By Willie Howard
Cool weather of the late fall and winter brings schools of hard-fighting Spanish mackerel to the coast of Palm Beach County.
Often called simply “Spanish,” the slender silver fish with golden spots on their sides can be found in shallow water along the county’s beaches as well as the inshore waters of the Lake Worth Lagoon from October through March.
Casting jigs, spoons or lures from the Lake Worth Pier, the Boynton Inlet jetties or the inshore waters around Lantana’s Ocean Avenue Bridge can produce Spanish mackerel, especially after a cold front.
Popular lures for Spanish include Gulfstream Flash Minnow jigs (try the half-ounce jig in the chartreuse/pearl color), Gotcha lures and silver surf-casting spoons such as Kastmasters.
Lures need not be fancy. Some creative anglers put hooks and small weights into 2-inch sections of drinking straws or green surgical tubing to create mackerel jigs.
Leader is important because toothy mackerel can sever fishing line with ease. Try tying on mackerel lures and jigs with about 2 feet of 40-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, or use a trace of No. 4 wire to guard against cutoffs.
Spanish like fast-moving baits, so don’t be shy after casting. Let your lure, spoon or jig sink for a few seconds, then reel fast, pausing now and then. Twitch the rod tip a few times until you develop a rhythm that triggers strikes from aggressive Spanish.
For casting at Spanish, a 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod and reel spooled with 30-pound braided line (or 20-pound monofilament line) will get the job done. Just add leader and the jig, spoon or lure.
For trolling — a good way to find Spanish when fishing from a boat — use a conventional rod holding 20- to 30-pound-test line. Rig the trolling rod with a small cigar weight, a swivel and a trolling spoon such as a 3-inch Clarkspoon. (Use about 2 feet of No. 4 wire above the spoon to guard against cutoffs.)
Live natural baits such as pilchards and shrimp will catch Spanish as well.
Lake Worth pier attendant Linda Carr said anglers caught large mackerel when schools of ballyhoo were around the pier in October.
Cooler weather in December should encourage mackerel to move from points north into Palm Beach County’s near-shore waters.
Limits are generous for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. They can keep up to 15 Spanish daily. Anglers must have a Florida saltwater fishing license (unless exempt).
The minimum size for Spanish is 12 inches, measured from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail.
Consider releasing smaller mackerel in favor of those that are at least 15 inches. A 20-inch Spanish is dinner for two.
Photos by Willie Howard/ The Coastal Star
As with other saltwater fish, mackerel intended for the dinner table should be iced soon after they’re caught. Immersion in slush of icy saltwater is ideal.
Spanish are among the easiest of saltwater fish to clean. Just lay them flat and fillet them, being careful to remove the rib cage and any remnants of the fins. Leave the skin on.
Mackerel are best eaten fresh — the same day they’re caught or the next day — unless they’re soaked overnight in a brine solution (in the fridge) and smoked for a longer shelf life.
Options abound for cooking Spanish. They can be broiled skin-side down in the oven, cooked in a skillet with olive oil and garlic or placed on foil with olive oil, lemon slices and spices for grilling.
My favorite Spanish recipe (available online) is the Food Network’s mackerel with fennel, olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
Seasonal manatee speed zones in effect
Seasonal boating idle-speed, no-wake zones designed to protect manatees took effect Nov. 15 and will remain in effect through March 31.
Among the largest of the idle-speed manatee zones in Palm Beach County is south of Peanut Island near FPL’s Riviera Beach power plant, which attracts manatees with its warm-water outflow.
To avoid manatees, boat operators should wear polarized sunglasses and watch the surface of the water for the swirls produced by their tails and the snouts of manatees surfacing for air.
Problems with a manatees and suspected violations of boating regulations can be reported to the state’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.
The Sea Mist III drift fishing boat cruises down the Intracoastal Waterway during last year’s Boynton Beach/Delray Beach Holiday Boat Parade. This year’s parade is Dec. 14. Photo provided by Boynton Beach CRA
Holiday boat parades
Boats decorated for the holiday season will light up the Intracoastal Waterway Dec. 14 during the annual Boynton Beach/Delray Beach Holiday Boat Parade.
Parade boats will gather at Palm Beach Yacht Center and cruise south beginning at 6:30 p.m. The parade will end at the C-15 canal (south end of Delray Beach).
Viewing locations include Boynton Harbor Marina, Intracoastal Park and Jaycee Park in Boynton Beach as well as Veterans Park and Knowles Park in Delray Beach.
Viewers also are expected to watch the parade from waterfront restaurants such as Two Georges, Banana Boat and Prime Catch in Boynton Beach and Deck 84 in Delray Beach.
A captain’s meeting for participating boaters is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Banana Boat restaurant. Entry forms can be found at www.catchboynton.com (click on “what’s happening”).
Boca Raton is holding a separate holiday boat parade Dec. 22.
Boca’s parade boats are scheduled to assemble near the C-15 canal and head south beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Boca parade will end at the Hillsboro Boulevard bridge.
Note: Bridges will be held open for about 45 minutes at Spanish River Boulevard, Palmetto Park Road and Camino Real to allow the parade boats to pass.
Viewing locations include Red Reef Park, Spanish River Park and Silver Palm Park.
Entry forms and details about the Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade can be found at www.myboca.us (look under things to do and special events).
Dec. 1: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee $35 ($20 for ages 12-19). Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dec. 4: Boynton Beach Fishing Club meets, 7 p.m. in the clubhouse next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Details at www.bifc.org.
Dec. 22: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom building next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee $25. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.
Tip of the month
If you’re going boating, surfing or snorkeling in the ocean, it’s smart to look for a wind and wave forecast. Problem is, that’s just a prediction. Better to know the actual wind direction and speed just before you head out. Search the internet for NDBC (National Data Buoy Center) and Lake Worth Pier. Click on recent data for Station LKWF1 to find fresh information on wind speed and direction, the speed of wind gusts plus air and water temperatures.
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at email@example.com.