- David Brown
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First of a 2-part series
It's a family reunion, of sorts, but don't expect civility or table manners. Rather, the annual march of king and Spanish mackerel brings gluttony, savagery and brazen behavior to Florida's Gulf beaches.
Although fall 2010 began with mild transition, air and sea surface temperatures have started their autumn decline. With days growing shorter and food sources soon to dwindle, kingfish and Spanish mackerel will be feeding voraciously; and that means wild angling action.
Kingfish grow the largest, commonly reaching 30-plus pounds in Florida's Gulf region. Unless you're targeting the big "smoker" kings (i.e. tournaments), expect to see lots of 10- to 20-pound "schoolies." Coastal waters also hold throngs of mackerel in the 2- to 3-pound range, but fall feeding frenzies often see the "zingers" of five pounds or more crashing the party.
Here's a look at where Gulf Coast anglers are finding the mackerel reunions:
Passes: Tidal flushing stacks baitfish along the tips of barrier islands and beach heads. These briny buffets will often bring kings and Spanish in close proximity to shore. Watch for white water explosions, leaping baitfish and birds clustering near the surface.
Channel markers: The "cans" are not really the attraction, but rather the indicator of the hard bottom to which they are anchored. Bottom-oriented forage species like blue runners and cigar minnows amass in these areas. Look for kings to feed best around markers on the strength of an outgoing tide when current pushes the bottom baits into the open, while washing loads of transient forage along the channel edges.
Trap lines: Crabbers set their traps over hard bottom, as this is where their clawed quarry resides. Like the channel marker scenario, the hard stuff attracts baitfish. Also, the steady chum line of baited traps appeals to kings and Spanish. Just consider that hooking one of the mackerels around trap lines usually involves a nail-biting challenge of avoiding entanglement.
Wrecks: From sunken shrimpers to Coast Guard cutters, ill-fated vessels present hard structure with significant "relief" (height from the bottom). Baitfish hide amid the structure. Look around the area with your sonar, as wrecks often settle against patches of hard bottom. Any rock pile or ledge could be the sweet spot.
Reefs: Natural structures harbor entire ecosystems that fuel a food chain culminating in predators like kingfish and Spanish mackerel. Manmade reefs, with compositions ranging from concrete rubble to retired Army tanks, also attract voluminous bait schools and the mackerel clan readily frequents these spots as well.
Piers: Same principal as a reef -- structure holding baitfish -- but piers offer two advantages: 1) emergent visibility and 2) shore access. Tides are essential, as incoming cycles move the bait schools closer to piers, while the falling tide pulls the food farther away. Predators following the food may move in and out of range for pier anglers. Popular Gulf piers include Pier 60 (Clearwater Beach), Reddington Long Pier (Reddington Beach), Gulf and Bay Piers (Fort De Soto), Venice Pier and the Naples Pier.
Wherever you find your mackerel gatherings, expect fast and frantic action marked by flexing rods, screaming reels and lots of sharp teeth. In Part 2 of this series, we'll look at what those sharp teeth like to bite.
Next week: "A Banquet Spread for Toothy Guests"
David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "FISH SMART-CATCH MORE!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.