Sarasota Spanish Mackerel Fishing
Anglers very much enjoy Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing! Spanish mackerel are aggressive, fight very hard, are one of the fastest fish in the sea, and taste great when eaten fresh. What more could an angler ask for? It is one of the favorite species of clients on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Atlantic Spanish mackerel is the species that Sarasota, Florida anglers will catch. They migrate up the east coast as far as Cape Cod. They will cover the entire Gulf Coast. Anglers catch Spanish mackerel using a wide variety of baits and techniques. These will be covered in this article on Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing.
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Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Tackle
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Spanish mackerel average 2 to 5 pounds in Florida. Therefore, spinning tackle is usually the best choice when pursuing them. The lures and live baits often used when fishing for mackerel can be quite light. Long cast can be required at times as well. While conventional tackle can be used, especially when trolling, spinning tackle works best in most applications.
The same inshore spinning outfits that most anglers use for snook, redfish, and speckled trout will work well when targeting Spanish mackerel. A 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot fast action rod combined with a 3000 series spinning reel is a great all around combo. I prefer monofilament line when targeting Spanish mackerel. I feel that the stretch in the line can actually be beneficial as these fish are so fast and pull so hard.
Some type of leader will be required when fishing for Spanish mackerel. They have very sharp teeth, and cutoffs will occur. While steel leaders will reduce or eliminate cutoffs, they will also reduce strikes. This is especially true in a clear water that Spanish mackerel prefer. A good compromise is to use a 30 inch piece of 30 pound to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Anglers seeking to catch Spanish mackerel on fly can easily do so. A 7wt outfit works well. Both floating and intermediate sink tip lines will be fine. Spanish mackerel are easy to catch when they are working up on the surface. A white D.T. Special fly tied on a long shank hook is effective and will reduce cut-offs.
Baits and lures for Spanish mackerel
Both artificial lures and live baits are extremely effective when Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing. Both have their advantages, depending on conditions. Anglers casting lures can cover a lot of water quickly and also elicit savage strikes from the aggressive mackerel. Live bait is usually a better choice when anchored over structure or when chumming fish behind the boat.
Spoons, jigs, and plugs are all effective lures for Spanish mackerel. Silver spoons can be cast a long way and mimic the bait fish that mackerel are usually feeding on. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch Shad tail grub also works well. The grub tail is easily replaced when torn up by the toothy Spanish mackerel. Plugs are also very effective, though a bit more costly. Anglers need to be prepared to lose some lures, it is just part of fishing for Spanish mackerel.
Live bait certainly accounts for many Spanish mackerel being caught. Live shrimp is probably the number one live bait, as it is available at bait shops year-round. Small live bait fish such as pilchards, threadfin herring, and sardines can be extremely productive baits. Cut bait will catch plenty of mackerel as well, especially if it is fresh.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Techniques
Spanish mackerel require a high level of salinity. Therefore, they are found in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and inshore waters close to inlets and passes. Inshore bays, passes and inlets, in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean are the prime areas to target Spanish mackerel. They are often targets on a Sarasota fishing charter.
Inshore Spanish mackerel fishing
The most effective technique when targeting Spanish mackerel in the inshore bays is to drift over grass flats and 6 feet to 10 feet of water. Anglers can cast artificial lures such as spoons, jigs, and plugs as they drift along with the tide and wind. The best approach is to cast with the wind ahead of the drifting boat. Mackerel prefer a fast, aggressive retrieve. Fish can often times be seen working on the surface. Bird activity is another good sign that Spanish mackerel are present.
Anglers can also drift a live bait behind the boat when drifting the inshore flats. A # 1/0 long shank hook works well and will help reduce cutoffs. A live shrimp or bait fish is simply hooked in the front then cast out behind the boat and allowed to drift naturally. If the current or wind is strong, a small split shot may be required to get the bait down in the water column.
Chumming is also a very effective technique on the inshore flats. Both frozen chum and live chum can be used to draw mackerel up behind the boat. The technique is fairly simple; the boat is anchored up current of a likely flat or spot and chum is added into the water. Blocks of frozen chum can be purchased at most bait shops and work well. Chumming with live bait fish is more complicated but is a deadly technique. Once the fish are actively feeding behind the boat, they will hit both live and artificial baits.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Passes
On the East Coast of Florida the term inlet is used while on the Gulf Coast we call them passes. They are essentially the same thing, a narrow channel that connects the inshore bays to the open Gulf or ocean. They are both prime spots to target Spanish mackerel. Fish use passes and inlets as highways to migrate in and out of the bays and into the open waters of the Gulf and ocean.
