Spanish Mackerel By: Capt. George Hastick

July is an excellent month to target Spanish mackerel. They will be following the bait schools–anything from glass minnows, cigar minnows, scaled sardines and threadfin herring. They will be on the beaches, but they will also move up into Tampa Bay targeting any structure that holds bait. The structure can be any of the traditional things you might think of which would be bridges like the Skyway, Gandy and the Howard Franklin. The Howard Franklin might not hold them as well now due to the construction, but the others definitely will. Also, the artificial reefs and good rock-hard bottom areas will attract them. Other areas to look at will be the range and channel markers that are holding large schools of threadfin herring. Some of the overlooked spots for mackerel are the drop offs along the grass flats where it goes from 5 to 6 feet down to 8 to 10 feet or deeper. They will cruise the edges of these drop offs during moving currents and ambush baits from the deep. Shoals with good hard bottoms in the middle of deeper water are another good spot to check throughout the Summer for these drag-screaming toothy critters. Passes during good tidal movement will stack up the bait which, in turn, will attract a variety of species–especially mackerel this time of year.

There are times when you can go out and look for birds working the bait schools. Many times, it will be the mackerel pushing the bait to the surface. At times, you will see the mackerel coming out of the water free jumping after baits. Now, if you do not see surface hits that does not mean the mackerel are not there. They can be feeding down lower in the water column, so it is always worth it to cast a bait or spoon out and work the bait school. There are many artificial baits that mackerel love such as spoons that shine in the water from the sun along with jigs and bucktails. If you are using a bucktail, l I find that if it has white as the dominate color or all white, you get more strikes. When working the artificial baits for the mackerel, do a countdown on your sink and try different depths and speeds until you start getting hits.

When rigging up for mackerel using live bait, I like about 3 to 4 feet of 30-pound test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader but, many times, regular leader will work fine. I like to use that with a long shanked #1 or 1/0 hook to get away from getting bit off too often. If you are getting bit off too often, a short piece of #2 or #3 wire about 8 inches long will fix the problem. I usually use wire when throwing lures, because I do not want to lose too many. I like to use a medium 8 to 17-pound rod with a fast taper for good casting and a flexible tip, so the hook doesn’t pull out on the blazing, drag screaming runs the mackerel are known for. Good luck and happy hunting.