Emerald Coast Pier Fishing Guide


The ancients always said to start looking for Spanish mackerel after the 3rd fog of March. That’s not to say you won’t catch them sooner, but the Spaniards show up in greater numbers after that third fog. Now, it’s not because the fish are counting how many foggy days there have been. Fog usually coincides with warmer water entering. They are one warm water species which generally coincides with the arrival of spring and bait fish around the wharf.

Spanish mackerel is a fast-moving species of mackerel that is normally caught from March to November. Another very popular species on the pier. They are known for their aggressive nature as well as their incredibly fast runs. Spaniards are little speed demons who are a lot of fun light tackle. They mainly eat squid and small baitfish, pretty much if they are shiny and fast moving they will try to eat it.

Spaniard max approximately 36″ long and 12 Lbs for a record sized Spaniard. They are very similar to king mackerel in body shape and color, except they are just smaller. Both have the same body shape and fins, except a Spanish mackerel has yellow spots on its sides as well as a black “flag” on its dorsal fin. Great care must be taken when keeping the Spanish, as young king mackerels also go to school with them. You don’t want to be caught by a game warden with a mess of short kings thinking you’re limited in Spanish.

Identifying King Mackerel vs. Spanish Mackerel

Tackle – Spanish Mackerel

To fish for Spanish mackerel, all you need is a medium to medium weight 7 foot coastal rod and a reel that holds about 150 yards of 10 to 15 pound braid. They make quick strokes that can get a lot of line out of your reel in the blink of an eye. Heavier freshwater bass tackle can work, but many baitcasters lack the line capacity and other reels don’t handle fast strokes well either. I have personally killed spinning reels on Spanish mackerel when I first started fishing off the pier.

For a leader, you’ll either want to use a lighter seven-ply yarn or a very heavy 80-100 lb monofilament or fluorocarbon. Spaniards have very sharp teeth and will cut you easily if you are not using a heavy or wire leader, but even with a heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader you will sometimes be cut by these sharp teeth.

Most people use lures to fish for Spanish. Popular choices are: plugs, spoons, hex jigs, plugs, and bubble and lure combos. The bubble and lure combo is an interesting lure. It’s a plastic bubble that you fill with water or marbles, that you have on your main line above a swivel and a leader. The lure is usually something that is too light to cast on its own from the pier. So usually a McDonald’s straw, a Maribou jig or a Clark spoon. The bubble does double duty by being the weight you need to cast as well as attracting fish by making noise and splashing on the surface.

bucktail, hex jig, colt sniper jig, gold spoon, kraken spoon
Assortment of lures for Spanish mackerel

Technique – Spanish Mackerel

To target Spaniard, the best place to start is about halfway down the pier at the first “T”, but you can catch Spaniard along the entire pier, very often the sides of the end “T” produce very well. Whatever lure you use until you spot the Spanish Mackerel will be a blind cast. These are fast moving fish and will move along the pier following the baitfish. So, be prepared for a lot of walking and pouring, but once you’ve located a fair amount, expect some quick action. Getting a bite out of every throw is not an uncommon occurrence.

For any jig or spoon, you want to cast as far as possible and sink to the bottom. Once you hit the bottom, bring the lure up almost to the surface in quick, erratic pops. Once it reaches the surface, let the lure sink back down and repeat the process until you return the lure to the pier. Be careful however when you work the lures, the hooks of these lures are very sharp. If you break the surface, you can accidentally kick this lure back at yourself or other people.

For a bubble rig, it’s even easier to throw it as far as you can and bring it back. You can either blow out the bubble, like a popper, or just pull it up with a few pauses or pops. Just keep throwing it and hoping you find the fish. Regardless of the lure fishing method, watch out for other people who could be bait for kings or Spaniards. Throwing on other people’s lines is a quick way to become unpopular on the pier.

You can also fish for larger Spanish mackerel in “axe handle” using live or dead bait. A swivel with leader and a #4 treble hook. Using small live herring, squid, or freed cigar minnows will produce larger Spaniards of 4 pounds and up. These large Spaniards are often bycatch when targeting king mackerel.

spanish mackerel
Great Spanish from the end “T”

Table price – Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel has nice, light-coloured, slightly oily flesh, but no fishiness. Much more popular to eat than their larger cousin the king mackerel. They have a bit of a firm texture that isn’t super flaky. Due to their fat content, they are very versatile in the kitchen. I recommend you try grilling or blackening them. Or just go with old devotees and fry them after sprinkling them with seasoned cornmeal.

Farewell Words – Spanish Mackerel

The Spanish mackerel is a very fun fish to target on the pier. They probably hold the Top 5 target fish on the pier. It’s amazing to see a spinning Spanish school trying to eat your lure. While not every day is great, it’s very easy to limit it if you’re trying to bring home a cooler full of meat. But I have to reiterate here, be careful with your lures. Gotcha plugs have incredibly sharp hooks right out of the box and will hook you as easily as they hook mackerel. Make sure no one is behind you when you throw. You don’t want a great day at the dock to involve the emergency room.


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