If you’ve spent time fishing along the Atlantic seaboard or Gulf Coast of Florida or just about anywhere up the east coast of the US, you have probably hooked into some Spanish mackerel. They are everywhere when migrating and it’s hard not to catch some! But how to catch Spanish mackerel? That’s the question we’ll answer for you today.
This guide will show you how to catch Spanish mackerel like a real pro!
Why Catch Spanish Mackerel?
They’re just fun to catch, first of all. Any fish that chases something shiny and fast through the water is fun to catch if you ask me. They have sharp teeth and can sometimes chew through your mono or fluoro lines so you have to be a little creative to catch them consistently without breaking your line.
You have to employ tactics to catch them. I like a challenge as much as anyone, and there are too many fish in the ocean that don’t require any effort to catch. Landing some nice mackerel depends on your tackle, rigs, location, and the season you fish.
They also make great baits for tuna, striped bass, bluefish, swordfish and many other large predatory fish.
Are Smacks Good Eating?
Some anglers run the words together and call them smacks! If you listen to the hype, many people will tell you that eating these fish is not recommended. They’re oily. They taste too much like fish or they have ‘that fishy smell.’
I listened to friends for years and didn’t try one myself until after I’d been catching them for at least five years. In Florida we have a lot of other fish to eat that are hard to match, so really there was no need to even try a fish that other people said wasn’t worth the effort.
Then I tried them. Whoa! They have a nice semi-firm flesh, a bit firmer than spotted trout or flounder for sure, and yet not as thick and flaky as reds or black drum. They’re also not as firm/flaky as king mackerel but about the same texture on a smaller scale.
Sautéed in butter or baked will give you a good idea of what they taste like. Try it, it’s simple and you’ll have become a little bit smarter about what’s good eating from the ocean around your home. Personally, I really like them in fish tacos!
Fried, baked, or grilled, Spanish mackerel are a great fish to eat, and if you’re in an area where they are you will find a lot of them. Mercury content is high, so limit yourself to eating just three servings of this per month, and don’t use them for sushi.
Bleed all mackerel immediately and get them on ice. If allowed in the area you’re catching them, cut the heads off and remove the guts and bloodline before cooking for the cleanest taste. After bleeding the fish, you can filet Spanish mackerel just like you would any other fish. They are very easily fileted and small ones cook very fast. You will enjoy these fish on a plate! They are best eaten fresh and do not freeze very well.
What Is The Best Bait To Catch Spanish Mackerel?
Though most anglers will fish for Spanish with artificial lures because it’s cheaper, if you can cast net some bait in the shallows you can use just about anything alive or dead to catch smacks if you know where they’re at.
Some of the top live and dead baits for targeting Spanish mackerel include pilchards, sardines, mullet, cut bait, shrimp, and squid.
For whole bait, put a hook in the mouth and out through the nose area and then another one just in the dorsal skin to make sure you hook the fish.
For cut bait and shrimp or squid, you can cast out and let it drop a few feet and retrieve, or put a popping cork on it with a 2-3 foot line to drop it a bit with each pop.
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1. Diamond Jigs
Diamond jigs are not all that well known or used much among most anglers up and down the east coast of the USA. If we’re going to use a spoon, we’ll just use the typical round casting spoons like we always do.
Why buy a special angled diamond jig instead? To be honest I’m not sure there’s much or any difference in the amount of action you’ll get from them versus a rounded spoon.
These are simple, shiny spoons with sharper angles than typical spoons with a trailing treble hook. Silver and gold are the primary colors and they work really well for smacks and other predatory fish looking for baitfish in the water.
Diamond jigs give off that crucial flash which causes mackerel to want to chase and feed. Start with smaller 1.5 to 2″ jigs and see if you get hits. You can increase the size if you think there are bigger fish around.
2. Gotcha Lures
Got-Cha lures are very popular with anglers targeting Spanish mackerel, jacks, bluefish, and other fast fish that chase shiny lures. These lures are effective and last for years if you take care of them.
Pulling a Gotcha through the water you may be surprised at how it rips through very fast with little drag. It is heavy and very easy to toss a long distance with a 7-9′ rod and baitcasting reel. Many folks use a bigger rod and launch these from the piers way out, especially with the wind at your back! Casts of 100 yards are not unheard of.
Spanish macks love these lures and you should always have a few of them in your tackle box. This is a lure that ensures you catch fish and don’t lose too many because it has a double treble hook that’s quite sharp right out of the package.
I’ve caught amberjack, cobia, snook, snapper, jacks, blues, and Spanish on these incredible lures. You may not even need to use anything else.
Note, the gold, silver, and white-bodied Got-Chas work great. Cast it out, let it sink as much as you choose, then quickly reel it in steadily with some twitches or falls occasionally. You will catch fish with these lures!
3. Sea Shad Baits by Bass Assassin
Curly-tailed and paddle-tailed jigs are renowned for catching all kinds of fish and for being one of the most productive lures you can fish with. My tackle boxes are full of a huge variety of these sorts of lures of every color, size, and smell. You can get the plastic parts in a smelly solution too which I think helps a bit.
