They’re oily but tasty when fresh, have razor sharp teeth, are swift swimmers, and eat like teenagers. What are they? Spanish Mackerel, and they have arrived! They come and go in schools, depending on where the bait schools go. So, bait is the real key to finding these fish. It seems Spanish Mackerel have but one thing in mind, and that’s to eat.
It’s almost a given, that if you find glass minnows, also called bay anchovies, greenbacks—also called threadfin herring—or white bait—also called pilchards or scaled sardines—that you’ll find the Mackerel. Glass minnows, a small, soft bait fish, is an easy catch for Mackerel. All the Macks have to do is circle the bait pod, forcing them to the surface to the point where the bait fish ball up tightly, and then blast through the middle of the school with mouths wide open. This method creates a feeding frenzy of sorts when small bits of the bait fish get cut and fall in the water column, attracting other Mackerel to the feeding zone.
It’s usually pretty easy to find feeding Mackerel. They will feed whenever the opportunity comes up, but early morning around sunrise is usually the best time to look for them when winds are slack and seas are calm. Areas just off St. Petersburg Beach, inside the Egmont Key Ship’s Channel, and inside the Skyway Bridge in lower Tampa Bay around channel markers are key areas where bait schools can be found. Look for skyrocketing Mackerel leaping out of the water, circling or diving pelicans, terns, and seagulls, or whitewater created by fish thrashing and slashing through bait schools. A good pair of binoculars can help you locate birds or these visual signs at a distance, but when fish are down deep, a bottom machine can help you locate fish. Trolling with an assortment of depth-seeking lures, planers, or downriggers, and use of flat lines can help you zero in on where these fish are in the water column.
Flashy spoons like the Clark Spoon Squid or Eppinger Dardevle, soft plastic jigs with flashy glitter, casting lures like the Diamond Jig and Gotcha Plugs are all proven Mackerel attractors. Live baiters can help prevent cut-offs by using long shank hooks with either a light trace of wire leader or 40-pound test fluorocarbon leader.
Few products are better at attracting Mackerel than frozen chum blocks, like those from Baitmaster’s Tournament Chum, manufactured by Aylesworth’s Fish and Bait, of St. Petersburg. Fishing with either natural or artificial bait will be enhanced by hanging a chum block over the side. They are incredibly effective and will guarantee bringing Macks to the boat whether you are using live or artificial baits.