Spanish Tricks, by Dr. Bogus
Typically, the Spanish mackerel return in a blitz condition in early May and along Carolina’s Crystal Coast, and May Day has been synonymous with the return of the Spanish. This is however fairly remarkable, since barely a decade ago, the fishery was on the verge of collapse from over fishing in the 1970s and 1980s, but now is a shining light of successful fisheries management. At this time here in North Carolina the creel limit is now up to 15-Spanish mackerel per day, and the average fish is getting noticeably bigger and bigger every year.
Make no mistake about it; one of the most used and successful baits for Spanish mackerel, especially from the piers, is a lead weighted piece of plastic laced with gold treble hooks, known as the Got-Cha plug. The crank and jerk retrieve works wonders and will land not only Spanish but many other predators as well. Many color combinations are available, but white and chartreuse bodies with orange, pink, red, blue, green or chartreuse lead heads are most popular.
Walking the pier from Ides of March through November’s turkey day can be a perilous duty indeed. Blues and Spanish flying and flopping Got-Chas chartreuse and white being slung in directions that defy gravity and the most certainly the owner’s intentions to and from locations only Alice and the Mad Hatter can comprehend. Unfortunately a common sight throughout the fishing season. Ever try to grasp a feisty fish with a multi-troubled trebled gold hooked Got-Cha?? Wrestle the fish to the boards, grab the needle nosed pliers and surgically remove as many hooks as are imbedded?? Safely return the fish to the sea or plunk him into the cooler?? This is the ideal of course, but we all know that in the heat of battle like This past May’s Spanish blitz, the ideal is somewhere in “Wonderland” with Alice and the crazed Hatter and the final destination of the golden hooks are often unintentioned. And, with all the great darting action of the plug many of the fish are foul hooked. We have all seen the results, fingers, shirts, pants, foreheads and other bodily parts and appendages. Ouch #*@%&*!! Don’t get me wrong, Got-Chas are great, Got-Chas are good and we thank Sea Striker for all those fish, but are there any alternatives??
1) Remove one of the trebles-back if Spanish are about, front is blues are about. Blues bite the tail, Spanish go for the jugular (head). This way the only hooks are the ones in the fish.
2) Mash the barbs, just keep the pressure on and you capture rate will be the same as with barbs, just your personal bodily release rate will go up dramatically.
3) Go to the single hook Got-Cha with a treble up front and a single hook bucktail in the back.
4) Dr. Bogus’ favorite; switch to a 5/8 chartreuse or white lead jig head and 4″ clear plastic (with sparkles of course) Fin-S or Trout Killer grub. Looks and tastes just what those finicky Spanish may be eating, especially if they are chopping glass minnows and turn their noses up anything else.
This will last several Spanish, since they shred from the head, and don’t chop from the tail like the blues. With blues around, they only last about ½ fish. Jig the grub just like a Got-Cha just a bit slower. With the 5/8 oz. head, the action will be very similar and nearly as effective. The advantage is mouth hooked fish almost all the time and 5-less hooks to worry about as the fish comes over the railings. “Fish coming over” will have a new meaning. Fear of the fish coming off prematurely, launching a Got-Cha into friend, neighbors or complete strangers is a thing of the past, and hook removal is a snap. Yes, you have to change off the shredded mutilated grub every couple of fish but still cheaper than a Got-Cha and they get bitten off too.
5) “The Bare and the Baitless”, the gold hook rigs (we’ve been there before). They simply work!!
6) Some of the biggest Spanish every year are bagged on live-lined shad, or finger mullet free spooled on long shank, No. 2 gold hook, or on a cork or a slider rig. Remember, citation weight for Spanish is 6-pounds, and this year there have been many citations weighed in.
7) NO wire!! NO wire on Got-Chas, NO wire on your jigs. You will get some cut offs but you’ll also get more hook ups too.
Boating for Spanish:
A staple of Spanish fishing is trolling along the beaches, around the inlets and over the reefs and rocks of the Crystal Coast and the ubiquitous Clarkspoons work well for Spanish are the workhorses for this fishery. Both chrome and gold are used, although I prefer gold. The most popular sizes are the small ones which imitate the small anchovies and small silversides that are the favorite forage of the Spanish mackerel, so the small #00 and #0 spoons are the most productive and most used. Spanish are very keen eyed, so you need to use 20 to 40-ft. of 20-40-pound test mono leader for trolling the Clarkspoons. You can use a trolling weight of 1 to 4-oz., depending on how deep you need to get. If you need to get deeper than you can with a trolling weight, you may need to use a small No. 1-planar to get down. Usually early in the day (sunrise and early morning), Spanish are feeding on the surface but go deeper as the day progresses and therefore you have to fish deeper. They feed most heavily in low-light conditions. In the evening, the fish often return to the top to feed again. Trolling speeds is usually 5 to 7 knots.
Other trolling techniques that are good producers are trolling birds with a squid chain behind it and more recently YoZuri-DD (deep divers) have trolled up some big Spanish as well.
If you find Spanish and don’t like the idea of hand-lining many feet of line when you reel up to the trolling weight or planar, you can always stop trolling and cast to the fish. I usually use a small (1/2 oz.) Kastmaster, Stingsilver (3/8 oz.) or a clear or white Fin-S or Trout Killer grub. I use the 4-in. size with a white grub head and shorten the grub if the Spanish won’t hit. Spanish are notoriously finicky when it comes to matching the hatch size. Another good lure that is often used is a spec rig, perfect to match the little hatch of silversides, anchovies and small shad.