Private offshore anglers get to fish for red snapper the whole week of the 4th of July, but what happens the following Monday other than the snapper-withdrawal blues?
I can offer a cure, and it can appeal to a wide variety of anglers, young and old, who don’t really care about a long boat ride to the artificial reef zones where most of the red snapper reside. And it carries a great deal of appeal for those who get a little queasy at the thought of getting out of sight of land.
This fishing opportunity along the Alabama Gulf Coast is one of the easiest around with a little guidance and the right tackle. I’m talking about slow-trolling for Spanish mackerel and small king mackerel, sometimes within yards of the beach.
Several charter boats, known as six-packs because of the number of anglers it can take fishing, specialize in trolling if you don’t have access to a boat. Check Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism’s website for a list of boats that offer trolling trips.
If you have your own boat or have a buddy with a boat, head to one of the local tackle shops (Sam’s Stop and Shop, J&M Tackle, Hooked Up Bait and Tackle) and ask for tips on the tackle your need to troll for Spanish and small kings.
If you don’t have rod holders on the boat, the tackle shops will likely have some that will bolt onto your handrails. If you’ve got enough anglers on the boat, then everybody can hold a rod if rod holders are not available.
The most common method of trolling for mackerel is straight trolling at seven to ten knots. The most popular trolling baits are spoons, like Halco and Clark. Make sure to deploy the lures in an array that has the spoons fluttering at different depths from just below the surface to 5 or 6 feet deep. To keep the spoons at the right depth, you will likely have to use a planer with a lengthy leader. The tackle shop should have fixed you up with the right equipment.
Because mackerel have sharp teeth, some anglers will use a small, braided steel leader. Others prefer to stick with monofilament in the 25- to 30-pound test range, especially if the water is clear. 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.
Alabama has what is called the “Trolling Corridor” off Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Artificial reefs deployed within 9 miles of the Baldwin County beaches comprise the corridor that is highlighted by the Allen Liberty Ship and 240 structures. Also 138 reef sites have been deployed within the R.V. Minton East and West Nearshore Reef Zones. Go to OutdoorAlabama.com to find a map and reef coordinates.
At times, nothing beats live bait if you can get hardtails, finger mullet or menhaden. Alternatives include fresh frozen cigar minnows or ribbonfish (silver eels). Add a duster to the bait for a little added enticement. One of the best tactics when using the real thing 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 strike.
Because of an abundance of king mackerel, the daily limit on kings has been increased to three per person with a 24-inch fork length minimum. The daily creel limit on Spanish mackerel is 15 per person with no size limit, but it doesn’t really make any sense to keep more than you can eat fresh. Mackerel don’t freeze well. Take the fish filets and coat with yellow mustard before rolling in your favorite fish fry mix. Drop in hot oil and cook until golden brown. Delish!