Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorous maculatus) is one of several similar looking mackerel species found here in southern Florida. They’re often mistaken for each other due to their similar coloration and shape but there are ways to tell them apart.
Like most mackerel, Spanish mackerel have a blue-green back with silvery colored sides and underbelly. There are several rows of distinctive permanent bright yellow spots along their sides. Young king mackerel have a similar coloration with the yellow spots but these fade as they get older. Cero mackerel are also this color with the yellow spots BUT they have a horizontal yellow stripe or stripes down their side. Cero and Spanish mackerel are actually closely related, hence their very similar appearance bar that yellow stripe.
The second noticeable difference is their body shape. Both Spanish and cero mackerel have a smooth gradual top line slope from gill to tail. The king mackerel drops abruptly around the middle of the body.
The third difference is their first dorsal fin. In king mackerel, this fin is translucent. In Spanish and cero mackerel, the fin has a noticeable black patch at the front. However, all 3 species can fold this fin back into a body groove so it needs to be erect to spot the difference.
Research has discovered there are several distinct populations of Spanish mackerel in this region. One group, the so-called ‘Atlantic’ group, is found along the eastern Atlantic coastline. It migrates from Miami up to Cape Cod in late February, returning in fall. Another group lives along the eastern and northern Gulf coastline. This group spends most of winter at Florida Keys before moving north along the western Florida coastline from late winter. The group continues along the Gulf coast to north Texas for summer before heading back to spend winter in Florida Keys.
The two populations have different spawning season. The Gulf group usually spawns from May through to September while off the Texas coast. However, they have also been spotted some years spawning off the Florida coast in April as they migrate north. The Atlantic group begins spawning in April as they move along the Carolina coast. They continue spawning as they move up the coast, and spend late August / September spawning in the northern waters of their range.
Spanish mackerel live in big fast moving schools and are broadcast spawners. Females release eggs in batches and can produce between up to one and a half million eggs over a spawning season. The eggs are fertilized externally when males release sperm into the water as the females are spawning. The eggs are pelagic, meaning they float on the surface of the water. When larvae hatch, they too will float with the currents, feeding on zooplankton. As they grow, juvenile mackerel feed on anchovies and other small fish.
Spanish mackerel are very fast growing. They’re mature by 12 months, and can reach 14 inches in this time. Females are bigger, probably because they typically live longer. Eleven-year-old females have been found, while the average age of males is only 6 years. The biggest females can measure 33 inches, and weigh 11 pounds. Males generally only reach about 19 inches, which is consistent with their far shorter life span.
Most mackerel are avid carnivores and the spanish mackerel is no exception. They eat small fish such as striped anchovies and clupeoids (herrings, sardines etc), with the occasional squid and shrimp.
At one stage, spanish mackerel numbers were starting to decline but the implementation of careful management policies has seen them bounce back. Today their numbers are kept healthy with a range of stringent regulations. These include restricted seasonal fishing and commercial, bag, and size limits. With a custom Blue Line Fishing Charters fishing trip, we take care of all these details for you.
Mackerel inhabit near shore, inshore and offshore waters, and are generally found around reefs and grass beds. Their aggressive attitude to food can be a bonus to anglers. Because they will grab hold of anything that looks remotely like food, they’re reasonably easy to attract with a range of baits. Seabirds are often a telltale clue about the presence of a school of mackerel. As the mackerel push schools of baitfish to the surface, the birds swoop.
Alternatively, you can keep your eye on the Cape Coral fishing report for current information about where the best mackerel are biting.