The jack family of fish contains several species that are popular targets in the waters around Key West. Fast-swimming predators that can be found near reefs, shipwrecks, and in open water, jacks offer a fun and exciting time for anglers of all ages of experience. Here’s a guide to the five most commonly found jacks in and around Key West.

African Pompano

Thought to be among the strongest members of the jack family, the dazzling African Pampano is a tough fighting fish that’s coveted by many Key West fishermen. Its appearance is actually quite remarkable, with a flattened out body that’s widest toward the middle and a protruding lower jaw that gives the pompano a tough, defiant expression. The coloring of the African pompano is also very striking, a silvery blue-green on its back that gives way to darker shades on the head and shoulders before transitioning back to a shining silver belly. In terms of size, the average pompano is approximately 2-3 feet long and weighs in at about 15-30 pounds.

The African pompano is popular table fish and can often be found in reef and wreck areas, often at fairly deep depths. Because of their excellent vision, they respond well to live bait such shrimp and herring, and shad, but you should expect a long fight trying to land one of these beauties. A heavy rod with a large reel is the best option to land a pompano. Otherwise, it can be extremely difficult to keep it out of its shelter.


As incredible a fighter as you’re likely to encounter, the permit is the dream catch of many a sport fisherman in Key West. This elusive fish also has an intriguing appearance, with a body that shines with silver on the sides and is topped with a grayish blue. They’re typically about two feet long and weigh approximately 15 pounds, though larger specimens have been caught in the Key West area.

Largely because of their persistent skittishness, a permit can be a tough target to land. You’ll need skill, patience, and an excellent guide to be successful, but fishing for permit is definitely worth giving a shot. The best bait for landing a permit are live crustaceans like crab and shrimp. It’s also very important not to cast too close to where they’re currently swimming. This is a guaranteed way to spook them, so drop your bait a little farther away and drag it slowly through the water to maximize your chances.

At the end of the day, it’s best to use a guide like Captain Pepe if you’re interested in the challenges that permit confront you with. This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of experience. But this definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The reward of landing a permit more than justifies the patience and skill required to pursue them successfully.