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Catching Winter Mackerel in Florida

Schools of Toothy Speedsters are Prevalent in South Florida in the Winter


With the drag singing like a buzz saw, that freight train would run off 100 yards or more of line before turning. And we knew that at that point a whole lot more of them would be around. "They" would be Cero mackerel. Several runs later, we could boat the first fish, and hopefully a second and third fish would soon be hooked up.

We broke out the white jigs at that point. Cut bait would work, but if the bait ever traveled up the line while fighting a fish, as it usually did, you quite often would be cut off by another mackerel cutting the line while after the swinging bait.

Our pre-prepared shrimp tips on a white nylon jig (bucktails only lasted about 2 fish because of their teeth), we cast and retrieved – three quick turns and jerk, three quick turns and jerk. If one missed it, the one behind him would get it, and another freight train ride was in order.

The pre-prepared shrimp tips were something my Dad learned from a commercial fisherman in Key West in the 1950’s. Take a pound of fresh shrimp with the heads off; peel them, and remove the tails. Cut each shrimp up into little round or square pieces about the size of an American dime in diameter. Place a layer of salt about a half-inch thick in the bottom of a Mason jar (canning jar). Now put a single layer of shrimp pieces. Cover the shrimp with salt and put another layer of shrimp. Alternate layers of salt and shrimp until the jar is full. Cap the jar, put it on the shelf and let it age for a week or so. The longer it ages the better.

What you end up with is some very salty, very smelly, VERY tough pieces of shrimp. Hook one on the jig’s hook and begin casting. They are tough enough to stay on the hook, small enough to be of no consequence on the hook set, and smelly enough to leave a scent trail in the water. After the first fishing trip, leftovers just stay in the jar. They get better with age up to about three months.

I have tried these shrimp tips on bucktails and jigs for other varieties of fish. They do work, but in any situation where there needs to be a clear difference between artificial bait and natural bait, the ruling would be that this is natural bait. So if you are into that kind of fishing situation, just be aware.

A normal trip would have us catching about 30 mackerel, mostly Spanish with a few Cero thrown in. They are super easy to clean, and if you eat them very fresh, they are excellent. They are an oily fish with a stronger flavor than a lot of people like. But if they are fresh, the strong flavor is not there. Frozen filets need to be broiled with a LOT of lemon juice. For some reason, freezing them strengthens the flavor.

Try the shrimp tips we use on these mackerel; and if you are in South Florida during December and January, whether its Biscayne Bay out around Marker 23 or Florida Bay off of Sandy Key, try the mackerel. They can really make a great fishing trip.

How do you catch mackerel where you are? Tell us about it on the Saltwater Fishing Forum.

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