Gold Coast Jacks – Cody Hochen 2017

Until recently, I had never(in my 25 odd years of fishing) fully enjoyed a fishing trip that I donuted, while being out-fished and out-classed by my fishing partner. This was until late December whenI accompanied the jack legend himself, John Costello,witnessing my first 50cm Gold Coast mangrove jack. I might even say that this particular trip would be in my top ten fishing trips.

I have never had a chance to target mangrove jack on the Gold Coast apart from the odd incidental bycatch while chasing bream. A few months ago, I asked John if he would be interested in taking me out for a fish in one of the canals on the Gold Coast to chase the elusive SEQ mangrove jack. As well as trying to catch a jack, my other objectivewas to pick John’s brainto get the good oil for catchingSEQ jack in order to pass onto Fish and Boat readers.

John Costello is a mangrove jack guru. He has dedicated the past 10 years chasing jacksalong the Australia’s east coast. His passion however, is catching them in his home systems of the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast mangrove jack fishing takes dedication. Every successful jack fisherman I know, targets themand nothing else at least once or twice per week. There are likely to be many donuts and small fish, but the anticipation of a 60cm jack hitting the deck keeps them coming back time after time. This is why anglers like John are addicted to this style of fishing. John’s record of nine consecutive sessions without a fish would make the most dedicated fisherman walk away with their tail between their legs. However, on his tenth session everything came together, resulting in multiple jacks hitting his deck as if they felt sorry for him. He has produced two DVDs: ‘The Jack Guide – Monster Jacks’ and ‘The Jack Guide – Mangrove Jacks’. If you want to learn how to catch big jacks out of the canals, creeks and rivers on the Gold Coast, ‘Monster Jacks’ is a great place to start. The first fish caughton the DVDis an excellent example of the rewards of Gold Coast jack fishing: ideal conditions, a perfect cast, an epic battle, and the ‘holy grail’ 60cms of mangrove jack. This is further portrayed throughout the DVD, with manymore monster jacks and some memorablewipe-outs.

To the fishing


John’s plan was to fish one of his local haunts for the morning, Currumbin Creek, taking advantage of the entire out-going tide. Currumbin Creek is a much smaller system compared with the Nerang, Coomera and Tweed Rivers, though it receives a lot less pressure. John assured me it is home to some great jacks. Despite beingonly 20 minutes from Surfers Paradise, apart from a few tinnie rats,we had the whole creek to ourselves all morning.Apparently, it is like this most of the time.

We launched on sun-up in John’s little punt. When it comes to chasing jacks, a large, fast and expensive boat is not necessary. John’s little 3.7m tinnieis rigged with casting decks back and front, an electric motor and a sounder. Many of the man-made canals in which jacks reside are restricted 6-knot zones, so a fast boat is not anadvantage. Another benefit of a small punt is the ease of maneuverabilitybetween pontoons, bridges, shallow creeks and moored boats to enable that perfect cast.

We motored up river, discussing and approachesfor the day. Although the creek we had chosen is a much smaller system, it stillshares the type of structure of larger rivers. This still allowed us to fish pontoons, natural structure, bridges and rock walls all in a morning’s session.

Our first stop was some fallen trees and mangroves, which were teaming with bait. Despite an abundance of bait, after 20 minutes of casting our hardbodies, we decided to relocate to the other side of the creek and fish the first of a line of pontoons. John picked up his spin outfit rigged with a white, ZmanDieZel and a ½ ounce TTHeadlockZjighead and stinger hook. He positioned the boat parallel to the pontoon with the electric.

While I tied on my plastic, John landed his Zman about 2 metres beyond the opposite corner of the pontoon. This allowed him to retrieve the plastic under the pontoon or in the shade, where the jacks wait in ambush. He allowed the lure to sink momentarilybefore starting the retrieve. As the lure disappeared under the pontoon’s corner, itwas crunched in the unmistakable manner typical of a jack.Fortunately, this jack didn’t fight particularly dirty, so John was able to steer it into deeper water with the electric. After some desperate lunges under the boat, we knew we had it beat as the stinger hookwas imbedded in the corner of its mouth. John quickly steered 50cms of angry bright red mangrove jack into his waiting net.

Finally, I had an opportunity to witness a 50cm Gold Coast jack in the flesh. Immediately I saw the passion John has for jacks. Despite, the hundreds of jacks that had graced the deck before this one, John was as excited as a child on Christmas day. This passion leads to great respect for every mangrove jack he catches. John releases every fish so the next person can experience the same thrill.

After a few photos, this red devil was released to continue harassing baitfish in its haunt under the pontoon. “How easy is this: first pontoon, first cast, these Gold Coast jacks aren’t that hard?” I joked to John, only to soon realisejust how challenging they are. Over the next 5hours I cast my arm off and frustratingly missed the single opportunity I had when I couldn’t set the hooks on a jack that slammed my hardbody as I twitched it near a fallen tree.

We fished further downstream, casting at pontoons, rock walls and fallen timber, using a mixture of plastics and hardbodies. We arrived at an oyster-encrusted bridge that looked like a great jack haunt. After 10 minutes of peppering the bridge pylons and shady pockets, John’s suspending red and goldTiemcoSumariwas slammedon the pause. After a short battle, up popped an average size Gold Coast jack, around the 40cm mark. Interestingly this jack was much lighter in colour compared with the dark red specimen caught earlier in the morning.

This was the extent of our luck that morning. However, according to John, a two-fish session, including one decent jack, is a productive morning.

Rod and Reel


When targeting Gold Coast jacks John uses both spin and baitcaster setups rigged with different presentations. Interestingly he has a very specific way for using each outfit.

