Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida, an anglers guide
Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida is enjoyed by many anglers. They are a terrific game fish that is widely distributed throughout the state. Spanish mackerel are available in all of the inshore and coastal waters of Florida at one time of the year or another. Spring and fall are top times to fish for them. Spanish mackerel are a hard fighting a great tasting species that put up a terrific fight on light tackle.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel is a migratory species that is found throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico. They also migrate as far north as Cape Cod. Spanish mackerel are a schooling fish that prefer relatively shallow water. While opportunistic feeders, their primary forage is small bait fish. This makes them prime candidates for anglers who prefer to cast artificial lures and flies in pursuit of them.
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Spanish mackerel fishing tackle
The tackle used by anglers fishing for Spanish mackerel in Florida is fairly basic. The same inshore tackle used for speckled trout, snook, redfish, and other species will do fine when chasing mackerel. A 7 foot medium light rod with a fast action paired with a 3000 series spinning reel is an excellent combination.
Anglers can opt for 10 pound monofilament or braided line, depending on preference. In this application, monofilament line is often preferred due to its stretch. Spanish mackerel hit so hard that often times the stretch and the line helps prevent the hook from pulling. Also, Spanish mackerel are most often encountered in open water where obstructions and structure are not an issue.
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.
Rigging up for Spanish mackerel
The first thing most anglers notice when landing a Spanish mackerel is a mouthful of sharp teeth! Some type of leader is definitely required when fishing for Spanish mackerel. These teeth result in anglers making a choice when it comes to rigging; monofilament or wire leader. Spanish mackerel are most often found in clear water. The use of wire leaders in clear water will often result in fewer strikes.
Anglers may choose to use 30 pound to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader’s instead. This will certainly result in more lures and hooks being cut off. However, the trade-off will usually be more strikes. It is a compromise a decision that anglers will have to make. It does get frustrating, and expensive, when a bunch of lures are lost to these toothy critters.
Top Spanish mackerel fishing lures
Spanish mackerel are a species that are perfect for anglers who prefer fishing with artificial lures. Mackerel are very fast and often times charge into a school of bait fish with the intention of injuring them with their sharp teeth. They then go back through the wounded bait fish and pick off the stragglers and scraps.
The most productive lures for anglers Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida have two characteristics; a fast erratic action as well as some flash. Silver spoons, Gotcha lures, diamond jigs, plugs, and jigs are all top artificial lures. All of these baits imitate wounded bait fish, which is the primary forage of Spanish mackerel. The ability for these lures to be cast a reasonable distance is one more advantage. Anglers can read more about and shop for Capt Jim’s top 6 Spanish mackerel fishing lures in this link.
Spanish mackerel in Florida with live bait
Live bait is most certainly very effective when Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida. Anglers can choose to drift live baits over the inshore flats as well is in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Live bait can be cast into schools of breaking fish as well. Finally, chumming, whether with live or frozen bait, is an incredibly effective technique in both inshore and offshore waters.
The top two live baits for Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida are live shrimp and live bait fish. The most effective live bait fish are the families of small silvery fish such as scaled sardines, Spanish sardines, and threadfin herring. Shrimp are available at local bait shops. In most instances, anglers choosing to fish with live bait fish bus catch their own.
Spanish mackerel fishing techniques
Spanish mackerel fishing can be very visual. This is one of the elements that attracts anglers to pursuing these fast and feisty game fish. Mackerel are very often seen foraging violently on the surface. When the water is calm, the churned up surface can be seen from quite a distance away. Actively diving and feeding birds are another sign that Spanish mackerel may be in the vicinity.
When mackerel are feeding on the surface in this situation, there usually very easy to catch. Just about any shiny lure that is cast into the fray will draw a strike. Silver spoons and Gotcha lures are excellent for this as a can be cast a long distance. This is particularly true for anglers fishing without a boat. Plugs and jigs will also catch plenty of mackerel in this situation.
Anglers fishing in boats have the advantage of being able to chase down schools of feeding mackerel. Spanish mackerel do tend to stay on the surface longer than some other species such as false albacore. The best approach is to intercept the school of feeding fish, positioning the boat ahead of and upwind of the school. This is a result in an easy down when cast into the fish.
Inshore bay mackerel fishing techniques
Spanish mackerel will also invade the inshore waters of Florida as well. Inlets, passes, and flats produce a lot a fish. Mackerel are less often seen feeding on the surface in these inshore waters than they are in the open waters of the Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Drifting is an excellent method used by anglers to locate schools of Spanish mackerel in the inshore waters. This is done both in the passes and inlets as well is on the flats. Deeper grass flats, those in 6 feet of water to 10 feet of water, and closer to the inlets and passes are often the best flats in which to locate Spanish mackerel. Inlets and passes will hold a lot of fish, particularly when bait is present.
Anglers drifting for Spanish mackerel can choose to fish with both live and artificial baits. A live shrimp or bait fish free lined out behind the boat works very well. A split shot or two can be added to get the bait down in the water column if required. A long shank hook will help reduce cutoffs. 1/0 is a good all-around size.
