How to Catch Spanish MackerelPublished on 05/17/2023 · 7 min readFishing Expert Michael Matey walks you through what you'll need when heading out to catch Spanish mackerel, as well as how to find and actually catch them.
Myself holding a Spanish Mackerel
tl;dr Spanish Mackerel can be found anywhere from Mexico’s Yucatán** **Peninsula all the way up to Massachusetts' Atlantic Coast; though they are most commonly found in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. A close relative to the larger game fish known as the king mackerel, Spanish mackerel are often pursued by anglers due to their prevalence, healthy fight, and decent table fare. Whether you're a commercial angler, or simply one who loves a casual day of fishing with family and friends, Spanish mackerel are a great species to target. In this guide, we’ll discuss the gear, tactics, and techniques necessary to catch them.
Choosing the right rod, reel, and line is crucial when targeting Spanish mackerel. For the rod, I’d recommend a seven-foot, fast-action, medium power. The length will be enough to make far casts to cover as much water as possible, and the medium power will provide enough backbone to pull in larger fish without completely overpowering smaller ones. Further, using a rod with a fast action, which bends near the rod tip, is ideal for casting lures accurately. The Daiwa Team Daiwa Sol Inshore Spinning Rod fits each of these specifications and is a robust option for targeting Spanish mackerel.
Pair your rod with a size 3000 spinning reel, which offers a happy medium in strength to handle different-sized mackerel. For these purposes, I recommend the Shimano Spheros SW Inshore Spinning Reel. It’s designed for saltwater use, so it features extra seals and rust resistance. Plus, its 20 pounds of drag is plenty for handling Spanish mackerel, and its shape matches perfectly with the Daiwa rod suggested above.
For your main line, 15–30lb braid will work in almost every situation, and Power Pro Spectra Braided Line is my go-to. But remember, it’s essential to add 2–3 feet of fluorocarbon leader line at the end of the main line just before the lure. There are two main reasons for this: first, fluorocarbon is clear and much less visible underwater to fish; second, Spanish mackerel have razor-sharp teeth that will cut through braid with ease, but fluorocarbon is much more abrasion resistant.
If you’re fishing in very clear water, you’ll need to use the lightest line possible in order to make it more difficult for the fish to see it. However, there’s a delicate balance between choosing a line that’s too light (and therefore easy for a fish to bite through) and choosing a heavy-duty line that won’t earn you any bites. Typically, I recommend experimenting with a leader that is anywhere between 15–40lb test, like Suffix Invisiline, which comes in a variety of different sizes.
Spanish mackerel feed on fast-moving bait fish which swim through the ocean. This includes sardines, glass minnows, anchovies, shrimp, squid, and finger mullet. So, the key is to emulate this live bait to the best of your ability. Anything that has an erratic action, creates large vibrations or is super flashy works well for this. Lures such as spoons, twitch baits, and paddle tails are some of the most commonly used for targeting mackerel.
The metal spoon is one of the most versatile lures used in saltwater fishing. Spoons present a fluttering action in the water which gives the impression of a baitfish struggling to swim. They also reflect light, creating a flashing effect similar to bait moving through the water. These lures are especially useful when targeting Spanish mackerel—since they are made from metal and can not be torn apart by the mackerel’s sharp teeth. I recommend the Strike King Sexy Spoon, which comes in multiple colors, so you can try different options to see what the fish that day are keen on.
When the bites seem to slow down, it may be time for twitch baits. These can be worked much more slowly in the water by slightly twitching or jerking the rod instead of utilizing a normal, steady retrieve. They can also be trolled along the coastline and close to the surf.
Twitch baits typically come with treble hooks attached to them, which is beneficial when targeting Spanish mackerel—since they tend to make quick swipes at the lure instead of completely swallowing it. The treble hooks will help ensure you don’t miss the hookset on the fish. The Rapala Husky Jerk has great action and is well-suited for Spanish mackerel fishing.
Another excellent lure choice, a paddle tail is a soft, plastic bait that can be rigged on a jig head or a weighted hook. The paddle on the back end gives it an attractive pulsing effect that Spanish mackerel are particularly sensitive to. I’m a big fan of the Z-Man MinnowZ because of its extremely durable construction which holds up against a mackerel’s sharp teeth.
Finding Spanish Mackerel
Finding your target species is possibly the most difficult aspect of inshore fishing. Different species live in different areas, migrate during different seasons, and can even be in different places depending on the time of day. While Spanish mackerel can be caught in many depths—from bays and rivers to miles offshore in crystal-clear saltwater—here are a few key tips to keep in mind when targeting these elusive fish.
Look for Current
As with most saltwater species, the highest concentrations of Spanish mackerel are found where there is current. That’s because current brings bait to the fish, making the job of finding a meal much easier.
So, checking out your local tide chart should be an included step in your pre-trip planning. Your best bet is to fish between the low and high tides—when the current will be flowing the fastest. Further, Spanish mackerel can be caught in open water, but they are often found near structures. This can include piers, reefs, offshore wrecks, or bridges.
A chum block can help attract Spanish mackerel to you. For those who aren’t familiar, a chum block is a frozen chunk of ground-up fish that can be attached to a boat with a mesh net. While the block slowly melts in the water, its contents drift away from the boat over a course of a few hours. Subsequently, this “chum slick” will attract fish. The technique can be used near a pass, inlet, or a few miles offshore—as long as there is current to move the chum away from the boat.
It’s important to note that while Spanish mackerel can be caught in most areas year-round, they prefer water temperatures between 68–80℉. Because water temperature can vary drastically in any area depending on the season, check your’s before heading out to angle.
Landing a Spanish Mackerel
Spanish Mackerel fight extremely hard for their size. They pull drag and tend to jump multiple times before reaching the boat. Between their acrobatics and their sharp teeth, many things can go wrong in the landing process. That being said, there are a few safe practices to decrease the chances of losing your catch.
Since Spanish Mackerel tend to be “jumpy”, you'll want to keep your rod tip down and close to the water. Conversely, when you hold the rod high, the fish is pulled up towards the surface of the water—increasing the chances of them jumping and shaking the hook.
Again, using a strong leader line is a must when fishing for mackerel. So, if you see mackerel keep cutting your line with their sharp teeth, even when using a stronger leader, a wire leader may be necessary. Though this has a tendency to spook the fish, resulting in fewer bites, so I only advise using wire as a last resort.
Spanish mackerel are a highly sought-after game fish among saltwater anglers. They’re plentiful, pull drag, and are delicious. That being said, they can be tricky to catch. But by following the help of his guide, you should be on your way to landing one in no time.
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