Bait schools draw macks inshore
By Capt. Danny Stasny
Just Reel Fishing Charters
Despite the scorching rays of the sun making outdoor activities seem like an eternity, fishing around Anna Maria Island with Just Reel Fishing Charters remains consistent.
And, with the arrival of large schools of hatch bait present throughout the bay, it’s time to add a new species to the roster.
The large schools of hatch bait attract many species to the dinner table and one of the most apparent is Spanish mackerel.
As we progress through the summer and into early fall we should see greater numbers of the popular fish in Tampa Bay. You’ll be able to find these fish with very little effort as long as you know what to look for. And, that can be as easy as locating the bait schools. If you can find the bait, you should be able to find the macks. Once you found the macks, catching them can be quite exciting as they are high-speed voracious fish willing to strike it anything that resembles a small shiner.
This being said, they are also known to take a variety of artificials. Silver spoons, small jigs and Gotcha plugs are excellent choices when targeting mackerel. You can also just go right to the source and use live shiners as bait, just remember to use a long shank hook as the macks teeth are unforgiving on fluorocarbon leader. The obvious solution for this dilemma is use a steel leader, but you may find your hookup ratio goes way down as these fish can see the leader and will quickly turn off a bait.
Ultimately, you’re better off carrying an ample supply of terminal tackle with you. Whether it’s artificials or hooks you need to have plenty on hand.
What’s nice about macks is you don’t need to have a boat to catch them. Fishing around bridges, passes and piers will suffice as long as the baits schools are present.
One of the best places to target these fish is at the Rod & Reel Pier. With a short walk out to the end of the pier you can be casting and catching within minutes.
There are advantages to fishing at the R&R as well. For one, if you run out of hooks or lures they have tackle available to be bought. Secondly, there’s a bar downstairs on the pier where you can get out of the sun and enjoy a soda or a cold beer. Remember you need to stay hydrated out in that heat.
Once you’ve caught some mackerel, you may wonder about what to do with them. If you’re planning on keeping them for dinner I suggest keeping them on ice until they are ready to be filleted. Cutting the throat and bleeding them is not a bad idea either.
And remember only keep what you think you can eat in one meal as macks are best eaten the day they are caught. After that they may become strong flavored and then are best suited as shark bait.
Although the daily limit for Spanish mackerel is 15 per person per day, you may never need to keep that many. The minimum size is 12 inches from the nose to the fork of the tail. You’ll also want to evaluate this as most macks under 15 inches to the fork don’t have much meat on them so hold out for some larger ones if they are available.
On my own Just Reel charters, I’m seeing good action on spotted sea trout while fishing deeper grass flats in Tampa Bay. Many are falling 13-14 inches, which is just under the minimum size of 15 inches, but the sheer numbers of catches are making up for lack of keeper fish.
There are other species mixed in with the trout bite including Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, small sharks and mangrove snapper.
Targeting snook along the shallow flats is still consistent with most catches falling between 20-30 inches.