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Mackerel action hot at area piers

By RICK FRAZIER
Published April 2, 2006


If you're a pier fanatic, grab your gear. From now until the end of fall, Spanish mackerel will be ravaging schools of baitfish and eating offerings like there is no tomorrow.

The north and south Skyway fishing piers offer excellent opportunities for anglers who have a hard time walking the long piers with all their equipment. Vehicles are permitted, but the piers do charge.

Fort De Soto Park has two piers that are free. The bay and gulf piers have plenty of fish, but there are new underwater reefs by the gulf pier.

Redington Long Pier offers excellent mackerel fishing. It's privately owned and there is a charge. There are restrictions on what you can use and where you can fish, so call ahead.

The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg is free and can be a great spot once the mackerels get up the bay. Parking, however, can be a hassle and there's just not a lot of room to fish.

Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach is known for its summer snooking. That's not to say you can't catch mackerel, there are just more productive or better and free piers for that.

One of the best reasons mackerels are so much fun is they're not picky. Bait needs to be alive or moving. They'll smack a live minnow like a freight train, but they'll also chase a variety of artificial baits.

Scaled sardines, Spanish sardines and threadfin herring, in that order, are prime live baits for macks. Live shrimp and pinfish aren't even a close second. Some piers with bait houses sell live minnows, but they are easy to catch.

Multihook bait-catching rigs called sibikis are simple to use, dangerously effective and perfect for piers and people who can't throw a cast net. Catching a frisky sardine and immediately putting it on the hook almost certainly will draw attention.

Most live-bait mackerel chasers use a standard cork or floating rig. Some use a weighted float that aids in casting and is especially helpful if the fish are feeding far from the pier. If you're going to make your own rigs, use a long-shank hook, preferably a No.1. A lot of fish are lost to the mackerel's razor-sharp teeth because a regular or short-shank hook is used.

Any minnow replica artificial bait will do the trick. But the preferred fake among longtime mackerel chasers is a silver spoon. The most common rig to use with the spoon is a double-swivel weighted 5-foot leader. This weighted rig aids in casting and allows the spoon to travel beneath the surface. Keeping the bait down on fast retrieve is the key to success when fishing from an elevated position.

Medium action 20-pound spin-casting tackle is the norm for chasing macks from piers. It may sound a little heavy, but you never know when a small 10-pound king mackerel might be in the mix.

Some license restrictions may apply to pier fishing so check with local officials.

Spanish mackerel have generous bag limits of 15 fish per day per person, with a minimum size limit of 12 inches measured to the fork in the tail.

The meat is considered good table fare, especially if smoked or broiled. Some remove the skin and deep-fry it. A tip for better tasting fillets: cut the throat and place the fish in a bucket of water to bleed out.

Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at 727 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the lubberline at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail captainrick@luckydawg.com