Woman fishing off Alabama's coast

Alabama Gulf Coast’s Abundant Mackerel

Although there is never a “sure thing” when it comes to fishing, the annual mackerel migration along the Alabama Gulf Coast is about as close as you can get. 

Spanish mackerel and their much larger cousins, king mackerel, start showing up off Alabama when the weather starts to warm in the spring. 

Slow-trolling for Spanish and small kings, known as school or summer kings, is a great option during warm weather, which lasts from late March until October.

If you have some fishing experience and want to bring a seaworthy boat to fish the nearshore waters of the Gulf, the area within sight of Alabama’s sugar sand beaches are filled with mackerel.

Woman holding a Spanish mackerel

If you don’t plan to bring your own boat, a variety of fishing charter opportunities are available for up to a half-dozen anglers on what we call six-pack boats. If you’re alone or a couple, you can call the charter and find out if they can put a trip together with other anglers.

The great thing about fishing for mackerel is that several methods have proven successful. Straight trolling at seven to 10 knots with spoons, Halco or Clark, are very popular and can hook plenty of fish. For best results, the spoons should be deployed 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 down, you will likely need 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 black swivels to keep the fish from hitting hit gold-colored swivels and cutting the line. The swivels keep the lines from twisting. Stagger the distance behind the boat when the lures are deployed to keep the lines from tangling, especially when you’re making a turn.

Large crankbaits can also be trolled, although you may need to reduce your speed to keep the baits in the strike zone.

Not often, but sometimes mackerel won’t hit anything but natural baits, both live and frozen. For live bait, hardtails (blue runners), finger mullet or menhaden will work. Fresh frozen cigar minnows or ribbonfish (silver eels) with a duster can be the ticket 

When using natural bait, one technique to use is what I call drift and bump. Drift with the wind and bump the motor in and out of gear. The bait will rise when the boat is in gear. When the motor is in neutral, the bait will slowly sink. Many fish prefer to strike when the bait is falling.

Shrimp bait

The Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area boasts a number of tackle/bait shops that will be able to outfit any angler with a variety of options for mackerel fishing. They will help you choose the correct planers and spoons, as well as terminal tackle and leader material. For Spanish, most of the time, a 25-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader is all you’ll need. If you run into a few king mackerel, you may have to switch out to wire leader.

If you catch a decent-sized mackerel and you’re not sure what species it is, the easiest way to tell is to raise the dorsal (top) fin. If the flesh connecting the spines is gray, it’s a king. It’s a Spanish if that flesh is black near the long spine.

An abundance of king mackerel has allowed the daily limit to be raised to three per person per day with a 24-inch fork length minimum.

The daily creel limit for Spanish mackerel is 15 per person with no size limit. The only problem with that liberal creel limit is that mackerel are somewhat oily fish and don’t freeze well. The best thing to do is catch the fish and cook them as soon as possible. Many restaurants in the area have hook and cook specials, where they will cook your daily catch in a variety of delicious ways.

Plan a trip soon to the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast and enjoy the great mackerel fishing.

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David Rainer Blogger
David Rainer (2 Posts)
David Rainer has written about the great outdoors on the Alabama Gulf Coast for more than 20 years. For 14 of those years, he covered the many fishing opportunities on the Gulf Coast as outdoors…