Game Fishing > Mackerel Family, Scombridae > Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerelThe Spanish mackerel was first described by Dr. Mitchill, in 1815, from the vicinity of New York. He named it maculatus, or "spotted," owing to the large bronze spots on its sides. It is common to the southern portions of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, ranging in summer as far north as Cape Cod, and is one of the trimmest and most graceful fishes known, as well as one of the most beautiful both in form and coloration.

It is especially adapted for rapid and sustained motion. Its long, graceful, and elliptical body is four times its depth. The head is as long as the depth of the body, with a large mouth, and sharp, lancet-shaped teeth in both jaws. It has two dorsal fins; the second dorsal and anal fins are nearly opposite each other, are similar in outline, and are each followed by nine detached finlets; the caudal fin is widely forked, the lobes being long and pointed or crescent-shaped.

Its color is silvery, bluish or greenish above, paling to white on the belly, with iridescent reflections; the sides are dotted with some thirty bronze or golden spots, a fourth of an inch or more in diameter; the first dorsal fin is dark in front, whitish behind; the second dorsal is yellowish; the anal fin is pale; the pectoral fin is yellow, bordered with black; the caudal fin is dusky.

The Spanish mackerel is gregarious and migratory, swimming in large schools, and feeding at the surface on pilchards, anchovies, and sardines in Florida, and on silversides and menhaden in northern waters. When feeding, the schools are constantly leaping above the surface, and the flashing of their silvery forms in the bright sunlight is a beautiful and inspiriting sight, enhanced by the flocks of gulls and terns whirling and darting above the schools, eager for such stray morsels and fragments as they are able to seize. In the Gulf of Mexico it often feeds in company with the salt-water trout, and in northern waters with the bluefish and weakfish.

It is a fish of the warm seas, approaching the shores for spawning and feeding when the temperature becomes suitable. It appears on the Gulf coast of Florida in March and April, though I have observed it as early as January in forward seasons. Its advent on the Atlantic coast is later, progressing gradually northward, reaching the vicinity of New York in July and August, and disappearing in October or November. Its breeding season in the Gulf of Mexico is in the early spring, and as late as August or September at the northern extent of its range.

Its spawning may cover a period of many weeks, as the fish do not all mature at one and the same time. The eggs are quite small, about twenty­five to the inch, float at the surface, and hatch in a single day. The newly hatched fry are very small, about the tenth of an inch long, but in a year will have attained a length of six inches. The average weight of a mature fish is from two to four pounds, rarely exceeding six or eight pounds.

The Spanish mackerel is held in the highest esteem as a food-fish, being considered one of the very best, second only to the pompano of the Gulf or the whitefish of the Great Lakes. It has a mackerel flavor, but one peculiarly its own for richness and sapidity of savor. It is a game-fish of high degree, and worthy of the angler's highest regard. Its manner of fighting, when hooked, is mostly on the surface of the water, darting here and there with dazzling rapidity, in straight and curving lines, leaping into air, and bounding over the water with a velocity and nimbleness that is difficult to follow with the eye in the bright sunlight.

In northern waters it is usually taken by trolling with a small mother-of-pearl squid, or one of block tin, using a long hand-line, as the fish is rather shy and difficult to approach with a boat. In Florida, however, great sport can be had with a light rod, both in fly-fishing and bait-fishing, from the sand-spits at the entrance to deep inlets, and from the long piers and wharves that extend to deep water.

The angling is done in March and April, when the fish are running into the bays in great schools on the flood tide, often in company with the salt-water trout.

A black-bass or trout fly-rod of seven or eight ounces is very suitable for fly-fishing, with a click reel and a line of pretty large size, say D or E, in order to give weight enough for casting. Any bright or gaudy fly will answer, though yellowish or grayish flies are perhaps more attractive. A single fly only should be used, with a three or four foot leader. Black-bass rods and tackle are just right for bait­fishing for the Spanish mackerel. The best bait is a small, bright fish, three or four inches long, either mullet or anchovy, hooked through the lips. A small pearl squid, or a very small trolling-spoon or spinner, may be used instead, but the minnow is far and away the most attractive lure.

The bait is cast as far as possible toward the school as it is running past the point of an inlet or the end of a pier, and reeled in slowly, but rapidly enough to keep the bait on or near the surface, no sinker being employed. If the fishing is done from a pier, a very long-handled landing­net must be provided. The best plan is to fish from a small boat moored to the pier, as the angler is not so likely to be seen by the fish, and they are more easily landed. The same method is pursued in fly-fishing in the general features, except that the fly is allowed to sink after fluttering it awhile on the surface; no other special suggestions are needed.