Anglers can target Spanish mackerel in passes and inlets using several different techniques. Drifting with the current is very productive. The boat is idled up current of the area to be finished, then the current moves the boat over the targeted spot. Artificial lures work very well in this application, particularly spoons and jigs. These lures are heavy and will sink down in the current. Plugs will work well when fish are seen actively feeding on the surface.
Spanish mackerel may be found anywhere in a pass or inlet, but there are a few areas that will consistently hold fish. The mouth of the inlet or pass can be very productive on the last couple hours of the falling tide. Shallow bars that drop off into deep water can produce at any time. Structure such as rip-rap and docks will also hold fish.
Many inlets and passes have long rock jetties on either side. These are terrific spots for anglers without a boat to catch Spanish mackerel. In the spring and the fall when bait is plentiful, mackerel will usually be thick in these areas. When the run is on, it is mayhem! Artificial lures are tough to beat in this situation, as at times longer cast will need to be made. A half ounce silver spoon is tough to beat.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: The beach
Many Spanish mackerel are caught in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico within a couple miles of shore. Spanish mackerel are generally caught reasonably shallow, in water around 30 feet deep. Often times, fish can be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is one of my favorite forms of fishing! It is great fun casting a lure into a fish feeding frenzy, knowing that you’re going to get a strike. False albacore and other species can be an added bonus.
While mackerel can be encountered in open water almost anywhere, structure in hard bottom areas will attract bait. This will in turn attract the Spanish mackerel and other game fish. Artificial reefs and water between 20 feet deep and 50 feet deep are prime spots. Here in Sarasota where I guided fish, we have several artificial reefs just a couple miles off the beach. These are very reliable spots to target Spanish mackerel.
Hard bottom areas in the same depths will also concentrate Spanish mackerel. The same ledges that you fish for grunts, sheepshead, grouper, and snapper will hold bait and attract mackerel. Since the spots are generally fairly small, anchoring is often the best approach. Anglers should anchor just up current from the break and free line baits back behind the boat. Live or frozen chum should get the bite going quickly.
Trolling for Spanish mackerel
Trolling is an incredibly effective technique and will put a lot of Spanish mackerel and the boat in a short amount of time. Trolling has several advantages when targeting Spanish mackerel. Anglers can cover a lot of water in a short period of time when trolling. This can be particularly important on days with a little chopped on the surface or when fish aren’t showing on top. Once a school of fish is located, trolling can produce a lot a fish in short order. Finally, trolling is really quite easy to do.
Trolling is simply driving the boat around 5 to 7 knots while dragging lures behind. But, as in all fishing, there are nuances and techniques that will improve the success rate. Spanish mackerel prefer lures that are moving at a brisk pace. This means that we have to get the lures down in the water column while still moving along fairly quickly. There are several different ways to accomplish this.
The easiest way to get the lure down to the fish is to use a plug with a diving lip on it. These lures float on the surface and as the boat begins to move they dive down to a certain depth. The depth that they dive is determined by the size and shape of the bill. In most cases, a lure that dive down 5 to 7 feet is ideal.
Trolling sinkers are another tool that allow anglers to troll for mackerel at the correct speed while getting the bait down to the fish. Sinkers for trolling come in two different styles, torpedo and keel designed weights. I prefer the keel weights. The sinker is tied onto the end of the running line and then a 6 foot to 10 foot piece of leader is attached to the other end. The angler can then use a spoon, plug, or jig on the terminal end.
Planers are the third method by which anglers can get their Lors down to the fish. While they do work very well, planers are a bit more complicated. Planers come in several sizes. A number one planer will dive down 5 to 7 feet and a number two planar will dive down to 15 feet or so. A long leader, usually around 20 feet, is attached to the end of the planar and then the lure.
Planers have a sliding ring on them which allows the planar to dive down deep when trolled but then trip when a fish strikes. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the added drag of the planar once the planar is reeled up to within a foot of the rod tip, the fish must be hand lined in the last 20 feet. This can be cumbersome but can be extremely effective when the mackerel are down deeper in the water column. It will also produce king mackerel.
Several manufacturers produce spoon specifically designed for trolling. The spoons are designed to have a tight wobble at quite high speeds and are extremely effective. They come in multiple sizes, allowing anglers to match the spoon to the size of the bait and the water. They have a large single hook, making it easier to handle than does a lure with treble hooks. I use these spoons for most of my trolling in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. I will troll a #8 Rapala X rap when I see fish working on the surface.
Anglers can catch Spanish mackerel right off of the beach. Artificial lures work best in this application as long casts are often needed. A heavier spoon or jig is a good choice. The best approach is to walk the beach while scanning the surface for signs of bait, fish, or bird activity. Schools of bait dimpling on the surface are always worth a cast or two. Anglers can check current regulations HERE
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236