• Published:March 26, 2018
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Spanish mackerel are an aggressive predator that also make a great pitch bait for offshore big-game.

Mackerel are a schooling fish driven by feeding competition and built for speedy attacks with a streamlined profile and a mouthful of sharp teeth. Because of their strength and speed, they make a great target on light tackle.
Spanish mackerel are brutal on baitfish, but on those days when sardines or threadfin herring play hard-to-get or you simply don't care for the muss and fuss of live-baiting, these toothy tyrants will readily attack a range of lures.

Popping plugs, shallow divers and various flies will tempt Spanish macks, but a handful of specialized rigs will serve you well.

Coastal piers are natural gathering spots for baitfish and that makes them prime feeding areas for mackerel. When bait holds deep, a crafty design generically called the “spoon rig” creates an image that macks can’t resist.

The basic setup includes a 2- to 4-ounce in-line sinker tied between braided main line and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a size 0 or 1 spoon attached with a loop knot. When you cast the rig, the weight drops it to the bottom and the spoon flutters higher in the water column.
Braid sinks faster than mono and the lack of stretch yields better hookups. Fluorocarbon’s low visibility minimizes the chance of spooking suspicious macks without yielding to that stiff tail.
Leaders can range from three to 10 feet, depending mostly on experience level, while spoon styles vary from smooth, elongated models to the classic Clarkspoons with built-in swivels and red beads. Silver spoons are most common, but gold also works. Mackerel preference varies day to day, so experiment with different models, including those with colorful accent strips in pink, chartreuse or pearl.

Silly Willy offers premade rigs with weight, spoon and a short leader. Clarkspoon’s Clark Caster diversifies your rigging options with an elongated wire snap-fitted with a silver or gold blade, a red bead and a bullet weight of 1/8- to 1/2-ounce. Add a spoon directly to the snap for deeper retrieves and jigging action or run a long leader from the snap for a traditional pier setup.


Unless you have the pier or bridge to yourself, casting a lengthy, weighted rig requires prudent technique. Avoid hassles and potential injuries by ditching the dramatic overhead cast and going with a more efficient, less risky presentation. Hold your rod over the rail, swing the spoon rig beneath the pier to load the rod tip and then snap it forward to a 45-degree release angle. Shorter rigs are easier on beginners, but focusing on finesse rather than force enables you to sling whatever size rig you like.

There’s no need for massive surf rods, a 7-foot, medium-action spinning outfit with a soft tip does the trick, while a higher gear ratio keeps your spoon sprinting at a mack-attracting pace. Consider that a long leader and a lead weight heading in the same direction threatens constant tangles, so follow this strategy… Right before your weight hits the water, pinch the line to halt the lead’s forward progress. Pause the motion halfway home and let the spoon flutter downward like a wounded baitfish. Resume reeling and the impostor jerks back to life, a move that typically draws  attention.


Next time you order a soft drink to go, don’t trash the straw, save it for a nifty mackerel rig. Cut about a 4-inch section from a standard straw, run a piece of No. 4 wire leader through the center and affix a No. 2 or 4 treble hook at one end with a haywire twist secured with barrel wraps. Use the same connection to connect a small black swivel at the opposite end. Similar to a barracuda lure, the slender drinking straw rig looks like a fleeing baitfish.

Water passes through the straw so there’s minimal drag. For increased casting range, add a 1/2-ounce egg sinker or a couple of split shots above the swivel. You can swap the treble, wire and swivel for a long-shank hook fit through the straw’s center. With this arrangement, replace wire leader with 30-pound fluorocarbon. The fish usually bite the straw and miss the leader.

Designed by regulars at Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers (north and south side of Florida’s Tampa Bay), the “Water Walker” modifies the standard mackerel pier rig by replacing the in-line sinker with a weighted popping cork. Use this one when mackerel are feeding higher in the water column, as it allows you to skip a spoon across the surface to imitate a flipping baitfish.

The classic Love Lures Speck Rig comprising two jigs on dropper loops also charms mackerel. You’ll donate a lot of standard weight rigs, so modify the basic setup with 20- or 30-pound fluorocarbon to withstand those wicked choppers. Go with white, chartreuse or yellow hair jigs or Mylar jigs for maximum mackerel appeal.

In other takes on the double rig, try a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce bucktail jig on a dropper loop spaced about 18- to 24 inches above a spoon. Another deadly option, the Bomber Saltwater Grade Spanish Mackerel Rig features a tinsel rig with a 3/0 hook followed by a Captain Action spoon, all connected via coated wire with crimped connections.

Whatever rig you choose, remember those needle nose pliers or a long-handled hook remover. A mackerel’s teeth work just as good out of the water as in, so keep your fingers out of the danger zone.