Mackerel season is here, and this is the time to look good catching fish even if you are a beginner. My go-to simple method is trolling with hardware. It requires a boat and specific gear, but it catches fish! Most folks can master it because it’s simple and easy; just follow directions. I’ll explain several options. My next choice is casting heavy spoon lures on lighter spinning gear. Last, but certainly not least, are live baits — and don’t overlook shrimp.
If you have to catch fish, the choice is a planer-and spoon combo. You will need some medium conventional gear in the 30- to 50-pound class, a few No. 1 and No. 2 planers, and of course the spoons. I use 40- to 50-pound fluorocarbon leaders and make them long, about 12 feet. The new planers are black, but I add black swivels to help prevent fish strike cut offs. Choose shiny spoons with good hooks that match the size baitfish around. Matching the hatch always helps. Troll at 5 to 6 mph. Use hook extractors to protect your fingers and prevent rod loss by slippery hands. Carry extra planers, leader and spoons, because you will lose some.
Look for bird and striking fish activity to locate feeding fish. Baitfish schools near the surface are chased up by feeding fish. Troll around the fringes of the area, not through the activity. Watch your speed, and when trolling several rods wait until you have more than one fish on to slow down. Be considerate of other boats. And remember, safety first.
No planer? An egg sinker will allow you to catch fish trolling. Use the size required to keep your spoon in the water. I’m serious — keep your lure down for more action. Use a long leader and a black swivel to keep the weight away from your lure.
The old Boca way — a spoon and a jig for weight — also works. Capt. Wayne Joiner of Whidden’s Marina has been doing well that way recently, with big macks two at a time frequently. The jig is forward and the spoon follows. Both attract fish. Use heavier leader to prevent cut offs. By the way, if you want to catch a tarpon, the Whidden’s captains are the best traditional guides around. Try your luck.
Casting spoons is a preferred way to use lighter gear. Tsunami makes several castable spoon lures; the Midwave and Shockwave are my favorites. I like the half-ounce options because I cast them a mile. Retrieve as fast as you can. Add action if you like with very short twitches; long jerks just miss fast bites. If you’re getting a bunch of cutoffs, stop leaving so much slack! These fish are lightning fast and bite off slack lures.
Trolling lures is an option. I do like larger lures for kings but don’t like the treble hooks for Spanish. It’s too time-consuming and dangerous to unhook these sharp-toothed fish. Lures need to wobble properly. Try holding your lure close to the boat so you can observe the action to learn the best trolling speeds. You’ll catch more fish. I believe we do catch bigger fish on lures.
If you plan to troll or drift live baits, you must acquire live baits and have the capacity to keep them frisky. Just alive is not good enough. Observe what happens when someone with a well full of healthy minnows shows up and lights up the bite. This is a lot of work. It’s a great method, but hardware does the job too. This is not snook fishing! Find fish and go to work. Carry a lot of gear; you will be rigging a lot. Long-shanked hooks are a hot commodity among kingfishermen.
Anchoring up and chumming is awesome. This is really your best bet, but it’s also extremely hard work. We use frozen chum blocks. Don’t bother with the green bag junk. Get the tournament chum and use a big mesh chum bag to let it flow. Bring lots of chum, too — don’t be cheap if you want to attract attention. Avoid getting too close to any other boats or structures, and consider the current flow before you anchor.
You might notice the abundant shrimp boat fleet off the beaches right now. You may be surprised to hear that live shrimp are great mackerel baits. Much easier to buy, too. Try jigs tippet with a piece of shrimp for scent. We used to wreck ‘em this way back in the day.
Handling your catch requires plenty of ice. If you do not brine them, you are reducing your food quality! Get them swimming in icy water immediately. This way they are firm and tasty. Except for the largest king mackerel, these are good healthy fish for us with plentiful Omega 3s. The biggest kingfish do have mercury issues.
We have liberal bag limits of 15 Spanish mackerel and three king mackerel per legal angler. Both species are underfished and underutilized species. Never keep more fish than you can use, but these are fish we can share with family and friends.
Always exercise care with toothy fish. Be aware they can hurt you bad, even dead in the cooler or on the fillet table. Many injuries are caused by digging under the ice to pull out a mackerel and grabbing the open mouth — watch your fingers!
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.