How to Catch Spanish Mackerel:
Interview with an East Coast Legend


Man holding Spanish mackerel with mouth open showing teeth.

Watch out for those teeth! Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

Edited by Brian Gordon, Last updated: 5/12/2022

There are few saltwater fish more fun to catch than Spanish mackerel. While the king mackerel garners a lot of attention, its smaller relative is a prized game fish in its own right. Casting into a school of feeding Spanish mackerel with light tackle can lead to heart-pumping, line-stripping excitement. Armed with the right tackle and knowledge, anglers can consistently fill their coolers with this delectable fish.

Typical questions asked by anglers new to fishing for Spanish mackerel include:

  • Where are the best places to catch Spanish mackerel?
  • What should you look for when fishing for Spanish mackerel?
  • What’s the best way to catch Spanish mackerel from a boat? Trolling, casting or jigging?
  • How do you fish for Spanish mackerel from shore?
  • What are the best live baits for Spanish mackerel?
  • What lures are preferred for fishing for Spanish mackerel? How do you fish them?
  • Which rod and reel setup works best for Spanish mackerel?
  • What is the real secret to catching Spanish Mackerel?
Man holding up large Spanish Mackerel.

And they do get big! Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

For answers to these questions, West Marine partnered with Shannon Farlow of Big Rock Sports who interviewed Captain Noah Lynk, founder and operator of Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, located on Harkers Island, North Carolina. This East Coast fishing legend has successfully guided inshore charters for more than 20 years. Here is what he has to say on how to catch and come home with more Spanish mackerel at the end of your fishing day.

Where are the best places to catch Spanish mackerel? Does that change with the seasons?

The best places to catch Spanish mackerel are going to be areas with some kind of structure or places where bait fish are going to school up. This includes wrecks, jetties, shoal areas, fishing piers and areas that have live bottom. These places tend to always attract bait fish season after season, so when the Spanish mackerel are running, I can usually find them there. They seem to inhabit and feed in the same areas regardless of the season.

What do you look for when fishing for Spanish mackerel?

Two boys showing off their Spanish mackerel.

Two happy angelers with trophys of the day. Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

When I’m headed out for Spanish mackerel, I know within a 15-mile area where the best places are going to be, but I’m also looking for fishing birds that are actively feeding on the surface. This always indicates predator fish feeding on bait as the birds are picking up the scraps. Also, be on the lookout for other boats, especially charter boats, 1 that will be trolling in a circle or staged up on a large school and casting to them. Tide can also play a big part in their feeding cycle, so don’t give up on an area that has been productive if the tide or winds aren’t the same as when you’ve caught them before.

What’s the best way to catch Spanish mackerel from a boat? Trolling, casting or jigging?

There is no best way to catch them from a boat as all three methods work just as good, albeit they usually work at different times or one method may be more preferable to you than the other.

Close shot of two Spanish mackerel facing each other.

Couldn't we have found a better place to meet? Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

As with any serious fishing, the first thing you’ll need to do is be prepared with all the tackle that you may need. I always start the season stocking up one of my Calcutta tackle bags with just Spanish mackerel tackle for trolling, casting and jigging as you never know what you’ll need and when you’ll need it—but I can guarantee you will need it. I pack my tackle bag with extra Sea Striker planers (#1, #2 and #3) and extra hooks. I definitely pack extra Sea Striker Got-Cha plugs of different sizes and colors, Clarkspoons, Sea Striker jig fish lures in all sizes. You also need to have pre-rigged leaders, which I make up ahead of time. I rig these leaders with top-of-the-line Bill Fisher terminal tackle (swivels, snap swivels, etc.), which I keep organized by wrapping them on Sea Striker leader wheels so they’re ready to roll whenever I need them.

How do you fish for Spanish from the shore?

Boy standing next to fish cleaning table full of Spanish mackerel.

