By Peter Miller, Bass 2 Billfish
King, Spanish and cero mackerel are biting year round.
Florida anglers can target mackerel throughout the Sunshine State and throughout the year. We are blessed with three species of mackerel fish near and offshore – the king, the Spanish and, in the Florida Keys, the cero mackerel.
King mackerel, also called kingfish, are the largest of the three. They tend to travel in schools with similar size fish. The smaller kings, also known as “snakes,” are the most prevalent. Giant smoker kings can range up to 60 pounds but are far less frequent.
King mackerel fish can be found in waters as shallow as 15 to 20 feet and often are caught by pier anglers. Finding king mackerel isn’t difficult; they’ll always be in or around schools of baitfish, especially during fall and spring migrations. The most popular way to target kings is to slow-troll live baits over likely wrecks, reefs or around inlets. King mackerel also respond well to chumming and often can be lured close enough to the boat to catch with artificials.
Spanish mackerel rarely reach sizes above seven or eight pounds. They tend to prefer shallower depths, usually less than 50 feet, and have a penchant for chasing bait into shallow water. Surf and pier anglers catch a tremendous amount of Spanish mackerel throughout Florida using jigs or plugs. Female Spanish mackerel generally are much larger than males, which rarely exceed four or five pounds. Spanish mackerel are a popular Florida fish with anglers seeking a quick and tasty dinner to cap off their trip.
Cero mackerel occur exclusively in the southern part of the state, most commonly in the Florida Keys. Falling somewhere between the size of king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, cero are arguably the most beautiful of the three species. Cero are most often caught by anglers who are mackerel fishing in the Keys on light line trailed behind the boat. Cero mackerel also respond extremely well to chumming, especially when handfuls of live bait are tossed over patch reefs.
Tackle for mackerel can run the gamut from medium to heavy trolling outfits to small inshore spinning rods. A good rule of thumb: Be aware of the armament of teeth for all mackerel species. King mackerel almost always necessitate using wire leader; cero and Spanish mackerel can be caught using heavier mono. All mackerel fish have blinding speed and incredible eyesight, and typically feed in clear waters that allow them to exert caution when approaching artificials pegged to a hook.
All three types of mackerel fishing can be fun for almost any skill level. If you’ve ever witnessed the sight of mackerel rocketing through schools of baitfish, you understand why it’s impossible to ignore this speedster.