Spanish mackerel: Harbingers of spring
Spanish mackerel can be caught from piers,
passes and bridge spans as well as from boats.
Spanish mackerel are staged off Anna Maria waiting to invade Florida’s west coast waters. Captain Rick Grassett reported finding mackerel on the flats in Sarasota Bay a couple of weeks ago. Last week, I observed large Spanish mackerel being caught by anglers fishing the pass on the south end of Coquina Beach. The current cold front will undoubtedly send them to warmer and deeper waters, but savvy anglers will be on the lookout for them as local waters warm up.
Live bait, spoons, plugs, jigs and flies are all effective on mackerel. Anglers that fish the Anna Maria City Pier and the Rod and Reel Pier use a unique and very effective method to catch mackerel. They tie a small silver spoon about three to four feet behind a popping cork. The commotion of the popping cork attracts these opportunistic speedsters within striking distance of the lure. I’ve used a similar technique while fly fishing. I slap the line on the water a few times before making my presentation. This disruption on the water’s surface must act as a signal to feeding fish that opportunity is nearby.
When fishing for mackerel, keep it simple and fish with light tackle. For the fly rod angler a light 6 to 7-weight outfit and small Clouser-style flies are a perfect match. Attach a small 6 to 8-inch trace of light wire to a 30-pound butt section of leader using an Albright special. An alternative method is to tie flies on long shank hooks. Light spinning tackle is also effective. Try the same light wire leader with small white buck tail jigs or silver diamond jigs. Ultra-light tackle from 4 to 6-pound test provides the best action on these speedsters. Long shank hooks and long diamond jigs can be substituted if fish are leader shy.
If you’re trolling, don’t make the mistake of running your boat right through schools of feeding fish. Approach cautiously, making wide circles around the action so that your lure and not your boat passes through the action. A better option is to calculate wind and current, positioning your boat for a drift. Cutting the engine will keep the fish and bait from sounding and give you a much better chance at success.
Those anglers who don't own a boat can still find excellent action on Spanish mackerel. The local piers, the edges of the passes and the bridge spans provide a great vantage point for targeting mackerel. The areas near the main span often tend to be the best due to the increased water depth and current flow. If you need distance to reach feeding fish, use a torpedo weight ahead of the lure. The passes are also a great place to target mackerel from a boat. An early morning outgoing tide seems to be the best, but a good incoming tide can also provide great action. Local piers also generate some spectacular mackerel action.
No matter what your angling method always bend down the barb on your hook. It's unlikely that you’ll lose a fish if you keep a tight line. Mackerel are fast swimmers and have extremely sharp teeth. You need to release them quickly if you don’t plan on eating them. You’ll also stand a better chance of keeping your fingers and a clean boat if the hook can be easily removed. Spanish mackerel are excellent table fare when prepared fresh, but don’t freeze well. So limit your catch to a fresh meal instead of catching your limit. Spanish mackerel must be at least 12 inches, measured from the tip of the snout to the rear center edge of the tail. The bag limit is 15 (way too many in my opinion) per angler per day per day.
Now would be an excellent time to line up a trip with one of the area’s premier guides. A day on the water with a licensed fishing captain is easy, enjoyable and will pay dividends when it comes to local knowledge. Whatever your strategy, rig light and explore the Gulf waters and passes and you’re sure to find some fast and furious action.