Ask the Experts: What’s the Most Underrated Game Fish?

Three out of four saltwater guides agree: crevalle jacks should be high on every angler’s list.
Photo by Brent Wilson

Fly anglers are pursuing a greater variety of species than ever before, but old prejudices die hard, which means that some fish are still held in much higher regard than others. We asked a selection of Orvis-endorsed guides to name the fish they believe is the most underrated in their respective areas, and to briefly explain why, in the hope that their assessments will help broaden your angling horizons.

If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask our panel, write it in the comments section below.

Capt. Dave Pecci, Obsession Charters (Charlotte Harbor, Florida and Portland, Maine): 

Here in southwest Florida, I think the most underrated fish is the crevalle jack. These “mangrove marauders” travel in schools, tearing up bait like East Coast bluefish. They eat flies readily and pull like freight trains. Our jacks typically range from 5 to 12 pounds, and rarely refuse any offering you put in front of them. 

The big challenge is keeping up with the schools: they move around so fast, you usually only get two or three casts before having to reposition the boat. There’s nothing better than seeing the look on a client’s face when they finally hook up and the reel starts screaming. After the first one, they understand why my drags are set so tight!

Common carp are ubiquitous, but they will test an angler’s skill and patience.
Photo courtesy Cross Current Guide Service

Capt. Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service (Starlight, Pennsylvania): 

When it comes to choosing an underrated fish, I’m looking for one that is ubiquitous, challenging, hard-fighting, and sight-fishable–all of which are characteristics of the common carp.

Just about everyone in the US lives near a body of water that contains these adaptable and formidable fish, so you won’t have to go very far to find them. Carp are often fairly easy to spot as they happily chug along the bottom, occasionally waiving their tails in the air and leaving a trail of mud behind as they feed. But don’t let the ease of finding them obscure the challenge of actually hooking one of these notoriously spooky fish: you’ll need to make extremely accurate and delicate presentations in order to fool them into taking a visual offering, since they feed mainly by scent.   

If and when you do hook up with a carp, hang on for a strong battle by a true survivor. So grab a rod, a floating line, and a few carp patterns, and have at it.  

Amelia Jensen, Jensen Fly Fishing (Alberta, Canada): 

One of the most underrated fish on fly is a 6- to 10-inch trout from a small stream. It often seems like big trout get all the press, but if we get too caught up in the goal of “big or bigger,” we risk losing sight of our own enjoyment and losing touch with the surrounding environment, as well. For me, there is tremendous value in being surrounded by wilderness–particularly at the higher elevations where most of these small tributary streams are–which really adds to the whole experience.      

I’ve caught some of the prettiest trout in these high streams; their spotting and coloration is often quite distinctive. Even better, they’re often more than willing to take a dry fly, so there’s ample opportunity to relax a bit and practice your accuracy. Really, targeting these small, willing trout can teach and reinforce all the foundations of fly fishing: knowing where to cast, how to approach, how to present your fly, and how to control your line afterward pretty much encompasses the whole thing. And the confidence that fishing small streams can build is easily transferable to success on pretty much any flowing trout water on the planet. 

Capt. Jason Sullivan, Rising Tide Charters (Miami, Florida): 

I would say the most underrated fish to target on fly is the crevalle jack. Jacks are pound-for-pound some of the strongest fish that swim, and will almost always reward a well-placed fly with a bite. Hooking into a decent size jack will easily get into your backing, and sometimes we even have to chase them with the boat. 

Jacks are also a great fish for beginner fly-rodders, because new anglers can usually hook up with multiple fish from a school, which is a really fun way to learn how to fight bigger fish. But my favorite thing about jacks is when they’re active on the surface–their topwater takes are extremely explosive, just destroying everything in their path. 

Everyone wants to catch a trophy, but small trout offer different kinds of joy.
Photo by Jensen Fly Fishing

Capt. Conway Bowman (San Diego, California): 

The common carp is the most underrated fish to target on the fly. They have all the qualities of a great saltwater game fish: they’re large, very spooky when feeding in shallow water, and once hooked, they fight pretty hard. The most appealing aspect of carp, however, is the fact that you can sight-fish to them in skinny water. 

If you can master catching carp, you’re very likely to do well with even the most notoriously-tricky saltwater flats fish such as permit, bonefish, or redfish. 

Capt. Duane Baker (Tavernier, Florida Keys)

The crevalle jack is the most underrated game fish. They are usually aggressive and take flies well, and can be sight-fished in shallow water just like other, more popular species. I don’t target them often, but I do occasionally encounter jacks that are cruising edges, busting baitfish or following rays, and I always make a cast to them whenever the opportunity arises. 

The most common size is about 2 to 5 pounds, but there are some bigger fish in the 10- to 20-pound range lurking around. They fight hard regardless of their size, and are very similar to the much more popular permit.

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