Second of a two-part series
They're ferocious hunters with formidable dental equipment to backup the attitude. No doubt, Spanish and king mackerel swim with great arrogance, but these cunning predators have a weak spot -- their stomachs.
Year-round, the mackerel cousins roam the Gulf in a constant state of feeding readiness. However, with fall pulling the plug on baitfish abundance, kings and Spanish throw caution to the wind and put their mouths on overtime. This means tremendous angling action for those who learn the strategies of mackerel manipulation.
Variables are many, as are personal fishing styles, but one rule remains immovable: Predators follow the food. No chow -- no mackerel.
Like any good meal, start the mackerel banquet with a round of tummy tempting treats to grab their interest. Most anglers start with menhaden oil -- a concentrated elixir that'll ruin clothing and marriages, but appeals mightily to the mackerel nose.
Dispense menhaden oil from a hospital style IV dripper bag, with a drop every few seconds. Fish oil floats, so some anglers push the heavy sent into the water column by soaking fish feed pellets or dry dog food in the scent and dropping scoops of the stinky mix overboard.
Chumming with live baits is a can't-miss, but only use the tiniest baits and keep the livies to a minimum, lest the fish fill up on appetizers and avoid baited hooks. Same goes for chopping fresh baits into chum chunks. Cut fresh chum into fingernail sized pieces and drop only a couple of pieces a minute.
Once you attract attention, stingy chumming will keep the fish close and whip up their feeding competition.
Both mackerel species will eat just about any baitfish they can catch. Kings grow larger, so adults can handle a bigger target than even whopper Spanish mackerel. Here's a breakdown of popular choices for each. For the overlaps, remember to use smaller baits for Spanish.
Kingfish: Menhaden ("pogies"), scaled sardines ("whitebait"), threadfin herring ("greenbacks"), blue runners, Spanish sardines, cigar minnows, mullet, ladyfish.
Spanish: Menhaden, scaled sardines, threadfins, pinfish.
Of course, once you get the mackerel clan fired up, they'll hit just about any bait you toss their way, so don't hesitate to fling a live shrimp into the fracas. Spanish and kings eat a lot of crustaceans between their baitfish banquets, so thread a shrimp onto a long shank hook and fling it into your chum line.
Fall kingfish anglers are picking up plenty of schoolies with the occasional bruiser by trolling spoons behind planers or diving plugs. Casting weighted spoon rigs or Gotcha plugs will be a good option for mackerel – especially from piers and bridges – throughout fall.
For Spanish mackerel, the same medium-action spinning gear used for redfish and other inshore species will suffice, but kingfish require upsized gear. Go with 7 ½- to 8-foot medium-heavy spinning or conventional outfits with line capacity of at least 300 yards. A big king will run off a couple of football fields in a matter of seconds, so don't get your feelings hurt if a smoker spools a short reel.
Monofilament or braid will handle both mackerel species, but those wicked choppers necessitate bite-resistant leader. Number 3 or 4 wire does the trick in most cases, but when mackerel turn leader-shy, savvy anglers replace wire with 40-pound fluorocarbon. The bite resistance diminishes, but you'll likely get more strikes. (Using long shank hooks bolsters the terminal end.)
When anchor fishing for mackerel, a lone hook (single or treble) set through the bait's nose, back or pectoral area works fine. For trolling, add a trailing ("stinger") hook to prevent short strikes, in which a kingfish or Spanish mackerel snips off half of the bait and avoids the hook. Do this by affixing a piece of wire to the lead hook's eye and attaching a No. 4 or 6 treble, spaced back so it rides just ahead of the bait's tail.
However you entice your king or Spanish mackerel, expect blistering runs, lots of tricky boatside maneuvers and teeth -- lots of teeth. Use long handle hook removers and keep fingers clear of the business end.
David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "FISH SMART-CATCH MORE!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.