The Fast and Furious Pursuit of Spanish Mackerel

William Harned

 By William Harned –, April 2017

Anticipate dining on a fresh ceviche, nibble at a cold poached fish, and finally dine on a fried filet of Spanish Mackerel topped with a tropical salsa.

Free Lining:

At the Age of 9 in Florida, about 1956 I learned to catch Spanish Mackerel. It became my first real thrill, the strike was fast and furious, and it wanted to run, the reel screamed, this excited me.

One Saturday afternoon my Dad bought me a Zebco 33 spin-cast reel and rod. We lived in Indian Rocks Beach, FL one block from a rickety old pier at the end of 14-15th Ave (if I remember correctly). The next morning at dawn I gave it a spin. Out on the pier, I was using a lead weight with leader, hook, and a piece of frozen Pinfish and yet, nothing, not a nibble. After a quite a few minutes of nothing (but mastering my new Zebco), an older fisherman nearby had netted some Greenbacks (baitfish). He came over to me and handed me a long gold hook and said here’s how you do it.

He cut off my hook and sinker and tied on just that thin long gold hook. He attached that hook to a Greenback, below and before the tail, near the Anal Fin.

Next, he said to cast gently as far as possible and let it swim away on its own, let it go away from the pier pull line off the reel by hand, but if it turns and seeks protection in the pilings, reel in until it gets near the pilings, and then cast it out again.

WHAM, I hooked my first Spanish Mackerel, I was afraid I couldn’t hold on, luckily my Dad had shown me how to use the drag. I fumbled with the drag and with a little coaching from my new friend, the old fisherman, and soon I dragged it ashore while hanging over the railing, then climbed down from the pier and finally grabbed it by the tail, it was huge. I was beside myself, I had to show Dad. So, I struggled up the street with my new rod and its first fish.

It was Sunday morning, everyone was sleeping in. But I really wanted to go back to fishing, so I laid the Mackerel in the kitchen sink and left a note. As I left, I looked back, there it was, so big that it stuck out of both sides of the sink. I left seeking that next thrill, that strike that was fast and furious, the anticipation was astounding.

Float Rig: 

After Viet Nam, I again moved to Florida in 1971. The old pier was gone but a new massively long “Indian Rocks Fishing Pier” took its place but at 12th Ave spanning out about 1000 feet long with snacks, tackle, and bait shops.

Almost every day after work, living one block away, I was on that pier. Again, my affliction for fishing was full of anticipation every day. I also I learned about many different tackle requirements and concerns.

Besides the many other species of saltwater fish, I learned to catch, I still lusted for Spanish Mackerel. I added to my knowledge of many other angling tactics and techniques. First, I relearned the method of Free Lining, and that long thin gold hook was an Aberdeen wire hook #2-3/0. It was thin and light weight. But I also learned I had to step up from 10-pound monofilament to 20-pound mono leader. The long shank of the Aberdeen hook did prevent the Mackerel’s razor sharp teeth from biting through the leader most of the time. Several of us tested 10, 20 and 30-pound test leaders. There were more strikes but many fish lost with the 10-pound leaders, especially when hoisting the Mackerel up and over the railing when a net is not available. This was likely due to a tooth frayed leader. (Also, many times the Aberdeen wire hook would straighten out due to the weight.) We did have far more strikes with 10-pound vs 20 or 30-pound test mono.  We had fewer strikes when using 30-pound mono, more than likely due to its higher visibility and stress/resistance to a free-swimming of the bait. So, it was settled, go with the 20-pound leader, but one should change the hook connection often after catching a mackerel or two, whatever it is always necessary to inspect for frayed leaders!

I also learned to use Float Rigs.  These rigs originally consisted of the Aberdeen gold wire hook tied with a Clinch Knot or Uni-Knot to a 4-5 foot 20-pound leader for purposes of reducing the visibility of the terminal tackle (swivel, sinker). The leader was first attached to a metal swivel with a clinch knot, and then the main line with a red bead, and usually a 1/2-3/4 once lead egg sinker.  Above the egg sinker, a slip (sliding) float was topped off with another red bead.  A stop knot is then applied to the main line at a pre-determined desired depth. The slip float and stop knot are necessary for better casting ability of even a pre-determined 20-foot depth or so. Generally, the bait is either Nostril hooked,

Throat hooked, 

or Front of Dorsal hooked.  

The float rig allows for distance casting, bait placement, and depth determination.

Keep in mind this long leader length can be dangerous when casting over your shoulder due to potential people walking behind you on a pier. So, the preferred technique from a high pier would be an under the railing cast.

It should be noted that these same configurations can be used with a heavier tackle for larger fish, Kings, Tarpon, etc. But you should learn to bridle larger Live Baits.

As Circle hooks became the rage, the Aberdeen hook was replaced with assorted designs of #2 –4/0 Circle or Octopus light or wire hooks, excellent for Spanish Mackerel. As well, due to the frantic bait movements and at closer range the Red hook versions reminded the predators of a blood stream.  

