SPANISH MACKEREL Order - Perciformes (Scomberomorus maculatus) Family - Scombridae Genus - Scomberomorus Species - maculatus
Spanish Mackerels are members of the large family of fish that include the Tunas and other Mackerels. Although these fish vary greatly in size, they share many common characteristics including being very fast, powerful swimmers. The average size of Spanish Mackerel is from 2-3 pounds, while a weight of 9-10 pounds is considered large.
Spanish Mackerels are considered coastal pelagic fin fish, forming immense, fast-moving schools that range the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. In the late summer and early fall this species migrates southward to spend the winter and early spring along Florida's southern coast. Spanish Mackerels do not appear to move freely around the Florida Keys, creating separate Gulf and Atlantic populations.
The English language common names for this species are Atlantic spanish mackerel, horse mackerel, spotted mackerel, Spaniard, spotted cybium and Spanish mackerel.
Spanish mackerel are found in the subtropical and tropical waters off North America and the Caribbean. They are locally found along the Atlantic coast from as far north as Nova Scotia (Canada) and south to Florida along the Gulf of Mexico (US). Florida is considered to be the area with the highest abundance of Spanish mackerel.
Spanish mackerel are epipelagic, residing at depths ranging from 33-115 feet . They are often found in very large schools near the surface of the water. They frequent barrier islands and the passes associated with these islands and are rarely found in low salinity waters. Spanish mackerel larvae occur mostly offshore while juvenile mackerels are found both offshore and in the beach surf.
Migrating over large distances close to shore, Spanish mackerel in the Atlantic Ocean follow the coastline northward during the warmer summer months and back in the autumn and winter months to waters off Florida. There are some populations of this fish in the Gulf of Mexico that migrate westwards in the early spring to waters off Texas. This species also migrates along the coast of Mexico southward between August and November and then northward again in March and April.
- Water Temperature
Prefer a water temperatures above 68° F. They show up in the spring when the water temperature off the beach goes through 70 degrees, with the 72 - 73 degree range marking the best fishing.
- Size, Age, and Growth Most Spanish Mackerel you will catch around Destin will be 2 to 3 pounds. However, they can reach an average size of 8 - 11 lbs. The Florida state record is 12 pounds while the world record is 13 pounds (North Carolina). The maximum reported length of this species is 35.8 inches in Florida. Juvenile Spanish mackerel grow rapidly and then start to slow as they reach age 5 for males and age 6 for females. Size at sexual maturity varies between areas and sex . The oldest Spanish mackerel sampled was 11 years for females and 10 years for males.
- Food Habits Spanish Mackerel tend to feed on the smallest bait fish available which is usually glass minnows. However, the diet of adult Spanish mackerel consists primarily of smaller fish such as herrings, menhaden, jacks, mullet, anchovy, and sardines. This mackerel is also known to feed in lesser quantities on shrimp, crabs, squid and cephalopods. Feeding Spanish mackerel are often seen forcing schools of small fish into tight bundles and nearly pushing them out of the water.
The Spanish mackerel has a fusiform (tapered at both ends) body and a pointed snout which is much shorter than the rest of the head. Their slender bullet-shaped bodies are blue and silver, spotted with golden yellow or olive ovals. There are two closely spaced dorsal (top) fins. The first dorsal fin has 17 to 19 spines and originates above the pectoral fin base while the second dorsal fin has 17- 20 rays. The caudal (bottom) fin is falciform (curved, sickle shaped) .
The Spanish mackerel is much smaller than its relative, the king mackerel. However, juvenile king mackerels and spanish mackerel can be misidentified. The spanish mackerel can be distinguished from juvenile king mackerels by their lateral lines and the first dorsal fin coloration:
- LATERAL LINE: The King mackerel's lateral line drops abruptly below the second dorsal fin. The lateral line of the Spanish mackerel slopes gradually down toward the tail.
SPANISH MACKEREL LATERAL LINE KING MACKEREL LATERAL LINE
The front third of the Spanish Mackerel's first dorsal fin is black. PICTURE COMING
The Spanish mackerel is distinguished from the cero mackerel (Scomberomorus regalis) by yellow-gold spots on its sides (versus the cero's yellow-gold streaks along the midline from pectoral fin to tail. However, the cero mackerel is not normally found in the Destin area.
Spanish mackerel have no swim bladder and the body is covered with small silvery scales. They also lacks scales on the pectoral fins except at the bases as does the king mackerel.