John uses baitcaster outfits mostly when targeting natural structure and bridges with hardbodies and weedless plastics. All of his baitcaster outfits are spooled with 20lb braid and one-and-a-half-metres of 20lb fluorocarbon leader tied with an FG knot. This seems lite, but with the amount of pressure on these jacks, fishing light definitely gets the bite.

Most of his pontoon fishing however, is done with a 7’6” spin rod and 3000 size spin reel rigged with 20lb fluorocarbon straight through. A long spin rod is useful to manoeuvre the line around the cleats, boats and crab pots, using the rod tip to retrieve the lure under or as close to the pontoon and surrounding structure as possible. This was evident on the morning I fished with John. Every cast landed in the right area and consistently retrieved within 30cm of the structure. Another advantage of a long rod is to help steer the fish away from the structure of a pontoon. You will see from in his DVD that with every fish caught from a pontoon his rod tip is well in the water. This reduces the angle of the line and the chance of being busted off on the bottomside of the pontoon.

There are two very important reasons for why John uses fluorocarbonas his main line instead of braid on his spin reel.

  1. Fluorocarbon lines are made from materials that make it incredibly abrasion resistant. Braid will generally instantly snap when it encounters the hard structures of a pontoon upon serious pressure from a jack. However fluorocarbon seems to provide more resistance when rubbed up against these structures.
  1. These same materials refract light, which makes it almost invisible underwater. Gold Coast jacks receive a lot of fishing pressure and can at times be finicky feeders. Using a line that is almost invisible underwater, compared with a line such as braid, has to have some sort of advantage, particularly in clear water.
  2. The best time to be chasing jacks is first thing in the morning. This is when they are on the hunt and also boat traffic around the busy waterways is minimal.
  3. The best tide to catch jacks is usually the run-out, but as long as there is some sort of tidal movement, there is always a chance.
  4. Water clarity is important. If too clear, the fish can bespooked, and too dirty after rains, the fish can disperse.
  5. A wind chop that is pushing into structure, particularly pontoons, seems to encourage confidence. This chop pushes warm water into structure, but more importantly, disorientates bait, making it easier for predators such as jacks to hunt.

The other advantage of a spin outfit is theincredibly fast speed at which John and other Gold Coast jack gurus retrieve their soft plastics around pontoons. A baitcaster with a high retrieval rate is also ideal in this situation. The idea is to get the lure swimming about 30cm under the pontoon where the jacks are waiting in ambush. Thisretrieve also seems to instigate an aggressive response from jacksas well aseliminating the bycatch of bream and trevally, whichprefera different style of retrieve.


Like any sought after species, there is a never-ending supply of lures available on the market. Jacks are no different, with tackle shops often lined with hundreds ofoptions. When selecting any lure, the one important feature John looks for is a free, but tight action in the tail, rather than a wide body roll.

When purchasing soft plastics,small paddle tail plastics around the 4-inch size seem to be the most fruitful. Lures such as the Yum Money Minnow andZman’sDieZelMinnowzare John’s favourites. To ensure the lure swims at the right depth with the fast retrieve, a heavy jig head is necessary. Depending on the current, John suggests a 3/8 or½ ounceTTHeadlockZjighead. These plastics are the most successful when fished around pontoons. He also rigs his softplastics with a size 2 Owner Double Stinger hook attached to the shank of the jighead (as pictured). Stinger hooks allow a better hook rate when a jack snatches the lure.

Weedless rigged prawns such as Zerek Live Shrimps are also very useful when fished amongst natural structure and pontoons. This is highlighted in John’s DVD, ‘The Jack Guide – Mangrove Jack Fishing’, where he pulls jack after jack in an estuarine system following a downpour of rain which had flushed prawns into this particular system.

When usinghardbodies, John prefers 4” – 5”,suspending deeper divers with a skinny profile and a tight action. Lures such asTiemcoSumari, Lucky Craft Pointer 100XD, Berkley Firestck 9M and RapalaXrap Deep are some of his favourites. It is critical to upgrade trebles and split rings if you suspect they won’t handle the power of a big jack. There is nothing worse than doing all the hard work, onlyto lose a fish due to gear failure, such as a straightened treble.

When it comes to colours, naturals, gold and white seem to produce the goods;and they certainly did on this day.



Every fisherman knows that accurate casting is one of the most important aspects when fishing for mangrove jacks, this is especially true for chasing Gold Coast jacks. John emphasised this to me and also in his DVDs. On reflection, it is probably the main reason I donuted while John landed two great fish. Accurate castingcertainly sets apart successful fisherman from the rest. According to John, if your lure is farther than a 30cmaway from a pontoon or snag, you won’t catch jack.

Conditions and Time

If you’re new to jack fishing, John’s message is to fish as much as possible and don’t stress too much about tides and conditions. The most valuable consideration is time on the water and identifying patterns. Each system has different peak bite periods, which depend on bait, tides, seasons and weather.At least 1/3 of John’s jacks have been caught during conditions that weren’totherwise conducive to mangrove jacks so there is no excuse to not be on the water.As John explained, if you fail to catch a jack in a morning’s fishing, all is not lost, since you have just had 6 or so hours of casting practice, preparing for the next session, where it could pay dividends.

John’s 10 years of experience fishing for mangrove jacks has allowed him to identify a few ideal conditions to chasing jacks:

After spending a morning with John, Iunderstand the addiction to Gold Coast mangrove jacks and why it is the premiere location in Australia for catching monster jacks. I have only scratched the surface with tips and techniques that John uses to target these much sought-after fish. His DVDs further discussestried and tested tips and techniques. Certainly there will be plenty of fishless trips, but the moment you pull a 60cm jack from its structure and into the waiting net, these trips will be soon forgotten.

Lastly, I would like to thank John for a memorable morning’s fishing and sharing some tips from the 10 years of knowledge he has gathered on jacks.