There are no guarantees in fishing, but catching Spanish mackerel in South Florida during the winter is as close as an angler can get to a sure thing.
February is a prime time to catch the fish from Stuart to Key West. Top fishing spots range from piers and off beaches to around local inlets, along the boundaries of Everglades National Park, the Gulf waters of the Lower Florida Keys and the Peck’s Lake area south of St. Lucie Inlet.
Capt. Norm Bekoff, who provides a Fort Lauderdale fishing report for the Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show that airs from 6-8 a.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 940 Miami and live-streams on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page, said Spanish mackerel often bite inside Port Everglades Inlet when cold fronts bring strong northeast winds to the region.
What’s great about Spanish mackerel is the fish are aggressive, they eat a variety of baits and lures – live shrimp, jigs, flies and diving plugs -- and they taste great. The daily bag limit is 15 Spanish mackerel measuring at least 12 inches from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail, which is enough to provide several meals for your family and friends.
The fishing is so good because of a constitutional amendment to ban gill netting in state waters that took effect on July 1, 1995. Before the ban, commercial operations with big nets would encircle entire schools of mackerel, and few fish escaped. The ban, which was approved by 72 percent of Florida’s voters in November of 1994, immediately improved the Spanish mackerel fishing, especially in South Florida.
Capt. Richard Stanczyk, who owns Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada and was a long-time contributor to the radio show, got hooked on fishing as a boy catching Spanish mackerel in Biscayne Bay with his grandfather in 1955. The mackerel fishing is so consistently good in the Keys now, it reminds him of the old days.
“This is a direct result of no netting,” said Stanczyk, whose favorite mackerel spot is near Sprigger Bank in the Gulf of Mexico, which is about 25 miles west of his marina and about six miles north of Marathon.
Stanczyk likes to anchor his boat in 10-12 feet of water, put out a chum bag and then cast live shrimp on 6-pound spinning rods. Once the ravenous mackerel start biting, he’ll use bare lead jigs tipped with shrimp, spoons and Rat-L-Traps. He also catches the fish on a fly rod using flashy weighted flies.
For more fishing tips, listen to The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. live on Fox Sports 940 Miami, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where the fish are biting and how to catch them. If you can’t tune in live, the Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are available through:
https:// foxsports940.iheart.com/featured/weekly-fisherman/about/ (click on podcasts)
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