Emerald Coast Pier Fishing Guide – Spanish Mackerel
Eugene L. 03.31.22
The old-timers always said to start looking for Spanish Mackerel after the 3rd fog of March. This isn’t to say that you won’t catch them earlier, but the Spanish do show up in greater numbers after that third fog. Now it isn’t because the fish count how many foggy days there have been though. The fog usually coincides with the warmer water pushing in. They are a warm-water species that usually coincides with the arrival of spring and baitfish around the pier.
Spanish Mackerel are a fast-moving species of mackerel that are normally caught from March to November. Another highly popular species on the pier. They are known for their aggressive nature as well as having incredibly fast runs. Spanish are little speed demons that are very fun on light tackle. They eat mainly squid and small baitfish, pretty much if it’s shiny and moves quickly they will try to eat it.
Spanish max out around 36″ long and 12 Lb for a record-sized Spanish. They look very similar to king mackerel in body shape and color except just smaller. Both have the same body shape and fins except a Spanish Mackerel has yellow spots on its sides as well a black “flag” on its dorsal fin. A lot of care must be taken when keeping Spanish because young king mackerel will school with them as well. You don’t want to be caught by a game warden with a mess of short kings thinking you limited out on Spanish.
Tackle – Spanish Mackerel
To fish for Spanish Mackerel all you need is a 7 ft medium-light to medium weight in-shore rod and a reel that holds about 150 yards of 10 – 15 Lb braid. They make fast runs that can strip a lot of line off your reel in the blink of an eye. Freshwater heavier bass tackle can work, but a lot of bait casters do not have the line capacity and other reels don’t handle the fast runs well either. I have personally killed some spinning reels on Spanish mackerel when I first started fishing the pier.
For a leader, you will be wanting to either use lighter seven-strand wire or very heavy 80 – 100 Lb monofilament or fluorocarbon. Spanish have very sharp teeth and will cut you off easily if you don’t use a heavy or wire leader, but even with heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, you will occasionally be cut off by those sharp teeth.
Most people use lures for fishing for Spanish. Popular choices are: gotcha plugs, spoons, hex jigs, plugs, and bubble and lure combos. The bubble and lure combo is an interesting lure. It is a plastic bubble that you filled with water or BBs, that you have on your main line above a swivel and leader. The lure is usually something that is too light to be cast by itself off the pier. So, usually a McDonald’s straw, Maribou jig, or Clark spoon. The bubble does double duty by being the weight you need to cast as well as a fish attractant by making noise and splashing on the surface.
Technique – Spanish Mackerel
For targeting Spanish, the best place to start is about halfway down the pier at the first “T,” but you can catch Spanish along the whole pier, very often the sides of the end “T” produce very well. With whatever lure you’re using until you spot the Spanish mackerel it will be blind casting. They are fast-moving fish and will move up and down the pier following the baitfish. So, be prepared for a lot of walking and casting, but once you locate a good wad of them expect some fast action. Getting a bite every cast is not an uncommon occurrence.
For any jig or spoon, you want to cast as far out as possible and sink to the bottom. Once you reach the bottom work the lure back almost up to the surface in fast erratic pops. Once it reaches to surface let the lure sink back down and start the process all over again till you work the lure back to the pier. Be careful when you work the lures though, the hooks on these lures are very sharp. If you break the surface you can accidentally launch that lure back at yourself or others.
For a bubble rig, it is even easier just cast it out as far as you can and reel it back in. You can either chug the bubble, like a popper, or just reel in with some pauses or pops. Just keep casting it and hoping you find the fish. With either way of lure fishing be mindful of other people who might be freelining baits for either kings or Spanish. Casting over other people’s lines is a quick way to become unpopular on the pier.
You can also fish for larger “ax handle” Spanish mackerel using live or dead bait. A swivel with wire leader and a #4 treble hook. Using smaller live herring, squid, or cigar minnows freelined out will produce larger 4 Lb+ Spanish. These large Spanish are often bycatch when targeting king mackerel.
Table Fare – Spanish Mackerel
Spanish mackerel have nice light-colored meat, slightly oily, but not fishy. A lot more popular to eat compared to their big cousin the King mackerel. They have a somewhat firm texture that is not super flaky. Because of their fat content, they are very versatile in the kitchen. I would recommend you try grilling them or blackening them. Or just go with old faithful and fry them after dusting them in seasoned cornmeal.
Parting Words – Spanish Mackerel
Spanish Mackerel are a very fun fish to target on the pier. They probably hold the Top 5 fish targeted on the pier. It’s amazing to watch a school of Spanish zip around trying to eat your lure. While not every day will be great, it’s very easy to limit out on them if you’re trying to take home a cooler full of meat. But I need to reiterate here, be careful with your lures. Gotcha plugs have incredibly sharp hooks right out of the box and will hook you as easily as they hook the mackerel. Make sure no one is behind you when you cast. You don’t want a nice day on the pier to involve the Emergency Room.