Spanish Tricks, Part 1, Pier fishing, 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 day-glo 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 For the typical Spanish blitz, the ideal is somewhere in “Wonderland” with Alice and the crazed Hatter and the final destination of the golden hooks are often intentioned. 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 there are 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 nearly the same as with barbs, just your personal bodily release rate will go up dramatically. Think, easy in, easy out!
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.
Spanish Tricks Part-2, Boating for Spanish, by Dr. Bogus
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 to 40-pound test fluorocarbon 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 speck rig it’s a perfect size and sparse. And if you are a fly fisherman, sparse flies that are mimics of silversides and bay anchovies are deadly and often out fish conventional baits.
For pics of artificials for Spanish (false albacore, Atlantic bonito and blues) check out: https://www.ncoif.com/atlantic-bonito-false-albacore-jigs/, also include the Big Nic Spanish Candy baits and Yozuri Deep Divers.
As mentioned above, one-way of getting BIG Spanish is to free spool live baits. I usually use a No. 2 gold hook with a long shank and hook a small menhaden (a.k.a., pogy or peanut bunker) grass shad, finger mullet, glass minnow, just free floating without any weights or sometimes on a cork. This year many great catches of citation sized Spanish were landed floating a live pogy hooked through the nose, on a small No. 4 or No. 6 treble hook with a short trace of light 18-pound seven strand wire tied on with a figure-eight knot. And guess what, there are also blues for the taking on these rigs and yes not only Spanish but king mackerel as well, all on light tackle. Your best bet for hooking up with the Spanish and kings is to slow troll or drift the live baits over one of the nearshore artificial reefs like AR 315, 320, 330, 342, and 345 or over one of the rock ledges, with Keypost Rocks being the hot spot so far this season. To really perk things up, try a little “power chumming”. That is chumming with your live bait. Just toss out a few every once in a while and see what comes looking. We have also landed cobia while “power chumming” as well.
Finally, before you catch some Spanish, you better know your “Spanish” or you may pay the price. Spanish look-alikes include cero mackerel and most importantly king mackerel, which if you misidentify can co$t you big buck$. To positively ID the Spanish, check the lateral line, which has a gradual drop compared to the sharp “kinky” drop in the king mackerel. If this sounds too technical, just look for the distinctive black spot on the front of front dorsal fin. It’s easy to see and clearly marks the Spanish mackerel (and cero) and is totally absent in the king mackerel.
Spanish fishing has been great the last couple of years and the fish are getting bigger each season, with the number of citation fish continuing to grow yearly. They usually hit the Crystal Coast the first week of May and stay around well into the fall, exiting out along the Cape Lookout shoals and the along the east side of the shoals as they bid us farewell until next May.
for regulations and identification pictures for king and Spanish mackerel.