the sun was high, their wild, topwater aggression subsided, and they became harder to follow, harder to locate. But the morning action could get out of hand. Shrimp boats, especially when the shrimpers were culling their bycatch through the scuppers, were crevalle jack magnets.
One August morning, we idled up behind a shrimp boat that was being mobbed by jacks. Their broad white flanks and yellow fins and tails churned the water as dead fish from the shrimp boat’s nets were shoveled overboard. The nets still dangled over the water from the outriggers, and a dead sea trout was gilled in the net’s mesh, above the water’s surface. A voracious jack hurled itself out of the water, grabbed the sea trout and wriggled down the net, back into the tannin-stained water.
Seeing fish feed with wild abandonment as they ignore obvious risk is one of the most addictive parts of fishing. Crevalle jacks make a lifestyle out of this rarely seen behavior. They will hurl themselves onto the beach to attack a mullet they’ve corralled in shallow water. When you land a jack, they give you that castigating grunt of two bony plates rubbing together, as if to say, Put me back. There are baitfish to be eaten.
Another memorable encounter with my favorite fish was in my youth, when I was first discovering saltwater fishing. I was fishing a pier that jutted into Florida’s Pensacola Bay on a hot, windless day. I thought I was well on my way to knowing everything already, but an older gentleman walked up to me and asked if I had a live bait ready. He didn’t have any tackle with him and didn’t appear to be fishing, so I was intrigued and said, “Yes, sir.”
He lowered his voice, discreetly pointed in the distance and said, “Do you see those funny ripples on the water, right off that point? Those are jacks, son. Get ready.”
That school was more than 200 yards away, but the fish were following the tide straight toward the pier. I dangled my live pilchard in the water with enough line out to make a fast cast, then watched the jacks close in.
“Get your bait out there before they get too close,” the man said.
I did as instructed and was the first person on the pier to hook up. Mayhem ensued. Jacks swarmed the pier, chasing, swiping, gulping. Only three of us ended up landing crevalle jacks. Everyone else was either ill-prepared or entangled in the pier or in others’ tackle and lost their fish.
Once I landed mine, I thanked the man. And I’ve been thankful for crevalle jacks ever since.