To learn the merits of hook placement and the resulting bait action characteristics, a very detailed article appears in the


During the 70’s at Indian Rocks Beach, FL, I learned to throw spoons. Lightweight spoons such as the Reflecto, Sprite, or Clark Spoon, these required a similar rig as the Float Rig minus the float and stop knot. 

Do remember, fast retrieves are required for these Fast and Furious fish.  

A group of us on the pier argued about what was the best spoon to use. So back to our testing process. We decided that the Reflecto and Clark Spoon were the best, both tied for first place, (although I personally still love the action of the Reflecto Spoon).

1979-80 I took my rods with me to a project in Senegal West Africa. Living on Isla de Goree I found Mackerel, Jacks, and Tuna right off the island, (Trout and Grouper also) the Reflecto Spoons worked wonders, several times we damn near fed the whole island with 3-6-pound tuna.

In 2004 I moved to Bocas del Toro Panama on the Caribbean side having 69 islands and reefs in the archipelago. Of course, I took a half dozen reel/rod outfits and lots of tackle. And yes, I took a dozen Reflecto spoons of assorted sizes, these will always be my final go to lure.

I cast Reflecto spoons from the island I lived on (as Project Manager of a development) and mostly caught barracuda, snapper, jacks, and a few Snook. However, when I went back and forth from islands to town I occasionally trolled those spoons with a one-ounce weight, and usually took a 4-6-pound Mackerel for dinner. Although I did troll other lures; Hard Baits, Shallow Divers, and other assorted stick baits. I learned to love single hook lures, they were quick and easy to unhook.

At times, I hired out a local Panga (boat) and Capitan and went around the outer islands and a little beyond. Several times I’d go out and catch 7-9-pound Spanish Mackerel. On light tackle, these monsters are a fantastic fish to catch. Though much of the time I used medium to heavy tackle to troll with 1-1/2 to 3 -ounce beaded trolling weights, but still lost many of my Reflecto spoons.

I’d get a strike and “Fish On” for 15-20 seconds and then it would cut me off, I tried a short piece of coffee wire, it was too visible and kinked often, besides I got fewer strikes. At times, I’d catch a small Kingfish, and I realized probably many times they were possibly what cut me off. A couple times I’d have a fish on and suddenly ‘Nothing”! Not even the beaded trolling weight, I realized there were hungry fish out there that thought the silver beads were food. (I’d bought cheap black beaded trolling weights but the paint wore off in no time).  When I did go back to the USA, I resupplied myself with more Reflecto spoons.

Finally, in Florida again 2009, I discovered Knot 2 Kinky, Nickel Titanium wire (NiTi); Super thin, Tooth proof, Kink-proof, non-reflective, elastic, and knottable. In 2010 I took that wire back to Panama with me and caught many Spanish Mackerel, Kingfish, Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, Cobia, Shark, and more, all on a three-month vacation. And never had a bite-off, what a blast.

Back in Florida, I experimented with circle hooks replacing the Aberdeen hook, I used a 3-6-inch length of 12-pound NiTi wire spliced to 5 feet of 10-15-pound Fluorocarbon leader, (There is now a 6-pound NiTi wire for light tackle enthusiasts). The lighter leader provided less stress on the live bait (a loop knot helps in this case also). I fished several areas off Clearwater Florida, Sand Key and Honeymoon Island passes, Tampa Bay and Intercoastal areas with these new Free Lining and Float Rigs. Using either Greenbacks, Glass minnows, or small Ballyhoo, I became extremely successful with using a #2 to 3/0 red wire circle hook on the Stealthy Hybrid Leaders.

With my experiences, I realize that a heavy Fluorocarbon leader, say 30-40-pound test only causes small live baits too much stress, a lack of free movement, and a shorter life span. This was also true when free Lining a live shrimp for Red Fish (Red Drum). Fluorocarbon is much more sensitive. I loved fishing with a Carrot Stix rod with its fantastic sensitivity and Fluorocarbon leader, I could actually feel the shrimp flipping around. When the shrimp got frantic, the anticipation set in, I knew a big Red was onto it, I let the circle hook do the rest.

There are many other spoons as well as jigs on the market that catch Spanish Mackerel. But what I love about saltwater fishing is, there are so many other fish in the sea that is willing to take your offering, especially toothy predators, that fact increases the anticipation.

I fished the Gotcha plugs several times (because they required no additional casting weight), I really began to hate treble hooks. A couple small Mackerel inhaled the Gotcha, I ended up killing the small fish (and hooking myself) trying to get all those hooks out beyond all those teeth. Now I’m surer than ever, I love single hook lures. I plan on replacing all treble hooks on my lures to in-line single hooks. In fact, as I’m editing this Blog this item popped up on the Internet; How To Properly Replace Treble Hooks With Inline Single Hooks [VIDEO]

Perfect timing, wouldn’t you say?

Until next time, Tight Lines!

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