By JOEL BRANDENBURG
I’ve got many Spanish mackerel memories — one of my favorite happened several years ago. We came in from a charter on a very hot day, my clients were high fiving, singing to the music, toasting, everyone one was bloody, my boat looked like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We unloaded a cooler full of mackerel, and we cleaned and bagged them. My clients left happy and more than satisfied.
When we started the charter, I asked the group of six men: “Is it more important for you to catch fish to eat, or target ‘catch and release’ species?” They all agreed to target fish to eat. I told them there are several fish we can target right now in the bay. Grouper, snapper, black drum, grunts, redfish, trout, cobia, flounder, shark and Spanish mackerel. Most of the group agreed to target redfish. I told them that because it was such a hot, clear day, we’d have to fish in stagnant shallow mangrove coves chumming and dead sticking (which means casting crippled threadfins under mangrove canopies) in order to get our limit of redfish. It’s hot in those mangrove coves, and you must be stealthily quiet.
For Spanish mackerel we will anchor out in the middle of the breezy bay near a shipping channel tower where Spanish mackerel are on fire, and we can even use the Spanish mackerel to catch cobia, kingfish, shark and Goliath grouper, too. I told them the redfish were hit and miss and from day to day they would make us heros or zeros. I wasn’t necessarily trying to talk them out of redfishing but I wanted them to know the options. They chose redfishing.
We sat back in a mangrove cove and fished for redfish for two hours without a bite. Everyone was hot and sweaty. I think the redfish swam to another county since six clients, a first mate, and a clumsy captain all sounded like a bull in a china shop. It was a four-hour charter, and we had two hours left.
We agreed to abandon the redfish mission and target Spanish mackerel. We hammered huge Spanish mackerel for two hours straight.
The moral of the story is: If we would have stayed redfishing, they might have come back to the dock with their heads hung low, wet, sweaty and fishless.
One of my role models since childhood is Bob McNally, a world renowned outdoor writer and photographer. McNally told me when I became a guide the most important thing to remember is to keep my clients’ rods bent and their drags screaming.
Redfish can be awesome, they just weren’t awesome that day. Spanish mackerel were awesome that day, and they saved that charter. Some anglers may say I’d rather spend eight hours catching one redfish than crush a hundred Spanish mackerel in two hours. Not us and not most of our clients.
Spanish mackerel are angry fish that gather in huge schools, strike with aggression, fight hard and swim fast. You can catch them on live bait, dead bait, cut bait and an array of artificial baits. Spanish mackerel must be 12 inches or longer to harvest with a bag limit of 15 per person, per day.
Some people say that mackerel taste too fishy. I think a fish should taste like fish, not chicken. You can smoke them, grill them, bake them, blacken them, and my favorite is to deep fat fry them. There are many different ways to clean them. Some anglers skin and debone by cutting it in four long strips removing the rib cage and lateral bones. Others like to steak them. I like to filet it, derib, and leave the skin on. Spanish mackerel have microscopic scales, and its skin holds the meat together on the filet. I don’t remove the lateral bones or the microscopic scales because they’re small and soft and cook out.
Spanish Mackerel Tips:
• Use monofilament leader, not wire.
• Use long shank silver hooks.
• Set the drag loose.
• Point your rod low and toward your bait.
• Troll or work artificial bait swiftly.
• Pick shiny lures and spoons over dull ones.
• Chum a lot, they’re like puppies — they’ll keep eating.
• Find them in moving water. They typically won’t feed on a slack tide.
• Best summer mackerel bite is on incoming tide.
• If you’re near a tower, fish on the side of the tower that has the tide and the tower at your back.
• Don’t set the hook while using braided line. Reel down fast and lift your rod tip in slow motion.
• Pick one side of the boat or the other to land the mackerel. Don’t let it get around your prop.
• While fishing for Spanish mackerel, other larger game fish are liable to hit your bait. Be prepared to throw an anchor ball quickly.
• Have a cobia rod rigged — schooling Spanish mackerel cause a lot of carnage. Often this carnage will chum cobia to your boat.
• Go with the flow. Open your bail and let your bait go with the flow. When your bait is spinning in the current, it’s not natural looking to the mackerel, and they are less likely to strike. It’s hard to fool nature.
For a charter with Captain Joel Brandenburg of Ana Banana Fishing Company, visit www.anabananafishing.com, or for information on Ana Banana Kids Fishing Camp, visit www.anabananakidsfishingcamp.com, or call him at 813-267-4401.