Good time for Spanish mackerel
rUSTY CHINNIS | sun
This Spanish mackerel was landed by an
angler fishing the Longboat Pass Bridge.
Spanish mackerel are one of the most abundant fish in area waters. Although not a native species in the strictest sense, this fast, toothy and tasty predator is present year-round. The only exception is during prolonged periods of cold weather. I think of them as an everyman's fish, since they can be caught in the bay, in the Gulf, from a boat, from the beach and from piers, jetties and local bridges.
Spanish mackerel are rapacious, opportunistic carnivores that feed on a wide range of baitfish and crustaceans. Some of their favorite targets are pilchards, threadfin herring and shrimp. The mackerel's streamlined body and sickle tail provide the speed and maneuverability that makes it an extremely efficient hunter and exciting target on spinning, fly or bait casting tackle.
Mackerel will take a wide variety of lures, flies and live bait. When rigging for them, keep tackle light and use as little hardware as possible. Eight- to 10-pound spinning and bait casting tackle and seven- and eight-weight fly rods are sufficient. The most effective rig is created by doubling the standing line using either a spider hitch or a Bimini twist. A bite tippet of 30- or 40-pound monofilament is then added.
The mackerel's sharp teeth require some special attention to rigging. A 12-inch piece of light wire will help prevent a cut-off, but will sometimes spook fish. This scenario plays out on days when the sun is high and the water clear. If mackerel are reluctant to bite a 40-pound mono bite tippet and extra-long shanked hooks, lures and plugs are an option to wire.
Join leaders and wire with knots to avoid using swivels if possible. These voracious feeders often mistake the flash of a swivel as a target, resulting in a cut off. Leader to leader connections like the blood knot and uni-knot prevent the need for swivels. Wire can be joined to the bite tippet using an Albright special knot.
When searching for mackerel, look for diving birds, baitfish schools and structure. Mackerel will congregate near areas that hold bait, so even if they're not apparent, they might be near-by. Two strategies that work for me are to explore the edges of bait schools with poppers or using top water plugs.
When I'm using flies, I will often slap the fly on the water a couple of times to attract attention and then make my presentation. After poppers, my favorite fly is a sparsely tied Clouser deep minnow. Birds and breaking fish can also be found in area passes, especially near bridges.
Trolling is a common and effective way to target mackerel. Some of the most effective lures are spoons that mimic baitfish, but jigs, swimming lures and top water plugs are all effective. Trolling near bait schools is a great tactic, but anglers must be wary not to motor through baitfish. This can spook the baitfish and the mackerel.
The best strategy is to make lazy circles around baitfish schools allowing the lure, but not the boat, to pass through. Anglers fishing live bait, plugs or flies should also work the areas near baitfish using long casts and fast retrieves. Inshore, mackerel inhabit the same areas as trout, redfish and snook. Grass flats, structure and baitfish schools are good places to explore.
Spanish mackerel are good table fare if eaten fresh. Fish that are kept for a meal should be bled and iced as soon as possible. Mackerel are a nutritious source of Omega-3 fatty acids, are easy to fillet and can be prepared by baking, broiling, smoking, frying or poaching. Whatever your angling style, Spanish mackerel are excellent targets, both for their fight and their food value. This is an excellent time to target these hard fighting, fast swimming predators.