Spanish mackerel hot on topFrom the September 29, 2010 Issue
As a child artist, Jean Blackburn caught Spanish
mackerel while trolling off Anna Maria. Now she
prefers catching them with top water plugs.
Spanish mackerel are staged off Anna Maria, enticed to local waters by the fall migration of baitfish. Live bait, spoons, plugs, jigs and flies are all effective on mackerel. I love targeting mackerel on top water lures and flies. I use poppers like the Gartside Gurgler when I fly fish (www.jackgartside.com), and top water plugs like the Chug Bug when spin fishing. For the fly rod angler, a light 6-8 weight outfit and the small white foam poppers are a perfect match. Attach a small 6-8 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 plugs, or, if you prefer, use a small white buck tail jigs or silver diamond jigs. Four- to six-pound test Ultra-light spinning tackle provides some real drag screaming action.
I had a chance to sample the early action this past week, first with friends Captain Nick Angleo and Pierre Schutte and then with Sarasota artist Jean Blackburn. On the first trip we caught mackerel on poppers and subsurface flies. We had to search for them that day, but eventually found them under baitfish over a small reef off Longboat Key.
On Sunday morning, Blackburn and I caught them on top water poppers on spinning gear. The fish were not on the surface that day either, but we were able to find them around bait schools off Anna Maria Island. Schools of mackerel seem to travel in packs near bait schools and by drifting and casting a wide area you can find them (or more likely they find you) on every third or fourth drift. Calculating the wind and current and positioning your boat for a drift gives you a better chance at success. Another way anglers can locate mackerel when they are not on the surface is by trolling near schools of fish. If you’re trolling, don’t make the mistake of running the boat through schools of bait fish or feeding fish. Work the edges, making wide loops that keep the boat out of the action.
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. 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, just like plugs and top water flies.
When fishing bridges, concentrate your action near the main span where you are likely to find greater water depth and current flow. 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.
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 stand a better chance of keeping your fingers (from getting bitten) and a clean boat if the hook is barbless and can be easily removed. Spanish mackerel are excellent table fare when prepared fresh, but they don’t freeze well. So limit your catch to a fresh meal instead of catching your limit.
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, passes and piers. You’re sure to find some fast and furious action.