Can you guess what this youngster is having for dinner? Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

Fishing for Spanish mackerel from shore means that you are constrained by your surroundings. This might be a nice beach, a rock jetty, or a fishing pier you’re fishing from, so you have to be acquainted with your surroundings and know your limits. Usually a school of feeding fish busting the water can be seen moving toward you from one direction or the other. This is where having several rods rigged up makes the difference. Usually, casting from a fixed location to a school of feeding Spanish mackerel is best accomplished using Got-Cha plugs of various sizes and colors. This is where you want to have several rods rigged up due to either getting cut off or they’re just not hitting one color vs. another. Rigging several rods will definitely increase your catch ratio as you can replace one very quickly instead of having to tie on another lure.

What are the best live baits for Spanish mackerel?

The best live baits for catching trophy Spanish mackerel are going to be menhaden, herring, mullet and sardines. This pretty much goes for the entire East Coast. Other species can be used as live bait, but these appear to work the best.

What are your favorite fishing lures for Spanish? How do you fish them?

I use small lures when casting, trolling or jigging for Spanish mackerel because they prefer small baits. I often find Spanish mackerel feeding on bay anchovies, glass minnows (silver sides), sardines or finger mullet. They’re usually in large schools. The only time I’m not using small baits is when live baiting. My favorite lures for catching Spanish mackerel are the Got-Cha plug, Sea Striker jig fish and weighted Clarkspoon for casting. Remember when casting to Spanish mackerel that you have to keep up a high rate of retrieval. If you don’t, they’ll follow your lure, but won’t hit it very often. For trolling, the first and most important thing to remember is that your speed needs to be at or just over six knots. I’m almost always going to be using a Clarkspoon or Drone Spoon of the appropriate size to match the bait they’re feeding on.

Which rod and reel setup works best for Spanish mackerel?

Spanish mackerel with lure hooked on lip being pulled out of water.

A Clarkspoon proved to be this Spanish mackerel's one-way ticket to the boat. Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

I personally prefer light tackle and casting, so my favorite setup is going to be a Star Rods VPR 6-14# with a 3000 series spinning reel. It’s plenty good on the light action side, but still has plenty of backbone (stiffness) to hold any Spanish mackerel I catch. I’ll use the same setup for jigging them as well. My favorite trolling rod when using a conventional setup is the Star Rods Plasma boat rod in medium/light action with a Shimano TLD 25 lever drag or a reel comparable to this. You really don’t need heavy gear to catch Spanish mackerel as it’s overkill and much more enjoyable to catch them on lighter tackle.

OK, so what is the real secret to catching Spanish Mackerel?

There is no real secret to catching Spanish mackerel—but the biggest thing is in your preparation. Know your area, where bait fish usually school up. Know your local wrecks, rock jetties, structure etc. Know the local tides, winds and the preferences of Spanish mackerel. Are they feeding at dawn? Or are they feeding best once the sun gets overhead? Or are they feeding best on or around a certain tide change? This is information that you’re going to need to know to be successful and, in my opinion, is the biggest secret to success. In the end, nothing can make up for time spent on the water. Information is king.

Any additional fishing tips you would offer?

Man holding Spanish mackerel with lure hanging from mouth.

Captain Lynk shows off a Spanish Mackerel he nailed on a Savage Gear Twitch Reaper. Photo courtesy Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, Harkers Island, NC.

I do a lot of speaking to groups on all kinds of fishing. Here are the basic things I tell them when starting out fishing for any certain species. If you’re brand new to fishing for what you’re after, it’s probably in your best interest to get a local guide to show you the ropes a few times. This can save years of frustration trying to figure things out on your own.

Join local fishing clubs that cater to your fishing needs as local information is invaluable and chances are you’ll get invited on a fishing trip or two. You will be able to start to see how things are done, when to go out, when not to go out, what tackle to use in certain situations, etc.

If you’re intent on using your own boat to fish for Spanish mackerel, when you find the fish, watch how the boats around you are fishing. Are they trolling? If so, what pattern are they in? Don’t troll against the pattern. Are they casting? If so, it’s probably not the best place to troll for them. Basically, use common sense and good courtesy. It will take you far when out on the water.