The Spanish mackerel is iridescent blue-green along the dorsal (top) surface and silver along the sides of the body. There are approximately three rows of large dark elliptical brown and brassy spots along the sides of the body. The number of spots increases with increasing fork length of the mackerel The front third of the first dorsal fin is dark in color.
- Teeth The Spanish mackerel has relatively large sharp teeth that are triangular in shape and are arranged in a single row around their jaw. These teeth can easily bite through small monofilament leaders. There are patches of teeth found on top of their mouth also.
- Reproduction Spanish mackerel have separate male and female sexes which produce milt and roe (respectively) during reproduction. The gametes are broadcast into the water column and fertilization is external. Spawning occurs from mid-spring through summer. Juvenile Spanish mackerel use estuaries and nearshore, open-beach waters as nursery areas. The eggs are buoyant, round in shape and transparent. Hatching has been documented to occur within 25 hours at 79 degrees Fahrenheit . The larvae feed on larval fishes such as carangids, clupeids, and engraulids as well as some crustaceans.
- Predators Adult Spanish mackerel are commonly preyed upon by larger pelagic fish including sharks and tunas as well as bottlenose dolphins while larvae and juveniles are fed on by other immature fishes such as dolphinfish and tuna.
- Parasites This fish is commonly described as infested with a variety of parasitic organisms. The Myxozoan parasite Kudoa crumenacan be found in the muscle tissue of Spanish mackerel. Cestodes including Callitetrarhynchus gracilis, Pseudolacistorhynchus noodti, and Otobothrium cysticum are also known parasites of this fish. The trematodes Scomberocotyle scomberomori, Pseudaxine mexicana, Thoracocotyle crocea, and Lithidocotyle acanthophallus have been documented as parasites found in the gills of the Spanish mackerel
State Waters: The state of Florida regulates fishing in the Gulf of Mexico waters out to 9 nautical miles from the Florida Gulf coastline. (Info only: Alabama state waters only go out to 3 nm)
As of Jan 1, 2010: Minimum 12” fork length for Spanish Mackerel Maximum 15 Spanish Mackerel per fisherman per day Transfer of Spanish Mackerel to other vessels at sea is prohibited. Must remain in whole condition until landed ashore (heads & tails intact)
For more information, click on:
Federal Waters: The US Government, throught NOAA and its Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, (Gulf Coast Council link) , regulates fishing in the Gulf of Mexico waters from 9 nautical miles off the coast of Florida out to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
As of Jan 1, 2009, their rules coincide with Floridas: Minimum 12" fork length with a maximum of 15 spanish mackerel per day limit per fisherman.
Spanish Mackerel are a good fighting fish that inhabits the Destin waters from about late March to October. It is a schooling fish, migrating north along the west coast of Florida in the spring as it follows the pods of bait fish. They start to show up in the Destin area when the water temperature reaches around 65-70 degrees, and are in full swing when the water temperature is around 72 degrees. Historically, you will usually start to see them just off the beaches and around the jetties and Okaloosa Pier in late March, with the migration in full swing by mid-April.
In April, they will start to enter the Choctawhatchee Bay, especially on an incoming tide, and can be found schooling around the east and north end of Crab Island just north of the Destin Bridge.
Trolling around the break between the bay waters and the incoming tide is usually productive. Throughout the summer, they can be found within a few miles of the surf and in the Choctawhatchee Bay.
The jetties are a good place to catch Spanish from the shore. You want to be there when the water is either moving in or out, usually about an hour after a low or high tide. Look for bait on the surface.
Fishing for Spanish from the Spur jetty, east side of the A school of bait busting the surface in the Destin Destin East Pass channel East Pass. Spanish will probably be around and under this school.
The Okaloosa County Pier is an excellent place to catch Spanish. Spring is usually your best bet (April and May) but they may be caught there until October. Normally, the times around sunrise and sunset are your best times. But, Spanish are a schooling fish and will come by the pier any time during the day.
Fishing off the end of the Okaloosa Island Pier Spanish Mackerel caught on the end of the Okaloosa Pier with a Gotcha.
Hauling in a Spanish Mackerel on the Panama City Spanish Mackerel caught on a bubble & pier McDonald's straw rig.
TROLLING TACKLE AND RIGGING:
REEL: I use a Penn 320GTi or Penn 113H for trolling. Really kinda heavy for the Spanish but trolling takes its toll on a spinning reel/rod. A medium to heavy spinning reel/rod will work too, but you put a lot of stress on it pulling the weight.
