Thursday, August 2, 2012

King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Cero Mackerel: East Coast Near Shore Speedsters

Growing up, I got fascinated in stories of huge Boston mackerel catches (by number) just off the Jersey coast in May, but my impression was of smallish, not very gaming fighters. So when I encountered my first Spanish mackerel on Kitty Hawk Pier, Outer Banks, North Carolina, I felt doubly stunned: the fish hit me awestruck by the beauty of the blue side and golden spots, and I felt no doubt by the shape that it was fighter. They are.
King mackerel, like that photographed above, are fished off the ends of Outer Banks piers, for just our familiar example. A spider anchor is cast with a stout surf rod--a 12 rod is a good idea, these anchors weigh a lot--and the line from a big game rod and reel gets lowered on the clip line with a small live bluefish hooked with a treble hook/wire rig, a tailor blue of about 12 inches. Other fish like pompano serve when blues aren't around, caught from the pier on light tackle, sometimes volunteered by other anglers. It takes all day to get a king, but it does happen, and usually does, although cobia, tarpon, barracuda, and sharks show as alternatives. Kings range from South Florida northward past the Banks: nowadays some of them frequent New Jersey with the warmer climate.                                       

And so do Spanish mackerel, fully regulars along the Jersey coast now, dashing into the surf as far north as Long Island perhaps. Mackerel pelagic sight feeders, they have dangerous teeth, but use wire and they will avoid the lure or bait. Twenty five-pound test fluorocarbon is maximum, tied directly to braid without swivel attachment. Hard to catch in the surf, irregular schools dip in and out, staying mostly a couple or few hundred yards out. As quick as they come, they're gone, so trolling is highly productive, although in southern inlets where great congregations may amass, live-lining baitfish is extremely fun and effective. Just about all that goes for trolling are Clark spoons, size 0 or 00, although thin, flashy casting spoons like Deadly Dicks and Sting Silvers catch surf Spanish. From the piers, Gotcha jiggers are all that gets used for Spanish, rods turned downwards over the rails, depth achieved. Some mornings fantastic action results, others slow, although most summer mornings--and evenings--see some. Spanish usually run not much over a pound to about three pounds, although five- pounders get caught every summer with some frequency. Schools tend to be uniform by individual fish size. The world record is 13 pounds from Ocracoke Inlet, Outer Banks, North Carolina.

That's a cero mackerel just above that my son caught in Bahia Honda Channel, Florida Keys. These fish more often run in the five-pound range, although the world record, I read, is only 11 pounds. This one about 21 inches, the pelagic tailfin impressive, also the gold, horizontal line and small gold spots. Cero remain mysterious as yet to me, although I've known a few things about them for years and Matt's catch came as a very welcome sight. I don't know what kind of schooling presence they have at Bahia, for example, which is just inside the Atlantic and prime territory for pelagic race runners to streak in and out. We didn't try trolling flash spoons; this one hit a live shrimp on retrieve. Light tackle fun, the fish captivated us both when it came in sight. Captain Ryan O'Neal, who charters at Ocracoke Inlet, told me that cero come on occasion, but no one has spoken of them in New Jersey yet that I know of.


Spanish Mackerel

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