Catching smacks with these Sea Shad baits by Bass Assassin is easy and consistent. If the fish are around, you’ll be catching them with a slow or fast retrieve of these lifelike lures.
The only issue I have with fishing soft plastic lures is that with toothy fishes like mackerels you’re going to lose parts of the lure with strikes. Even after catching just one fish your lure can be destroyed and need to be replaced. That’s not exactly sustainable!
The best colors are light colors – white, silver, light gray, light yellow, light brown, etc. You can use a small 1/4 oz. to 1/2 oz. jig and 2-5″ lures. Most people use these small jig heads successfully but sometimes the current will force you to use larger and heavier jig heads. All of them can be productive.
4. Clark Trolling Spoons
Clark spoons are lightweight odd-shaped spoons that move through the water like a small bait fish. The silver and gold colored ones flash like spoons and diamond lures. They are longer than spoons and can move fast through the water.
These Clark trolling spoons are hard to cast, they are so lightweight, but they are ideal for trolling. You’ll need a planer or some trolling weights to get the spoon down under the water where the fish are.
5. Casting Spoon
Rounded casting spoons are a staple of Spanish mackerel fishing and you should count on this lure as the first one you cast to see if fish are around. A spoon like this will catch all kinds of fish because most fish love to see the flash of a small fish in the water close to them. It gets them excited and ready to feed.
Casting spoons are great for casting long distances and you can use a small 1 oz. or 2 oz. spoon in most cases and use it with a good swivel. Do keep in mind that Spanish macks will nip at the swivels too because they love tiny bait as well.
These spoons are durable and you can use them for years with some maintenance and lubrication to keep them from rusting in your tackle box.
What Is The Best Time To Catch Spanish Mackerel?
Incoming tides during dawn or dusk produce a lot of fish but you can’t ignore water temperature and weather. The worst time to fish for spanish macks is when the water is cold.
Water temperature of at least 68°F or much warmer is when they feed. The hotter the water the better, to a point. South Florida from March to September is always good for these fish and there are tens of thousands caught annually.
Fish when the light changes at sunrise or dusk and the tide is moving in or out a fair bit during that time. And if there is a tidal change before or after that, you should have a full fishing session.
Fishing at night is always great fun! You can use a rechargeable headlamp to provide light for hours. Shine the light directly into the water. A fishing pier is ideal for this and you may already have some lights on the pier that help keep fish active.
Glow stick rigs can work too. Experiment and let us know what kind of luck you have. Using something light-colored like white strips of fresh fish, squid, or shrimp can work well.
How Do You Target Spanish Mackerel?
Using the right bait and being in the right place with warm water, flat open areas or areas with seagrass on the Atlantic coast or in the Gulf of Mexico is a good way to start. Try inlets and passes. Find bait. Find birds on the open water.
Begin with any of the bait or artificial lures we talked about. Fish incoming tides and clear water areas, especially near piers.
I’ve caught more of these macks near piers than anywhere else except out on the open water in my kayak just trolling along with a couple of lines dragging behind the boat.
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What Is The Best Way To Catch Mackerel?
Because mackerel are fast-moving they’re easy to catch with a very easy rig like a spoon on a 50 lb. monofilament leader with a swivel.
Fifty-pound monofilament is preferable to wire leader, especially in clear water conditions which macks love. They typically won’t bite in dirty, cloudy water so look for them in the clearest areas. For big Spanish mackerel, use wire, and for mackerel under 10 lb. or so use heavy mono to prevent frayed lines.
Spoons are hard to beat, as are any of the lures mentioned above. Start with some of those and see if you can land fish. You likely won’t need anything more.
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Here’s a Summary of Pro Tips to Help You Catch More Spanish Macks:
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- Mackerel move very quickly so vary your retrieve between medium and very fast to entice them to bite. Slow it down if you don’t get bites.
- They feed when the water is warm to very warm. On hot days when the water is clear, you will find more fish.
- Clear water is essential.
- Flashy lures moved quickly are better than anything else.
- Swivels are attacked by mackerel because they look like tiny fish. Tie line directly to the leader when not using spinning lures.
- Check your line often for damage, mackerel teeth are razor-sharp.
- Spring and just before winter are when they migrate, so targeting during that time can produce many good-sized fish.
- If trolling, speeds of between 5 and 10 knots are recommended.
- Spanish mackerel may not always be on the surface, go deeper with a planer if trolling.
- Birds feeding on the water are a good sign for mackerel and many other species of fish.
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Spanish mackerels are a great fish to begin with if you’re teaching kids or newbies about fishing. They’re easy to find when it’s hot and you can simply head to a fishing pier to catch them with lures already in your tackle box.
You can use this guide to know how to catch Spanish mackerel and give it to your friends who need to learn. This is one of the most plentiful fish in the ocean and they’re good to eat a couple of times per month to top it off. Go catch yourself some and let us know how you did!