Penn 320 Gti Penn 113 H
ROD: I use the same boat rod I use for bottom fishing, a 6' to 7' medium to heavy rod.
MAIN LINE: Anything 20# or above is fine, braid or monofilament. I use the same rod/reel for bottom fishing, so they are usually rigged with either 40 or 60 # braid, a little overkill for spanish again, but don't have to take extra rods.
TROLLING SINKERS & PLANERS: When trolling, I start fishing the water column from the surface to about 5' beneath the surface. You may have to go down to up to 20' during mid day. To get your lure down, use either a trolling sinker or a planer. I prefer the trolling sinker as they are just simpler to use for me, but either is ok. Planers will normally get your lure deeper. When using either one, remember the more line you let out, the deeper it will go. And, with planers, the faster you go, the deeper the planer will go. Both put considerable stress on your rod and reel. I will normally use a 2 to 4 oz trolling sinker or a #1 Sea Striker planer.
TROLLING SINKER WITH SEA STRIKER BRAND PLANER. BUILT IN SWIVEL
SWIVELS: If your trolling sinker or planer does not have a swivel, you need to put on a 100# BLACK swivel between your main line and leader.
LEADERS: You will need a leader for two reasons. First, the Spanish have a nice set of teeth and cut through small diameter line. Two, Spanish have excellent eyesight.
FLUORCARBON: I prefer to use 40 # flurocarbon leader. It has better abrasion resistance than monofilament and is supposely invisible in the water. I normally start with about a 5' length of fluorcarbon. Some people say use a much longer leader, up to 20', to get the lure away from the swivel. They are probably correct, but I have found the longer leaders are just a burden to handle as you have to hand line the leader in once your sinker/planer reaches your rod tip. Plus, it is expensive. Like I said, start with a 5' length of line - just stretch your arms out and take what that gives you, no reason to be engineer precise here. As you catch fish, you want to check your leader between fish for abrasions, cuts, etc due to mis-strikes. Do this by running your leader line between your finger tips and you will feel any cuts, etc. Cut off the bad part and retie your lure until you get down to say 2' - 3' leader left, then go to a new leader.
MONOFILAMENT: My next choice of leader material would be 40 to 60 # monofilament line. Cheaper than fluorcarbon and works.
WIRE: My last choice for a leader for Spanish would be wire. However, if you are concerned about cutoffs, wire would be called for and you will lose less lures. I prefer to use the single strand Malin wire, coffee color, # 4 - 40 lb or # 5 - 43 lb is fine. Make sure you use a haywire twist to attach the wire to your swivel. I would only use a 3' length of wire. For more information on working with wire leaders, go to: LEADERTEC
LURES & BAIT: I normally only use artificial lures when trolling for Spanish. Just less trouble and readily available. However, you can slow troll live or dead bait. Probably the two most popular lures in the Destin area for trolling for Spanish are the Gotcha plug and Clark Spoons.
GOTCHA PLUGS: A standard for catching Spanish mackerel (and bluefish) in this area. Some people don't like to fool with the 2 treble hooks (If you use Gotchas, it is just a matter of time before one catches you) but they are a proven lure for Spanish. I prefer the Chrome ones, either red or green head, 1600 series, 7/8 oz, 2 5/8" length. They have come out with a shorter Gotcha that is also good. An advantage of the Gotcha over the spoon is that they have some weight to them and can be casted. Sea Striker makes the Gotcha, go to their site for more information on them: Sea Striker Lures
CLARK SPOONS: Another standard for catching Spanish makerel without the hassle of all those treble hooks. But they are very light weight and you normally need a trolling sinker, planer, or bubble rig with them. Normal sizes used for Spanish are 00, 0, and 1, with the size increasing as the number goes up. Normally use silver ones. For more information on Clark spoons, go to CLARK SPOONS.
YOZURI DEEP DIVER CRYSTAL MINNOW LURE: This is a relatively new lure that can be effective against Spanish Mackerel when trolling. The advantage it has is that you do not need a trolling sinker or planer to use it as it uses a lip on the plug as a type of planer. It will reach depths of 20 feet, depending on the trolling speed, and has a tight wiggling action that matches the motion of a swimming forage fish. The 3/8 oz, 3 5/8" Blue/silver, Tenn shad, or red head one mimic the size and color of the local baitfish also. The draw back is that at $ 10 to $12.00 each, you don't want lose too many. For more information, go to: YOZURI DEEP DIVER CRYSTAL MINNOW
BUBBLE RIGS: While you want to get some lures down into the water column, its is also good to run something on top. A popular local way to do this is to put a Gotcha or Clark Spoon behind a Bubble Rig. These rigs are good for trolling and casting. The bubble rig leaves a trail of bubbles behind it, mimicing a wounded bait fish.
