To the “Macks”

Tournament Tails // January 16, 2018

Some of the coldest air since 2010 recently swept through the Keys, changing Fall patterns of fishing. As a result, scores of gamefish have infested the Gulf, and are providing some of the best action seen there in years. Topping the extensive list of targets there, is no doubt the Spanish Mackerel. Base average sizes are up this year, with 4, 5 and 6 pounders common.

Select a spot in 7-12 feet of water, plop out a chum block, shake it several times and with any wind or current, just wait a few minutes for the scene to develop around you. It’s highly effective and just that simple! You can also expect ravenous bluefish, hard hitting jack crevalle of all sizes, larger than average trout and leaping ladyfish and keeper mangrove and lane snappers.

Once you’re established in the “right” spot, it seems to matter little exactly what you throw. Live shrimp are deadly, the classic shrimp-tipped jig is maybe even more productive and if you are fortunate enough to locate and net live pilchards on the way out, it becomes almost cheating!

The Gulf is essentially an edge, even though it is gradual, it is also volatile. You never know the true identity of your next bite. If there was ever a classic location for true mixed bag fishing, it is certainly the Gulf. All of the following catches were comfortably made on the 18 HPX Mirage.

Ian Norris and Michele Destefano from Dania, warmed up quickly with 171 assorted fish and 14 species all taken on 10 pound spin, shrimp enhanced yellow jigs and a light trace of 40 pound single-strand coffee-colored wire. They took 42 mackerels up to 6 pounds, bluefish up to 5 pounds, trout to 4 pounds and fresh mangrove and lane snapper fillets for a parting gift.

Ian Norris “Mack & Blue”

Tom Keller and his son Greg from Islamorada, fished a half day outing in the vicinity of Schooner Bank and literally had a bite on every cast to tally up 186 fish with 15 species. They battled 55 speedy mackerels up to 6 pounds, with many of the hooked macks followed closely by other eager to bite anything, overly aggressive brothers and sisters. You simply cannot lay down a rod with any lure or bait dangling in the water while you are in these mega-red zones, or it will be ejected from the boat.

Greg Keller & Big Mack

Alan Routman from Ft. Lauderdale was blistered after cranking up 231 fish from nearby Sprigger Bank. He had 67 mackerels up to 7 pounds, bluefish to 5 pounds, outsized ladyfish, scrumptious mangrove and lane snappers and even threw in a cobia that was trying to suck chum out of the bag. Routman also used 10 pound spin, with jigs upgraded with sections of shrimp and light wire leaders to guard against the nasty bites of the mackerels and bluefish.

Kal Blumberg from Ft. Lauderdale picked off 126 fish during one of the windier periods associated with the front. Blumberg had to hide in the region of Blue Bank and capture some off the lee to safely anchor and fish. He caught 49 mackerels up to 6 pounds and 14 total species including spinner shark and Atlantic sharp nose, all on the jig/shrimp combo and bonefish sized spinning gear.

Vic Unterbrink from Deerfield Beach banged 207 fish while jigging, with 15 species including 56 Spanny macks all caught on the same light tackle spinning rods. He threw in a handful of the mackerel on an 8 weight flyrod, with a white/glitter Klauser pattern, stripped vigorously as the sprinting mackerel prefer.

“They must have been biting”


Maverick Tip: Because of the density of fish in the Gulf, most of them sharp toothed, it is wise to rig up swivel-free whenever possible. When any fish is hooked, attention is drawn to that area and occasionally just a knot moving along with a small strand of grass caught on it will be eaten, and the result is usually a break off. With mono or braid, a 3 foot section of bimini twist, blood knotted to another 3 foot strip of 30 pound mono or fluorocarbon, then Albrighted, with NO swivel to a 2 or 3 foot section of 30-40 pound single strand wire should help to minimize cutoffs.

– by Capt. Mark Krowka