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
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.
Geographical Distribution 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 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
SPANISH MACKEREL LATERAL LINE KING MACKEREL LATERAL LINE
The front third of the Spanish Mackerel's first dorsal fin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 2014: 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, 2014, their rules coincide with Florida's: 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 April 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-
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. Look for the birds,
especially pelicans diving.
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 with a Gotcha.
A Spanish Mackerel comes over the rail at Pier Park pier Spanish Mackerel caught on a bubble & McDonald's
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
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 singer with built in swivel Sea Striker brand planer
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.
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.
REEL: I us
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. I prefer 40# fluorocarbon but a lot of people use 40#
or heavier monofilament or Malin wire and catch fish.
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
ACME KASTMASTER SPOONS: Another good heavy spoon
that casts well and the spanish like it.
And the list goes on, but any small silver spoon that mimics the bait
fish the Spanish are after is good.
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.
Casting for Spanish Mackerel
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.
Any good 7-9 ' spinning rod will be fine, with a little heavier rod for the bubble rigs.
I go with 20 # monofilament.
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.
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 and wait maybe 10-15 seconds. 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, 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.
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.
Known as the "luckiest fishing village", Destin is the home to some of the best saltwater fishing in the United States. The 100 Fathom (600' depth) Curve of the Gulf of Mexico draws closer
to Destin than any other spot in Florida. This, along with Destin's close proximity to the East Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, allows quick access to the Gulf of Mexico's fishing bounty.
The purpose of this site is to acquaint a new fisherman to the Destin area - our local facilities, fish, waters and fishing methods. Tight lines and good fishing!
Last Updated: Feb 2014
Tackle and rigging for catching Spanish Mackerel
Catching Spanish Mackerel in the Destin area
Regulations for Spanish Mackerel
This web site is updated as I have time from other things going on. As there are a 1000 + different ways to do things, this is only
my way of fishing, nothing else, and it is not the last word in fishing the area. I am by no means an expert but if you would like my opinion on something related to fishing the area,
please email me at FishingDestinGuide@cox.net. It may take a few days before I get to it, so be patient. Thanks.....
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Fishing Destin Guide©
A local's guide to fishing around Destin and the Florida Panhandle