MACKEREL RIGS: Another popular lure for trolling are the multi-lure Mackerel Rigs. Put behind a trolling sinker or bubble rig, they are very effective. I prefer the silverside ones, again, trying to match the local bait. Half Hitch tackle normally has them.
Trolling techniques and tips.....
Boat Speed: 4 - 8 knots
Normally use only 2 rods out, just easier to manage.
Let out about 50 to 100 ' of line and place your rod in a rod holder as you will get considerable pull from the rig. The more line you let out, the deeper the lure will go.
LOOK FOR THE DIVING BIRDS as they are feeding on bait fish and there are generally other predator fish (spanish makerel) feeding on the bait fish too. The spanish will generally be under the bait fish.
You do not want to troll through a school as this will spook them and they will go down in the water column. Instead, troll the outside of the school, with a lot of line out so that the lures go into the front of the school and the boat stays out of it, or you'll drive them down.
Íf you get a fish, you want to turn around and troll back through the same area.
TECHNIQUES AND RIGS FOR CATCHING SPANISH - - - CASTING - - -
REEL: I like to use a light weight reel, say a Penn 450 or 550 or equivalent if you are just throwing lures. A 450 might be a little small for some of the bigger spanish. If you are throwing a bubble rig, you need something heavier to handle the additional weight - I would go up to a Penn 650 or even 750 spinner. Bait casters work good too, I just never learned to use them very well.
ROD: Any good 7-9 ' spinning rod will be fine, with a little heavier rod for the bubble rigs.
MAIN LINE I go with 20 # monofilament.
SWIVELS: Optional, some people prefer not to use swivels as they think the Spanish will hit them too. If you do use a swivel, make sure it is black, not shiny.
LEADERS: I use a 40 # fluorocarbon leader. Start with about 5 'of leader. Run your finger tips down it ever so often to check for nicks and cuts from their teeth. If you find one, cut it off above the nick and retie your lure to the new end. I just keep cutting it shorter until I reach about 2', then put another 5' leader on and start the process over. If you go with shorter leaders, its ok, just have to replace them a lot more often.
My favorite lure for Spanish is the Gotcha as you do not have to use any additional weight. I use two techniques for working the Gotcha. Rapid Retrieve: Most people just toss it out toward a school, let it sink maybe a few seconds and do a rapid retrieve with a few jerks now and then.
Slow Jig: I used to always do the fast retrieve too until one day out on the Okaloosa Pier, wasnt having much luck with it. A small Japanese lady came out to the end, put a stool down to stand on, and started fishing. And bringing in the Spanish while no one else was catching any. So, I stopped and watched her. She would throw the silver gotcha out and let it sink to the bottom, maybe 10-15 second wait. Then, she would start a slow retrieve by making maybe two cranks, a jerk on the rod tip, then let it settle for a few seconds. She would keep doing this all the way back in, kinda jigging it up. She left after about an hour with about 6 fish. I tried it and it worked. Most of the spanish were near the bottom, and it was in the middle of the day.
BUBBLE RIGS: These are good for the pier and jetties. You really have to be careful on the pier with them. Tip them with a Gotcha, Clark Spoon, or straw. You normally want to use a fast retrieve with a bubble rig.
GENERAL TIPS FOR CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL
Spanish Mackerel are said to have exceptionally good eyesight and prefer clear water as they are sight feeders.
THE BLOOD LINE
Just a note about preparing Spanish Mackerel fillets. I really like the meat on a Spanish, but you have to cut out the "blood line". This is a dark red line of bloody tissue that run down the side of the spanish.
To the right, you see a side of a filleted spanish. The blood line is the line of white dots (actually bone) surrounded by a darker red meat.
Take your knife and cut down at a 45 degree angle away from the bone on both sides of the fillet. (The blood line gets thicker as it gets nears the outer skin.)
Once you have done this for both sides, you will get something like this. The blood line is the one in the middle. You can freeze these and use them for bait later. The other two fillets are ready to be cooked. I usually leave the skin on.
Techniques and rigs for catching Spanish Mackerel . . . . . . Trolling