By Mark Fike
Most anglers know what trolling is and know that trolling can be an effective method to put fish in the boat. Covering lots of water with multiple lines and lures out puts the odds a bit closer to the angler’s favor.
While trolling in freshwater is more or less using the same technique, trolling for Spanish mackerel in saltwater requires a bit more effort and expertise to pull it off. First of all you should really use multiple lines at various depths to find the fish and maximize your time on the water.
To get baits to various depths some anglers use inline sinkers, but most use planers to get lines down 25-30 feet. There are two commonly used planers. One tends to get baits down 10-15 feet and the larger planer go deeper. Use the bigger/deeper planer closer to the boat meaning let less line out and run it just behind or alongside the boat.
The smaller planer can be run back 100 feet or so. An inline sinker of a few ounces can be run way back behind the boat with a spoon behind it.
To rig up your trolling setup, use fluorocarbon leaders of at least 15 feet between spoons and the planers or inline sinkers. Some anglers use even longer leaders. It is imperative to use swivels to keep the spoons and fish from twisting. If the fish pop a planer and come to the surface and then begin twisting, they will pop free.
So, from the planer I prefer to attach the leader with a swivel to the planer, and then put a small but strong swivel between the leader and spoon as well. I also attach my main line to the planer with a swivel.
Using swivels not only eliminates line twist and weakening of the line and loss of fish and rigs, but it also allows anglers to change out colors, planer sizes, and spoons relatively quickly. I keep prerigged lines on spools in my boat with various colors of spoons on them for this reason. Sometimes the fish prefer a certain color.
Drone makes a great spoon for Spanish. Clarke does too, but make sure you check your hooks regularly. Some hooks weaken over time and snap. Replacement hooks can be purchased and swapped out.
When trolling, it is best to fish with at least one friend. Besides safety reasons, one person can drive the boat and one can reel in the fish and adjust lines. When a fish hits it is best to keep the boat moving to avoid the lines dropping to the bottom and getting tangled or fouled.
Someone reels in the line that popped and pays attention to where the other lines are. Theoretically the planer pops and the fish is on the surface and easily seen which makes it easier to avoid crossing other lines. The boat captain tries to keep the boat straight to avoid complicating the line situation.
Once the line is reeled until the planer is at the rod tip, the best action is to either put the rod in a rod holder and begin handlining in the remainder of the line into the boat to land the fish, or if room is available, point the rod tip to the bow of the boat, lay it on the deck (don’t step on it) and quickly handline the fish in.
This gives the angler 6 to 7 feet less of line to pull in by pointing the rod to the bow and putting it on the deck. All of this has to be done fluidly though so the fish does not come off right at the boat.
So where do you troll? Typically Spanish mackerel like baitfish. Find the bait and you will likely find something feeding on them. Diving birds are great indicators of feeding fish which may include bluefish. However, using your fish finder will help you locate bait below the surface and therefore find fish that may not be obvious.
I fish channel edges and over structure. A look at modern fish finder maps can clue anglers in. However, I am old school and find the old charts quite good at giving me areas to fish. Shoals and bars are great places to troll near. Lighthouses and any change in contour are excellent places to fish too.
I don’t advocate being a leech and horning in on other’s hard work, but if you see a line of boats trolling in an area regularly and can politely join the caravan without messing up the flow of other anglers, do so. Just be courteous and keep your distance. The biggest thing is to not drive through the fish to spook them. Everyone in the area will know what you did and you will not be welcome to the party anymore.
If you hook up, particularly if you hook up multiple lines, pull out of the parade of boats to deal with your lines and then rejoin the line when you get it sorted out. Your thoughtfulness will generally mean you get welcomed back and perhaps make a friend to share info with on forthcoming days on the water.
When you land a fish, keep in mind that these fish are messy. They puke up minnows, blood and digested food all over your boat and on you. Wear clothes you don’t care much about, keep a bucket handy to wash down the sides and deck with. Also, keep your fingers away from the teeth on these fish!
They are sharp and can slice your finger right down to the bone in a second. Keep the fish on ice. Do this immediately to preserve their flavor.
Cleaning Spanish mackerel is easy. I run the backside of my knife along their sides to slick off any slime or whatever else and then I simply filet the meat off and cut the ribs out. I leave the skin on. When you grill these tasty fish or fry them the skin peels right off.
Enjoy some fast action for some tasty fish this summer and take a friend or two with you on the water.