Jacks, Amberjacks, and Pompanos: Family Carangidae
Species: Trachurus symmetricus (Ayres, 1855); from the Greek words trachus (rough) and oura (tail), and the Latin word symmetria (symmetrical or regularly shaped). A member of the jack family Carangidae.
Alternate Names: Spanish mackerel, Spaniard, California horse mackerel, mackerel jack, saurel, agii and jackfish. Called horse mackerel and scad by 19th century fishermen. In Mexico called charrito or charitto chicharo.
Identification: Typical jack shape although slim. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin extend almost to the caudal fin. On the side, along the lateral line, there is a ridge extending almost the entire length of the fish. Their coloring is iridescent green above, sometimes with a bluish luster, often mottled with lighter and darker shades; silvery on the belly.
Size: To 32 inches; most caught off piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 8 oz and was taken at Huntington Beach in 1988.
Range: Gulf of California to the Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska.
Habitat: Pelagic in nature, preferring moderately deep water although ranges from the surface down to 150 feet. Often found in schools with Pacific mackerel and sardines. Primarily feeds on large copepods, euphausids, pteropods, squid and small fish.
Piers: Most common to southern California and the central coast. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier and Hermosa Beach Pier. Some years will see large schools of these fish at the Central Coast piers—Avila, Port San Luis, Monterey Wharf #2, Seacliff State Beach Pier and the Santa Cruz Wharf. I have also had reports of good catches of jack mackerel at the “B” Street Pier in Crescent City, which is just a short distance south of the Oregon border. The fish in Crescent City seem to show up from late August to September and typically are good-sized fish, 22-28 inches long, the kind that are more commonly taken out in deep water by anglers trolling for salmon.
Shoreline: Occasionally taken by shore anglers, primarily in southern California bays.
Boats: An infrequent species from boats.
Bait and Tackle: Usually caught near the top of the water; often found in mixed schools with Pacific mackerel (and sometimes Pacific sardines). When present, jack mackerel can be caught on a variety of tackle and baits. Light to medium tackle, a size 6 or 4 hook, and a live anchovy (especially small pinhead anchovies), can be deadly. Many are also caught on small lures, every thing from small bonito jigs, to Scampis, to small feathers. Often times bait rigs can also produce a lot of fish: simply tie several shiny size 8 hooks to your line. In central California, Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait leaders are the most common rigging. Many times a cast, followed by a slow retrieve, will see the jack mackerel follow the bait nearly to the surface and then strike just before the line leaves the water. Best months are usually July through September.
Food Value: Fair food value, somewhat oily. The common name was changed from horse mackerel to jack mackerel by the DF&G in 1947 in order to increase the consumer appeal of the fish. In other words, it was done to (hopefully) help the fish canning companies make a little more money. Companies that had seen the sardines disappear along with cans of sardines and profits!
Comments: Small jack mackerel are favorite baits for white seabass and yellowtail. A close relative and very similar looking fish, the Mexican scad, is occasionally seen in California; the scad have an orange or reddish stripe on the side. The one and only one I have caught was at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon.