Big Mack

Freshest is Best

Capt. Steve Dougherty May 21, 2009

It’s common knowledge that Spanish mackerel are highly regarded among inshore anglers for their great light tackle sporting attributes as well as tasty table fare. If you spend most of your time scouting inshore arenas then you may not be aware of their amazing ability to entice savage strikes from behemoth billfish. What, you say you can’t catch a blue marlin in Florida? While it’s not an everyday occurrence to tangle with a burly blue, the fact of the matter is that there are large billfish roaming the waters surrounding our great state.

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Pitch tubes keep fresh mackerel ready for the right opportunity. Photo: Scott Kerrigan

Like all natural bait endeavors it’s always best to have the freshest offerings possible. With Spanish mackerel prevalent around the entire state, it shouldn’t be difficult to procure a fresh catch anytime of the year, however, there are several retailers that provide top quality alternatives. Baitmasters (www.baitmasters.com) and Bionic Bait (www.bionicbait.com) offer premium rigged and unrigged Spanish mackerel, but don’t hesitate to stop in your local tackle shop to check their baits’ freshness, too. If you find a supplier that consistently provides top-quality baits, stick with ‘em.

No matter how you decide to rig your Spanish, it's extremely important that your leader is pulling from the center of the bait's head.

If you plan on catching your own ‘macks there a few simple steps you can take to keep your offerings as fresh as possible. Combine a 5-gallon bucket of saltwater with a pound of salt and a cup of baking soda. Pour the solution into a cooler filled with crushed ice, but before you put any fresh mackerel into the mix, remove their entrails and rinse with saltwater. This briny solution will provide the ideal near-freezing temperature that’s imperative to the longevity of your baits. Try to limit the baits time on the deck in the sun, too, as it’s best to immediately gut and place your baits in the slushy mix. This pre-chill stage before the deep freeze is essential to keeping your bait as fresh as possible.

One of the differences between Spanish mackerel and more versatile bait such as ballyhoo is that when trolling ballyhoo, it’s likely you’ll go through numerous baits in a day’s efforts. The proper way to capitalize with Spanish mackerel is to have your offering rigged and ready to pitch when the right opportunity arises. This is why it is imperative that you prepare and care for your bait properly to increase their resilience in the water as well as in the cooler.

Spanish mackerel can be rigged with several variations but perhaps the two most popular are the stitched belly rig and the circle-hook rig. No matter how you decide to rig your Spanish, it’s extremely important that your leader is pulling from the center of the bait’s head. If the hook isn’t positioned dead center your offering will spin and swim with an erratic and unnatural behavior.

Peanut dolphin are a staple in marlin’s diet, and educated anglers know all to well that off the coast of Florida juvenile ‘phin are a common occurrence. If you put in your dues offshore, chances are you’ll spot anglings most legendary predator wreaking havoc on most weekend warrior’s target species. This presents the perfect opportunity to pitch an enticing Spanish mackerel to an aggressive blue. But do yourself a favor; present the bait on nothing less than a 50-wide with plenty of line capacity.

While Spanish mackerel are indeed deadly when pitched to large billfish, they do have a place closer to the edge. In South Florida the near-shore depths often look like a crowded Publix parking lot. Try something different to stand out from the crowd. Rig up a Spanish mackerel and slow-troll it off a planer. Who knows what you might troll up? It could be a monster wahoo or maybe a cannibal king! Whatever you do don’t limit yourself with these great baits. Remember, big baits catch big fish!

Know The Law!

While 8 to 10-inch Spanish mackerel would make killer baits for a wide variety of pelagics, you don’t want to be caught with undersized Spanish in your cooler. The 12-inch minimum fork length keeps these baits more suitable for large predators that could easy gobble down an oversized offering.

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