From late August through October, the baitfish are really schooled up off the beaches, and that’s got the Spanish mackerel holding in those areas in big numbers. The bait schools are everything from full-sized threadfin herring to three inch minnows or the juvenile pilchards that have just hatched. When you have that much bait in one area, you can bet the mackerel won’t be far behind.
Along with the mackerel will be bonito, kingfish, sharks and all kinds of other gamefish looking to capitalize on the abundance of food in one area. These baitfish schools can be anywhere from 50 yards off the beach to a couple of miles out, but generally hold in 15 to 30 feet of water.
The easiest way to find the baitfish is to look for large flocks of birds diving on the water. Spanish mackerel are slashing-type feeders that have sharp teeth and bite baits into half, leaving pieces in the water for the birds to pick up. You’ll also see Spanish mackerel jumping out of the water as they chase baitfish.
Mackerel are a schooling fish, so where you find one, you’ll usually find more. Just get up-current of the school and either anchor and bring the fish to you by chumming, or drift down on the school casting as you go along. You don’t want to drive right up to the school, as that will usually put them down, and sometimes move the school from the area.
If you’re going to anchor and chum, you can put out a chum bag with they typical frozen ground chum, and that will draw fish, but most anglers like to supplement the ground chum with whole glass minnows or juvenile pilchards. Just toss them over a handful at a time, and then when the mackerel come into the chum line to feed you can throw jigs or spoons and do very well.
Spanish mackerel are super fast swimmers, so you want to work your lures fairly quickly to get the bite. They’ll also eat small swimming plugs and topwater plugs as long as your work them fast.
I like to fish mackerel on 10- to 15 pound 7 foot spinning rods with 3000 size reels. They’re fast and put up a good fight, so you want to make sure you have a reel with enough line to keep a larger fish from spooling the reel. I like to use 40 pound fluorocarbon leader with lures and #3 wire and a #2 long shank hook with live bait.
If you’re looking for larger fish, one of the best ways to catch them is to anchor up and chum and then toss over a live 4 to 5 inch pilchard on a wire rig. Hook the bait through the nose or back, and wait for the line to come tight. A lot of times the mackerel will bite the tail off the bait to keep it from escaping, then come back around and eat the rest of the bait, so don’t set the hook just because you see a fish charge the bait.
The average Spanish mackerel is one to three pounds, but there are fish to six or seven pounds in the schools. If you targeting the larger fish with live bait or larger lures, you won’t get as much action, but the fish you catch will be a better quality.