April 19, 2022
Just about every stretch of Florida coastline, Atlantic or Gulf side, has Spanish mackerel depending on the time of year. I’ve caught many on fly in Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay, along the Ten Thousand Islands, inside the Indian River Lagoon and along its adjacent beaches and the drill is pretty much the same everywhere. Find the fish. Cast your fly. Move your knuckles outta the way on that first blistering run!
Mackerel make it as far south as Florida Bay by late October and then head back north along the Florida Gulf coast by late April or early May as the water temp rises (macks prefer water temps above 70 degrees). Fly fishers can expect to see those northbounders from then until early summer depending on their latitude. The schools park along the Florida Panhandle throughout the summer.
On the Florida Atlantic coast, by November or December expect to see schools anywhere from Fort Pierce to the Upper Keys, along the beaches and also entering the inlets and roving freely along the Intracoastal Waterway.
When Spanish school en masse, they can be fished without chumming, though chum greatly increases the bite. Food sources can include bay anchovies, sardines, finger mullet and more. Bait schools and feeding activity attracts a variety of seabirds. Watch for them airborne, diving or just sitting on the water. Macks should be close by. Look for oily slicks, too. Blind casting such areas can sometimes pay off. A fleet of boats is an obvious signpost. Others include concentrations of dolphins, which eat mackerel.
Fly fishers on foot score when mackerel chase minnow schools up to the sand. Anchovies are a big draw in the fall and spring and gulls and diving pelican mark the spot.
TACKLE AND RIGGING
Fly rods in the 6- to 9-weight class are ideal, with the heavier rods handling the heaviest flies. When fish are suspended deep, fish a sinking or sink-tip line. A floating line is great when fish are at the surface, however if there is floating grass on top, the line tends to funnel the stuff to the leader and fouls the fly. An intermediate slow-sinking line (clear or opaque) is the most utilitarian of all. Short leaders are fine because hungry macks in a chumline or in bait are not put off by a fly line. With sinking lines, I loop on a 3- to 5-footer. Unless looking to break tippet records, you can even fish a straight piece of mono or fluorocarbon bite tippet testing between 40 and 60 pounds. Otherwise a class tippet of 12- to 20-pound-test tied to a bite tippet of 40- to 60-pound-test is perfect.
You might use a light wire bite tippet, but macks in clear water will be slower to bite. If you do use wire, attach singlestrand to your class tippet with a haywire twist. Or, tie on the knottable stuff with any conventional knot you prefer. In either case, keep wire bite tippets short—around 3 to 4 inches will suffice.
Basic white, flashy minnow or whitebait patterns are tops. Longshank Clouser minnows, mylar minnows, bendbacks (especially where floating grass is present), Gurglers and other poppers all work. Liberal amounts of flash material will help, especially in turbid water. Hook sizes 2 to 1/0 are standard. Fast, erratic stripping gets the bite, but you can also swim a fly steady with long draws of the line, or simply allow the fly to drift back in the current in a chum line. The fish will indeed take it as it sinks. Big macks will crush a popper, and surprisingly many strikes come as the popper rests. Some of my biggest macks have skyrocketed on my popper bobbing along after I had stopped stripping.
ON THE TABLE
Spanish mackerel are delicious and easy to fillet if you ice them well and eat them fresh. It’s best to leave the skin on when grilling or broiling. Make sure the grates of your grill are clean, then lightly oil the skin side to further prevent sticking. Baste the flesh side with a simple butter-lemon-garlic mixture with a sprinkle of dill. Mackerel is also a great fish for slow smoking on wood. Skinless fillets are excellent for frying, as well. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2022
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