Surf Casting Florida

Learn how to catch more fish off of the beach.

What do you catch Spanish mackerel with?

Spanish mackerel love to hit shiny fast moving lures. The silver spoon is the best bet for catching tons of mackerel once you find the schools. Spanish mackerel are voracious feeders of little fish like thread fin herring, scaled sardines, anchovies, minnows, finger mullet…….. and any other fish that they can bite into pieces.

Spanish mackerel will hunt in schools and drive the bait balls near the surface in a very coordinated way. This is unexpected for a fish to use a teamwork approach to feeding but members of the mackerel family use this technique. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel all use this feeding technique.

I am a kayak fishing guide on the Treasure Coast of Florida. I have been fishing the beaches, oyster bars, grass flats and just about everywhere else in Florida for over 40 years.

In the article below, I will teach you everything that I know about catching Spanish mackerel.

Let’s get started.

Watch the video below to learn how to catch a Spanish mackerel.

Where do you find Spanish mackerel?

Spanish mackerel are a warm water fish. They show up in Florida in the Spring once the waters warm up and the leave in the Fall once the waters start to cool down again. They migrate North and South based on water temperatures.

They are very easy to spot when they are feeding. This is true because they will slam into their prey from underneath the schools with such velocity that they become airborne. They may fly out of the water 4 or 5 feet above the surface. A well placed spoon with get the job done if you get it into the feeding frenzy.

Spanish mackerel like small fish to eat. My favorite sign that there are the right kind of fish around for Spanish mackerel is the least tern. This is a small white diving bird about the size of a cardinal that can only handle a fish up to 3 or 4 inches in length. Those are the anchovies, thread fin herring, scaled sardines…….. Those are the exact same fish that the mackerel like to eat.

Pelicans, larger tern species like sandwich terns, royal terns, Caspian terns……. are all larger terns that are around 20 inches long as opposed to the 9 inch long least terns. All of these different types of birds can tell you where the Spanish mackerel schools are.

Birds are a great way to find feeding fish because they are easy to see. When they are circling and not diving, then you know that the underwater predators have not driven the bait balls close enough to the surface for the diving birds to get at them. If you are fishing that school of fish, then you will have to fish deep to catch the mackerel.

The best place to find the mackerel is off of the beach as the various bait runs occur in Florida from the Spring into the Fall. They will also be in the bays, harbors, grass flats, inlets, tidal rivers…….. and just about anywhere else that there is food for them to eat. They are sight feeders so you will have to find clean water to find Spanish mackerel.

You can spook the schools of feeding Spanish mackerel so quietly approach the feeding frenzy when you find one or they will move away or they will move deeper in the water column. If you are not in a boat, then don’t worry about it.

mackerel gotcha lures paddle tail plastics

What are the best lures to catch a Spanish mackerel with?

Spoons:

The best lure to catch a Spanish mackerel with is a silver spoon. The faster the retrieve the better when fishing with spoons for mackerel. They are not my favorite lure to catch Spanish mackerel with because even if you have a barrel swivel attached to them, your fishing line will get twisted and you will get bird nests in your line.

Gotcha Lures:

I think that the Gotcha lure and the 3 inch shad with a paddle tail will catch you just as many Spanish mackerels without twisting up your line. The Gotcha lure pictured above is the one that looks like a silver cigarette with treble hooks hanging off of it. This lure has an angled face which gives it a side to side wobble when you retrieve it quickly.

It is quite easy to fish with. You will want to cast it out and reel it back in quickly. You don’t have to twitch your rod tip or pause or anything like that with your retrieve. Cast far and reel it back fast. Start with a fast retrieve and slow it down if you are not getting any bites.

Paddle Tail Shad:

The 3 inch soft plastic shad with a paddle tail is another great lure for just about any fish that swims in the sea. I have caught Spanish mackerel, snook, speckled trout, flounder, redfish, tarpon, bluefish, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, lane snapper, sheepshead, pompano, permit, whiting…….. with this lure.

It is my go to lure for 90% of the fishing that I do and remember that I am a fishing guide so I need to get people on fish to keep them happy. This is a lure that you do need to master if you want to consistently catch fish inshore and off of the beach.

The best technique for Spanish mackerel is to cast it out and reel it back quickly with a jerking and erratic retrieve. Believe me when I tell you that you cannot reel a lure faster than a mackerel can swim. Don’t worry about reeling too fast for them to catch it. If they want it, then they will catch it.

Jigs:

Some other great lures are jigs. Jigs catch just about every fish. You can swim them fast to catch the fast fish like a Spanish mackerel. You can bounce and drag them on the bottom to catch the slow fish like a flounder. You can use them to vertical jig them to catch grouper, snapper, tarpon…… and many other species of fish.

If there is a lure that you want to perfect the fishing techniques of, then a feather jig of some sort might be that lure because you can cover the entire water column with one. The more elongated minnow looking ones will work the best for Spanish mackerel.

Cast them out and reel them back quickly with an erratic twitching retrieve you the mackerel will slam your lure.

mackerel spoons jigs

What is the best rod and reel combination to catch Spanish mackerel with?

A big Spanish mackerel is 5 pounds so you don’t need a lot of rod and reel to catch them. Your favorite trout rod will do the trick just fine. A 7 foot medium action rod and a 2500 series reel will do the trick just fine. This will also make every mackerel that you catch feel like a whale on the end of your line.

You can go up to 8 feet for a mackerel rod to get an extra 20 or 30 feet of casting distance. I like to use a 10 pound braided line on my lighter rods because that will add another 10 yards of casting distance. You want to give a mackerel a nice long cast so that they can track down your lure and kill it.

You will lose a lot of lures if you do not use a metal leader. You don’t need a thick one but they will keep you from getting cut off every time. They can be finicky because they have excellent eyesight but a wire leader is a good idea anyways. They often come up from behind to hit your lures so they don’t see the leader until they are already hooked.

What are the best live baits to catch Spanish mackerel with?

When you have mackerel by the boat or right off of the beach, then you can use live bait to catch them. I have caught them with live shrimp, sardines, herring, finger mullet, pinfish and I’m sure that I have caught them with other stuff that I can’t remember. In other words, they will eat whatever is in front of them.

I like to use a small circle hook to catch Spanish mackerel. I do this for a few different reasons. Spanish mackerel hit and eat on the run. They don’t stop moving so when they hit your live bait you don’t have to set the hook with a circle hook. They will hook themselves as the swim away with your bait in their mouths.

Circle hooks will hook the fish in the corner of the mouth 9 out of 10 times. That is the way they were designed. This is great because if you are not using a wire leader, then you won’t get cut off as much. This also saves you from killing any fish that you don’t want to keep. They will often swallow a j hook.

You don’t need to go any bigger than a 2/0 circle hook. That will do just about perfectly for Spanish mackerel with live bait. If you try to go bigger your baits won’t usually be able to swim correctly with the hooks in them. Remember that Spanish mackerel like to eat little fish that are under 5 inches long.

Conclusion:

Spanish mackerel are a blast to catch off of the beach or wherever you are fishing for them. They are great fighters and are okay for the dinner plate if prepared correctly. They are in schools so you can catch a ton of them when you find a group of feeding fish.

You can find them in any of Florida’s open water areas from March to about October so go and get some lines wet.

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