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.
- Common Names
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
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
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
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 is black.
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
RULES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING 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, 2009: 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.
CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL IN THE DESTIN AREA
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 Spanish Mackerel caught on the end of the
Pier. Okaloosa Pier with a Gotcha.
TECHNIQUES AND RIGS FOR CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL
TROLLING TACKLE AND RIGGING:
REEL: I use a Penn 320GTi or Penn 113H for trolling. 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 Shimano
ROD: I use the same boat rod I use for bottom fishing, a 6' to 7' medium to heavy rod.
MAIN LINE: 60 # braid. I use 60 # braid as my trolling rigs are also used for bottom fishing (I prefer 60 # for
bottom fishing). It is probably overkill for Spanish - any line down to say a 20 # braid or monofilament would be fine for
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 and a #1 Sea Striker planer.
TROLLING SINKER WITH SEA STRIKER BRAND PLANER.
BUILT IN SWIVEL (For in indept exlplanation into Sea
Striker brand planers, go to:
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
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
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 FOR SPANISH: Techniques and tips.....
Boat Speed: 4 - 8 knots
Normally use only 2 rods.
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 troll back through the same area.
CASTING FOR SPANISH: (From the pier, jetties, or boat)
Gotchas: Two techniques work with the Gotca, a fast retrieve and a slow jig.
Fast Retrieve: Cast your lure out and let it sink for 20-30 feet. Then, just wind as fast as you can, adding a few jerks
here and there.
Slow jig: Cast out to your spot and let the lure sink to the bottom. Then do a slow, stop-and-go crank, with a few jerks
of the rod tip as you retrieve the lure.
GENERAL TIPS FOR CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL:
Spanish Mackerel have exceptionally good eyesight. Clear water is a key because Spanish mackerel are sight feeders.
still working here