Artificial lures can certainly be used when drifting the grass flats as well. Spoons, plugs, and jigs all work well when fan cast out in front of a drifting boat. Spanish mackerel are attracted to fast-moving flashy lures. Therefore, and aggressive, erratic retrieve often works best. Spanish mackerel are often found in the upper part of the water column, so lures that work a few feet below the surface are often the most productive.
Mackerel fishing in Florida in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean
Many anglers Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida do so in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. These game fish are often found in large numbers in shallow water quite close to shore. This makes them excellent opportunities for shore bound anglers as well as those fishing and smaller boats. Mackerel can be caught in these waters sight fishing, drifting, structure fishing, and trolling.
Surface action is great fun!
As mentioned earlier, searching for schools of Spanish mackerel actively feeding on the surface is great sport! Anglers in boats often times cruise the coast several hundred yards off shore in search of feeding fish. On a call day, this action is easily seen as the surface of the water will be literally boiling. Diving birds will also give away the location of foraging schools of Spanish mackerel.
This is a situation that is tailor-made for anglers fishing with artificial lures. The fish are already located in actively feeding. Therefore, just about any fast-moving and flashy lore cast into the fray will draw a strike. Anglers who prefer to use live bait can certainly cast a hook baited with a shrimp or bait fish into the mix.
Drift fishing in open water
Anglers can choose to drift in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. However, it is often times less effective than it is in the inshore waters due to the area that needs to be covered. Drifting works best when done over areas of hard bottom as well as wrecks and artificial reefs. It is also productive when mackerel are not working on the surface but are known to be in a certain area.
Structure fishing for Spanish mackerel
Like just about every other saltwater game fish, Spanish mackerel are attracted to structure. The primary reason for this is that structure attracts bait fish. This in turn attracts game fish species such as Spanish mackerel along with king mackerel, false albacore, and other inshore species.
Structure can take the form of artificial reefs, wrecks, hard bottom ledges, piers, bridges, and even channel markers. Wrecks, artificial reefs, and natural hard bottom ledges are the prime spots for anglers Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida in the open waters. Anglers can choose to anchor up current of the structure and chum, then drift back live and cut baits to the fish. This is the best approach on smaller pieces of structure. Trolling and drifting can also be productive, especially over larger wrecks and reefs.
Trolling for Spanish mackerel
Trolling is an excellent technique used to catch Spanish mackerel. It is basically the act of pulling lures behind the boat in search of fish. As mentioned several times, Spanish mackerel prefer a fast-moving and flashy baits. Trolling spoons are specifically designed to be trolled at fast speeds, between 5 kn and 7 kn. This allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish. It is an excellent tactic when Spanish mackerel are not seen working on the surface or when that action is sporadic.
Techniques for trolling
Trolling requires at the lures get down in the water column. There are several different methods that can be used to accomplish this. The easiest method is to use a plug. Plugs have lips on them which will determine the depth that which the plug will dive when being pulled behind the boat. Since mackerel feet near the surface, plugs that dive down between several feet and down to 7 feet or so work best. Trolling with plugs requires no extra special gear, the plug is simply tied onto the end of the leader.
Spoons do require some type of device to get them down in the water column. Otherwise, when trolled at a fairly brisk pace they will simply rise to the surface and skip about. The two devices used to get spoons down in the water column are planers and sinkers. Both methods are a bit cumbersome and require longer leaders. However, the effort is worth it and will result in a lot a fish being caught.
Using trolling sinkers to catch Spanish mackerel
Trolling sinkers are fairly easy to use, they come in several different designs with the torpedo shaped being the most common. They also come in several weights which will allow the angler to adapt to the conditions in depth being fished. The trolling sinker is simply tied onto the end of the running line. Then, a 10 foot to 20 foot long leader is used between the trolling sinker and a spoon.
Both light conventional tackle and spinning outfits are fine when using trolling sinkers. The same inshore spinning tackle will work well when using lighter sinkers for average sized Spanish mackerel. Light conventional tackle is a better choice when using heavier weights for larger Spanish mackerel or when king mackerel are around.
Deploying this rig is very easy, with the boat in gear and at idle speed the spoon is tossed out and then the trolling sinker is lowered into the water. Line is then let out behind the boat. Counting out 10 or 15 seconds is a good place to start. Rod is then put in a rod holder in the boat is driven around in search of fish.
There is no doubt when a strike occurs! The rod tip will start throbbing and a larger fish drag will be heard screaming from the reel. The fish is then played back to the boat. Once the trolling sinker reaches the rod tip, the angler can real no further. The fish must be then hand lined in the rest of the way. Plugs and other Lurs can also be used behind trolling sinkers.
Using planers to troll
A planer is a clever, though slightly complicated, device that allows anglers to get lures down in the water column. They work similar to diving plugs in that they have a flat surface that digs down into the water when pulled behind the boat. However, they have a sliding ring which allows the planer to “trip” when a fish strikes. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer.
Planers come in sizes. A number one planer will dive down 5 to 7 feet and a number two planer will dive down 12 to 15 feet. These are the two most commonly used planers by anglers fishing the inshore waters. While spinning tackle can be used, light conventional outfits are a better choice in most instances.
