It’s Mackerel Season on Florida’s Big Bend!

Spanish Mackerel school up over pods of bait over our Big Bend grass flats!

This fall, as pods of baitfish move along the Big Bend, anglers can count on some great action from pelagic species like king and Spanish mackerel that follow them.  The early summer days of scrawny “snakes” have passed and these eating machines have fattened and in some cases reached record sizes. 

Be prepared for long runs and a big fight with King Mackerel!

If you see fish striking bait pods over deep grass flats, you may have found Spanish mackerel—or maybe bluefish, ladyfish or bonito (little tunny).  If not Spanish, don’t waste your time unless you want to do some great catch-and-release light tackle fishing.  However, if they’re Spanish (they’ll often jump when feeding), don’t make the classic newbie mistake of running your boat into the middle of the melee.  All you’ll do is catch a few smaller fish before the big fish go to ground.  Slow trolling, at 4 to 5 knots, the perimeter of the action is a good method for catching dinner.  I like 4000 class spinning gear, rigged with 15-pound braid, a short wire leader and a brightly colored 1/2-ounce Flowering Floreo jig.  I trim the skirt back to the curve in the hook and then tip the hook with a 1 to 2 inch strip of mullet belly. Just that little bit of flavor can really pick up the bite, as can pulling the bait forward in the water and letting it fall back.  It seems Spanish mackerel more often strike a falling lure, than not. 

Spanish Mackerel are fun to catch on light spinning tackle or fly gear!

…and they’re great to eat!

Both mackerel species make good table fare.  Big kings should be avoided by anyone with health issues, as they may have picked up some mercury during their growth cycle.  However, younger smaller ones, in the 15-pound range, are good.  Cut them into steaks, marinate in Italian dressing, and grill.  Spanish mackerel are also good, filleted and grilled or broiled, with just some olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, pepper and dried oregano.  Both species smoke well.  Finally, don’t be tempted to freeze any of these oily fish for longer than a week or so.  That means that you may have to leave a few still biting, especially the Spanish variety, for another day!