My boat needed some exercise and frankly, I was ready for some water time. I did some exploration and discovered several bright spots for future fishing.
Waters locally are looking good! Inside waters are still darker, but that’s normal for this time of year. I observed millions of smaller baitfish that should grow up providing bait and food for fall fishing. This allows me to remain optimistic about our local fishing for the next few months. Migratory mackerel and other fish are showing up north of us; they will be here anytime.
With fuel issues we all deal with, I don’t like to leave gas in my boat too long. It absorbs moisture and loses power. Our weather finally improved, and we had a few days of east winds to enjoy. It was educational and fun to go boating after a break. The Gulf waters looked very good; clear and full of activity. Bait and some mackerel are already here, and our fishing will continue to improve every day.
Local passes and beaches were covered up with tiny baitfish minnows. Be careful to use a very small mesh cast net if you are capturing these smaller minnows. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of baits gilled in the mesh — a time-consuming mess to clean and a waste of a valuable resource.
There were scattered Spanish and schools of jacks active everywhere. Schools of hungry mackerel afford us exciting fishing opportunities. Multiple hookups with fast fish is a dream come true.
Everyone has different ways to target mackerel. The easiest way is trolling spoons. Where fish are in the water column dictates how you rig. Surface activity allows us to troll near the surface, with no weights required. Super simple.
Deeper fish require something to drag your offering down to where fish are feeding. Some use weights; I prefer to use metal planer devices. They are designed to drag your lures deeper and release to bring fish up when you hook up. If you need assistance rigging one, ask for help from staff at your favorite bait shop.
Planers come in varied sizes. The No. 1 digs about 10 feet down. A No. 2 will dive about about 20 feet. Bigger planers require stout gear! I don’t use planer rigs with spinning gear. Conventional holds up better. I add large black swivels to my planer to save gear. Rig a long leader (at least 12 feet) from planer to spoon.
I prefer a 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader for Spanish. We get some cutoffs but many more bites. I do use wire for bigger king mackerel, though. Keep terminal gear to a minimum. Use black swivels to help reduce cut-off rigs.
Speed is important here. You are dealing with a fish that has excellent vision. Large eyes allow them to see well. I troll spoons at 5.5 to 6 knots for reaction bites. Other artificial lures require different speeds, usually much slower. Experiment and remember what works. It can vary on different days. Match the hatch by using lures that are similar size to baits fish are feeding on.
I look for bird activity to locate feeding fish. The birds are eating the same things the fish are. If you see striking fish, that’s an obvious indicator! Observe the size and species if you can. Many varied fish migrate along our coast now. Mackerel jump frequently when feeding. Ladyfish and jacks don’t. Little tunny (bonito) are bigger and fun but will test your gear. King mackerel are much bigger and usually show up as waters cool down a little more. Sharks are easy to see with the fins sticking up.
The best news about mackerel is they are abundant, fun, have liberal bag limits, and are good eating if iced properly. They are best eaten fresh. Spanish have lighter meat but both eat well if kept on ice. No ice, and both are cat food.
I like to broil mackerel, especially the Spanish. Kings can be marinated in Italian salad dressing overnight to enhance flavor. Both can be blackened or bronzed and enjoyed also. We smoke the kings and eat some hot off the smoker, then make fish dip with the remainder. Just pick any bones and skin off, add Duke’s mayo and mix. I use Old Bay to season seafood with also.
It’s encouraging to see our waters looking clean and healthy. Seagrasses are still depleted but trying to bounce back. Baitfish are abundant and are small right now but growing. We had lots of pinfish, but they seem to have moved out of Lemon Bay.
Mullet are concentrated in specific areas and tasty if you’re interested! This is my first choice for the table right now, smoked or fried. Snook have recovered better than most expected. I keep hearing good reports on redfish and some trout. Please use de-hookers instead of touching fish for release! Dead discards don’t help tomorrow’s fishing.
Water quality seems to be improving in most areas. We are lucky so far and I’m looking forward to some great catching the next couple of months. Fishing will change dramatically when waters chill in a couple months. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy our outdoors. Blessings to us all, and let’s go fishin’ now!
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.