Trolling the Beach
A Part Of The What's Biting Series
While almost all of the boats motoring out of Alabama ports are headed to grab a quick limit of red snapper during the 10-day season for recreational anglers, those anglers who don’t like to lose sight of the shore basically have the beach to themselves.
That means slow-trolling for Spanish mackerel and small King mackerel is wide open for those who prefer to stay close to shore, sometimes within yards of the beach.
Just about any boat, excluding john boats and bass boats, will do for trolling the beach for Spanish mackerel and small kings. Rod holders on the boat are real handy if you don’t want to have anglers holding the rods and reels while the baits are deployed.
There are several methods to catch mackerel, including straight trolling at seven to ten knots. You can deploy a variety of baits, but popular baits that bring plenty of fish are Spoons, Halco, and Clark. Try to deploy the Spoons in an array that has the Spoons fluttering at different depths from just below the surface to five or six feet deep. To keep the Spoons down, you’ll probably have to use a planer with a lengthy leader. Some people will use a small, braided steel leader while others prefer to stick with monofilament in the 25- to 30-pound test range. Use quality swivels to keep the lines from twisting. Remember to stagger the distance behind the boat when the lures are deployed to keep the lines from tangling, especially when you’re making a turn.
Some people love to drag large crankbaits, although you’ll probably have to back off on the throttle a little to keep the baits in the strike zone.
Of course, many times the best route is to go with something the fish are accustomed to eating. If you can get live bait, that’s great, try hardtails or finger mullet or menhaden. Fresh frozen cigar minnows or ribbonfish (silver eels) with a duster can work like a champ at times.
When you’re using real bait, a boat technique that can be successful is to drift with the wind and bump the motor in and out of gear. The bait will rise when the propeller is turning. When the motor is in neutral, the bait will slowly sink, which can often trigger a bite when the fish are a little finicky.
There are numerous tackle shops in the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area that will have a variety of options for mackerel fishing. Just ask any of the employees at J&M Tackle, Sam’s Stop and Shop, The Rod Room, or Go Fish Bait and Tackle for help in choosing the correct planers and spoons, as well as terminal tackle like swivels and leader material. For Spanish, most of the time, a 25-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader is all you’ll need. If you happen across a few king mackerel, you may have to switch out to wire leader.
The daily limit on King mackerel is two per person with a 24-inch fork length minimum. Although there is a daily creel limit on Spanish Mackerel of 15 per person with no size limit, I don’t recommend keeping any more than you plan to cook fresh. Mackerel are a little oily and don’t freeze well. However, fried in hot oil with a good fish fry mix, fresh Spanish are tasty table fare.