Guides Joe Shute and Chris Kimrey of Atlantic Beach have a little secret to share.
A good portion of their regular clients actually want to target amberjack, a species that many anglers consider a pest when they’re targeting king mackerel, bottomfish or any number of other species around wrecks and reefs.
“You can’t believe how many people want to catch them,” Shute said, almost in disbelief.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of places where he and Kimrey can take their clients during the summer to put them on amberjack, aka “reef donkeys” for their strong, unyielding nature.
And when they get to those places, the AJs are only too willing to cooperate.
This morning, the two headed out from the docks behind Shute’s tackle shop on the Atlantic Beach Causeway (Capt. Joe’s Bait & Tackle), headed for the Hutton, a WWII tanker sunk by a German U-boat in 60 feet of water out of Beaufort Inlet.
“Amberjack will stay in about 55 to 60 feet of water,” said Shute (252-240-2744), who runs Fish Finder Charters. “That’s about as shallow as they will get. They’ll move around some, so I like to have about three different pieces of structure in a 6- to 7-mile area to check out.
The Hutton, which was more than 400 feet long when the Germans sent her to the bottom, is the biggest of the nearshore wrecks around the 10-fathom curve out of Atlantic Beach; at least two others are a couple of miles closer to the inlet, but in similar water depths.
It didn’t take Kimrey long to find the AJs, setting up upwind of the Hutton and slowly drifting across the structure. A 35-pound fish hit on the second drift. Using heavy spinning gear, Shute subdued the fish in about 10 minutes. Another 35-pounder came to the boat several minutes later, followed by a bonus – a 10-pound dolphin that ate one of the foot-long live menhaden that was the day’s preferred bait.
“When a lot of my parties first hooks up with an amberjack, the first thing they want to do is wind on him,” said Kimrey, who doubles as a taxidermist and has named his guide service, appropriately, Mount Maker Charters. “I tell ‘em, all you’re doing is twisting the line.”
It’s a lot easier, according to Kimrey (252-729-1563) to just kick the outboard in gear, hold on tight and just drag the amberjack away from the structure, where he can be wrestled into submission without allowing him to get back to the wreck and break off.
“They’ve got a nasty habit of staying on the highest part of a wreck,” he said.
Amberjack arrive around the 60-foot wrecks and reefs in May, according to Shute, and they stay around well into the fall. Kimrey said he’s caught them through the winter, but he has to run well offshore, almost to the Gulf Stream. Out there, he jigs them up on Butterfly jigs.
Kimrey and Shute drifted with two rods, both baited with live menhaden on circle hooks. One was swimming free at the surface, the other had a 4-ounce egg sinker keeping him down in the water column, typically somewhere between 25 and 40 feet, depending on where Kimrey’s fishfinder marked fish when he drifted across the structure.
“Mid-size or big (menhaden) are about all you need,” Shute said. “I like the mid-size baits better, because you can carry more of them in your livewell, and we like to throw some of them out as ‘live chum.’ It gets the amberjack excited.
“When I’ve got a fly-fishing charter, I fill the tank up with mid-size pogies and chum them all day.”
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