With our big three species (redfish, snook and trout) closed for another year, some folks are reluctant to go fishing if they can’t bring home dinner. But right now we have an opportunity to enjoy hot action and put delicious fillets on the table.
Spanish mackerel are already abundant in local waters, and their larger kingfish cousins are due anytime. Windy days can prevent access to their open Gulf habitat, but calmer days are productive. Both mackerel species are underutilized and underfished by recreational anglers. Both have liberal bag limits and, if iced properly, are excellent eating. Here are tips to put fish in the boat, plus some suggestions for preparation.
Let’s start off with the gear you will need. If you’re shorebound, try the Venice Municipal Pier or the Venice jetties. Mackerel like open waters but do occasionally feed right along the surf. For beach or pier angling, my suggestion is a medium spinning rig with 20-pound braided line.
You want to make long casts to increase the time your offering is in the water. Try using a small but heavy spoon, a half-ounce to an ounce. I prefer 30- or 40-pound test fluorocarbon leaders for Spanish. Why not wire? I do have some lures cut off, but I get many more bites with fluorocarbon. Try incoming tides for best action, in the early mornings or evening if you can.
If you’re boating, I recommend stronger conventional rigs with 30- or 40-pound line; either braid or monofilament work here. The mono has more forgiveness and stretch, so I do like it for trolling. Rods need to have backbone but also a forgiving tip. You don’t need a big boat but be sure to be safe, don’t go out in rough conditions.
The easy way to catch both mackerel is trolling hardware (lures or spoons) with planers. Try your local tackle shop for help here. They can set you up. Buy extras now, because you will lose some and the shops sell out when the word gets out. A No. 1 black planer and a 3-inch shiny silver spoon with at least 10 feet of 50 pound fluorocarbon is your ticket to success.
Proper handling is important, both for your safety and for best food quality. Mackerel have sharp teeth. Use de-hookers or risk losing fingers. Take time to observe the business end of a mackerel and learn to respect their choppers.
Carry extra ice, because you will probably catch more than you anticipated. The best way I’ve developed is to add clean salt water to the ice in your cooler as you begin to catch fish. This creates a brine that will immediately chill your catch. Add ice as required. The goal is to keep the fish so cold you can’t hold your hand in the cooler water without freezing it. This ensures we’ll arrive home with firm, fresh meat.
If you are a sushi fan, try mackerel and discover what you have been missing. The fresher the better. You can go plain or elaborate. I like it dipped in soy sauce. Mackerel ceviche is awesome also. You can skin and fry fresh mackerel, but the thin skin is hard to remove without wasting meat.
I fillet Spanish and smaller kings, leaving the skin on. Then I remove the rib cage, belly, and the center pin bones. Now you can smoke, fry, grill or broil them. As with any fish, take care not to overcook mackerel.
My favorite is broiling. I season it with Old Bay and Everglades seasoning and place the fillets under a red-hot broiler until seared. I remove and baste liberally with Duke’s mayo. Then put them back into broiler. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. As the mayo starts to turn golden brown, shut off the heat and leave the pan in the oven for a few minutes. This allows the juices to blend down into the meat, ensuring moist and flavorful fish.
For larger king mackerel, try steaking them instead of filleting. Slice off steaks about an inch thick. You can grill, smoke or blacken these to feed a larger family or group of friends.
If we have leftovers, I make fish dip. Just remove any bones or skin and flake the meat in a bowl. Add mayo or cream cheese (your choice) and blend it together. I add more seasonings to taste; maybe some Key lime juice, sweet pickle relish and Crystal hot sauce. It makes great dip or sandwich spread and an easy meal or snack.
My favorite part of mackerel trolling is we get to enjoy catching while talking and becoming better acquainted. Most of my trips are with younger children, and they have a ball because the action has been steady. The fish are beautiful, and their smiles make my trip successful and fun for all of us. Kids, parents and grandparents are sharing quality time together as a family — what could be better?
Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
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.