De Bar Jack is a wondrous fish
Swims by the reef and tastes good in de dish
He bite on a buck tail, swim fast as he can,
to keep his fillets out of the pan.
When I do pull one into the boat,
My mouth waters enough to keep it afloat.
We clean him and fry him fast as we can
And all who do eat him
Exclaim, Oh Man!
There’s an old saying that goes, “if you give a man a fish he’ll soon go hungry, but if you teach him to fish, he’ll feed his family”. Years ago while enjoying one of our sailing sabbaticals in the Bahamas, we met a couple on a vessel named “Nomad”, Graham and Jeanne Jahelka, and they shared lots of good things with us. One of the best things they shared was how to catch Bar Jacks. The Bahamians call them Passing Jacks because they always “be just passing by. ” I once speared a grouper that I was unfamiliar with and asked a local if this grouper was edible. He told me that his brother liked it and his “sister ate dem, but his daddy eat one and liked to die mon”. You really do need local knowledge to eat reef fish, because some have cigatera and in some cases can kill a healthy adult. I once ate a fish pie in Puerto Rico and it put me in the Hospital Gruben in Fajardo. There were no pillows or sheets and my Spanish was malo and it was a real island experience. Every morning about 0500 the same five people would come in and lay hands on me and pray up a storm. I won’t go into details about symptoms, but your inner float switch goes haywire and you pump from both ends until you get severely dehydrated and humbled. I got well in about six days and vowed to learn enough Spanish to know what type of fish I was about to eat. Don’t confuse the Bar Jack with the Yellow Jack. If you catch a Jack and as soon as you pull him free of the water he turns light yellow, put that boy back where he came from if you don’t want to tangle with fish poisoning.
The Bar Jack has a dark bluish purple lateral line just below his dorsal fin. Now, one of the nice things about fishing for Bar Jacks comes in the winter in the Bahamas when it’s too cold to go free diving for dinner. You can have enough fish to eat in under an hour if you know how and where. Now let’s get down to making the bait. You use a #2 hook and some yellow polypropylene (float rope) and some white, green or red dental floss. For you fresh water anglers, the hook size is like for crappie or bream. Unlay 4″ section of float rope. Now fold the float line alongside the shank and wrap it down with dental floss and do a simple seize. Next take some scissors and cut a straight skirt about a quarter inch past the curved portion of the hook and you now have a lure that will catch permit (don’t eat), barracuda (don’t eat), grouper (do eat), only Nassau grouper and please not over 5 – 8 pounds to be on the safe side. You will also catch needle fish. The locals eat it but the green meat puts me off a bit. Don’t eat the Yellow Jacks, but do eat the Bar Jacks as they are a tasty treat from the sea.
I have probably eaten a cockpit full of them and the only thing that has happened to me is that I got full, happy and sleepy. I usually use a strong nylon leader because the old “cuda” will hit this lure and you’ll loose a lot of lures with only twelve pound test line on light tackle. One year I made a rod out of 1/2″ PVC pipe and an old cheap Zebco reel hose clamped to the pipe and a home made eye. We caught a lot of fish with that Goldburg rig. I prefer an open face reel with a light rod and a twelve pound test. We usually go to Wal-Mart and by two of those under $20.00 outfits in case we loose one or hook up to something that breaks various portions of the rig.
Now let’s go catch fish! Get in your motorized dinghy boat with your light tackle and homemade Bar Jack lure, five gallon bucket and fillet knife and lets have some fun mon. I usually go after two and before five in the winter or really anytime you like. You need to let out at least 60′ of line and troll at about two knots. The jacks swim by areas where the water changes depth abruptly along ledges, heads or sand bars. You have to jig the rig very fast with a fast wrist action that takes some small amount of stamina. These fish average between 1 and 1 1/2 lbs. but we have caught them in the Turks and Caicos that approached 4 lbs. They are real good fighters for their size and are a hoot to catch. I like to hook them up and let my daughter reel them in. I can eat about 3 – 4 fish and if they are around, You’ll soon have enough for all. They clean real easy, just fillet, skin and cut the pin bones out of the center of the fillet and you end up with four boneless strips of fish that are delicious. I Must admit to liking them the best coated with half corn meal and half flour and deep fat fried, but you just take your favorite fish recipe and substitute Bar Jacks and you have got a fish that rates high in my opinion.
We’ll talk boats next time, and if you need to know how to make the jig or how to jig the rig, stop by and we’ll tie one up and discuss the finer points of Bar Jack fishing. Happy Sailing and remember, The Lord Loves Sailors.
© Neil K. Haynes November 28, 1997