Rebounding stocks of Spanish mackerel have done a lot to bolster saltwater fly fishing in Florida. Tarpon, bones, reds, yes, they have a devout following, but the Spanish have lit many a fire under anglers looking to break into the game. Kids who can get the fly 20 feet from the boat can catch ’em. Fly fishers nail them from the beach, too. They are fun. They are easy. And decent numbers are around all year in much of Florida, with the big brigades heading south right now. So it’s time to stock your fly box.
Along with their trip hammer strikes and lightning-fast runs, they possess sharp dentures capable of reducing ordinary flies to bare shanks in a flash. Often, it’s a case of one fly, one fish.
So it only makes sense not to feed mackerel streamers worthy of the shadowbox. Reserve your finest bucktail and saddle hackles for snook and the like.
Though it is good practice to size your flies to the baitfish that mackerel are terrorizing, smaller is usually better. Streamlined, small minnow imitations are standard fare, and there are hundreds of flies that take macks. Fly tyers now have a plethora of tough, brightly colored synthetics to choose from that stand up to toothy fish. I tie a very Spartan mackerel streamer these days, which I call the Spanish Flu. It holds up to multiple strikes when the mackerel bite reaches a fever pitch. I tie the materials in, and form the head at the mid-point of the hook shank, which seems to reduce cutoffs since fish tend to target a bait’s eye and head. And I debarb the hook so that I can release a fish if I choose, without chancing getting nicked by those razor-sharp teeth.
You can choose from many brands of synthetic hair for the wing. I use UltraHair or whatever I have on hand. You’ll tie up a dozen or more in under an hour—a good thing since fly loss is part of mackerel fishing.
Hook—No. 1 or 2 Mustad 34007 or similar
Thread—Flat, waxed nylon
Wing—Chartruese-colored synthetic hair of choice, pearl Krystal Flash
Eye—Red-and-black Mylar decal
Step 1—Wind a thread base on rear half of the hook shank. Select a 4- to 5-inch length of synthetic winging material (such as FisHair nylon lure dressing, UltraHair or Supreme Hair) and tie it in just forward of the hook bend. Make sure that equal lengths extend fore and aft of the tie-in spot. Coat the thread wraps with head cement. (Let the bobbin hang, rather than snipping the thread at this point, as the photo depicts.)
Step 2—Tie in a dozen or so strands of pearlescent Krystal Flash in the same manner as the wing and then fold the forward half of the strands back and wrap over them a second time. Be sure to give the wraps another coating of cement.
Step 3—Fold the wing back over itself as you did with the flash material and tie it down. If done properly (and if you’ve used enough wing material), you’ll end up with a sizable “bubble head.” To get the desired effect, pull the wing toward the rear and pinch it against the shank before taking a few turns of thread where the bobbin hangs. Then tie off the thread with whip finish or half hitches and cement.
Step 4—Add red Mylar decal eyes, coat the entire head with head cement and allow it to dry. For extra durability, coat the head with 5-minute epoxy.
Step 5—Taper the wing by pinching the hair together while trimming with sharp utility scissors. You’ll find it easier to trim from the rear of the fly with the blades at a 45-degree angle.