Mackerel Time at the Beach
According to my sources, the fall migration of Spanish mackerel is showing up around Sarasota and should be arriving here as this goes to print. There will be mackerel around most of the winter but this first push can provide some fast action for beach anglers. Mackerel are not picky about their diet and put up a good fight on light spinning tackle. In addition, the limits are generous and as table fare, they are particularly good when they are fresh or smoked. They should be iced immediately out of the water for best results.
Like many gamefish, they are sight feeders and show up along the beach early and late in the day. Mackerel feed primarily on smaller baitfish and just about any small, shiny, fast moving lure will be attacked. There are lots of jigs and lures that catch mackerel. Due to their toothy nature, durability is an important quality. An old standard that still works is the “diamond jig.” Whatever jig you choose, a heavier version will cast farther, sink quicker and stay in the water during the really fast retrieves necessary to excite their bite.
We also like white jig heads in the 3/8-ounce size with a silver shad tail plastic. Yes, we do lose a lot of tails to mackerel teeth but they are pretty cheap and work really well.
Due to the mackerel’s teeth, many anglers tie on a wire leader to prevent cutoffs. This works but can reduce your strikes significantly. We find a foot of 40 lb. fluorocarbon leader works better. Sure, you might lose a fish after a long battle if they finally chew through this material, but it rarely happens. Be sure to check your leader after each fish and replace it if it starts to fray. Another way to prevent cutoffs is to put something red on the back of the lure or jig. Mackerel will key in on the red part and end up chewing on the hook rather than the leader. They will also attack white Clouser flies rigged with a short piece of 40 lb. leader to fend off those teeth. Mackerel flies often are tied on a long shank hook with the body of the fly back by the bend.
Most mackerel lures come with a treble hook that we replace with a J-hook that is easier to remove around their razor-sharp teeth. If you want to release the fish, this does less damage. To carry this one step further, you could mash, or partially mash down the barb with pliers. If you do plan to release a mackerel, do it quickly as they are fragile and die easily out of water. A lip gripper is really handy to quickly and safely get control of any toothy fish to release it alive.
Mackerel must be a minimum of 12" long [fork length] but can grow to 36". The limit is 15 per angler per day but that is way more than most folks can utilize fresh. They don’t freeze well.
We like to filet them and cut the skin off before trimming out the dark flesh along the center of the filet. They fry up as boneless strips or can be brined and smoked to enjoy later. The smoked strips freeze well and can be thawed individually for
So, watch for birds diving on bait near the beach and cast something shiny near the commotion being careful to not hook a bird. You should get a strike on every cast and will soon have plenty of mackerel on ice. They will be moving along the beach so pack light and walk fast. Once you have kept what you need, release the rest until your arms get tired. Please
limit your kill and don’t kill
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of Angler’s Guide to Shore and KAYAK Fishing Southwest Florida, contribute these excerpts from both Waterproof books to promote the excellent fishing available in the Englewood area. They are available locally at Old Florida Gallery on West Dearborn, and for download at www.anglerpocketguides.com & www.amazon.com.