As with trolling sinkers, long leaders are required between the planer and the spoon. 20 feet is a good all-around length. Generally speaking, the longer the leader the better the action the spoon will have. Also as with trolling sinkers, once the plane reaches the rod tip, the fish will have to be hand lined in the rest of the way.
Deploying the planer takes a bit of practice it first. The spoon is tossed in the water as the boat is idled along. The planer is then lowered into the water with the split ring at the top. This will result in the planer digging down into the water. Line is then fed back, the real put in gear, and the rod placed in a holder. There will be a noticeable bend in the rod due to the drag of the planer. When a fish hits, the planer will trip and the rod tip will start bouncing.
Chumming for Spanish mackerel
Chumming is a very effective technique for anglers Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida. This is simply the act of throwing live or frozen bait in the water in hopes of attracting a school of fish. Chumming is a very common practice throughout the state of Florida for a wide variety of species. Chum comes in two basic forms; live or frozen.
Frozen chum is by far the easiest for anglers to use. They consist of blocks of ground up oily bait fish such as menhaden or sardines. The block of chum is then placed in a mesh bag and tied to the start of the boat. As the block thaws out, chum will be dispersed throughout the area behind the boat. Anglers can shake the bag to increase the flow of chum.
Bait fish will often times be the first species that show up in the chum slick. Hopefully, game fish will soon show up behind them. When the water is clear, Spanish mackerel and other species will be seen feeding in the chum slick. A live bait or chunk of cut bait drifted back into the chum will usually draw a strike. This method works well when anchored over structure or hard bottom as well is drifting in the open waters.
Chumming with live bait
Chumming with live bait is a bit more complicated but can be extremely effective. Anglers will be required to use a cast net and catch several hundred or more live bait fish. Once the well is fall, the boat is anchored in a likely spot. Wrecks, artificial reefs, and ledges work well for anglers fishing offshore while deeper grass flats are prime spots in the inshore bays.
Once the boat is anchored, several handfuls of live bait are tossed out behind the boat. Anglers will sometimes squeeze the bait fish, crippling them. This results in the wounded bait swimming in an erratic manner. If there are Spanish mackerel in the area, it will not take them long to home in on this buffet. A live bait fish hooked on a #1/0 long shank hook should instantly draw a strike.
Fly fishing for Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel are a perfect fish for fly anglers as well. The visual nature of their feeding along with their aggressive manner make them a prime target for anglers using the long rod. They are great fish for novice fly anglers looking to learn the sport.
The best outfit for anglers Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida the fly rod is an 8wt or 9wt outfit. A quality real with a good drag system will be required when larger mackerel are hooked. When fish are feeding on the surface, a floating line is the best choice. For anglers blind casting the deeper flats or when fish are feeding below the surface, an intermediate sinking line is a better choice.
Fly selection is pretty basic. Just about any bait fish pattern will produce Spanish mackerel. Clouser Minnow, D.T Special, and Crystal Minnow patterns are all proven effective flies. Some anglers use synthetic material as a feel that it will hold up better to the toothy Spanish mackerel. As the spin fishing, a fast and erratic retrieve works best.
Spanish mackerel on the dinner plate
Spanish mackerel often get a bad rap when it comes to table fare. In fact, many anglers consider them one of the best eating fish and saltwater. However, they do need to be handled carefully. Spanish mackerel are plentiful in omega three oils, which makes them a good fish to eat. Fish that are to be For dinner should be iced down immediately and eaten that they were the next. They do not keep or freeze well. Anglers can find current Florida mackerel fishing regulations on the FWC site.
Spanish mackerel can be baked, broiled, grilled, poached, or even boiled. Yes that’s right, boiled! Due to their oily nature, angler should avoid frying them. In most cases, the skin can be left on when preparing them.
Most Spanish mackerel caught by local anglers and up on the grill. Mackerel are a perfect fish for the grill as a are naturally oily and will not dry out like other species. The skin is usually left onto keep the fillets intact. The fillets are laid skin side down on a grill pan or even on the rack and season to taste. 6 to 8 minutes and a hot grill will usually get it done.
Spanish mackerel very well in baked and this is an easy preparation. The fillets are laid skin side down on a baking sheet and then covered with a tire breadcrumbs. Lemon slices can be added if desired. The fishes then baked in a hot oven, 450° works well. Depending on the thickness of the fillets, it will take 6 to 10 minutes for them to be done.
Broiled Spanish mackerel is delicious and is also a very easy way to prepare them. The fillets are laid skin side down on an oiled pan and then seasoned to taste. Salt and pepper works fine as does just about any other seasoning mix, either custom or commercially prepared. Again, 6 to 10 minutes under a hot broiler should be fine.
Poaching is another easy and simple method to prepare Spanish mackerel. One method that works very well is to heat up spaghetti sauce in a skillet and then poach Spanish mackerel fillets in the sauce. The skin is usually left onto keep the fillets from falling apart. The fish absorbs some of the tomato flavor and the tomato sauce absorbs some of the fish flavor. This can be served with a little side of pasta and is an excellent meal!
In conclusion, this article on Spanish mackerel fishing will help anglers put more fish in the boat!