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Fishing for Mackerel in the Florida Keys

By: Captain Jeff Shelar

Fishing for mackerel in the Florida Keys is nothing short of a great time! In this area, the Spanish and Cero mackerel start showing up in good numbers in the fall, with the King mackerel usually not far behind. They will typically stick around until spring or until the water gets too warm.

Known as swift-moving, active, and for their sharp teeth, mackerel are a fun and rewarding fish to catch. They are a hard-hitting fish that can make incredibly fast runs and can be caught on a wide variety of bait and lures.

mackerel close-up

Know Your Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel can be identified by their bright orange spots all over their body. Cero look very similar except for a broken stripe down the middle of their body, and King mackerel are entirely silver with no spots.

The Tips/Tricks to the Catch

Mackerel can be caught a wide variety of bait, but in my opinion, live shrimp are best. Shrimp can be found throughout most waters and are a staple food for everything from the small Spanish mackerel to a smoker King.

That being said, I have also caught them on pilchards, ballyhoo, and mullet. They have very sharp teeth so I always use a wire leader. Hooks should not only match the bait you are using but also the largest fish you could possibly catch that day. Nothing is more heartbreaking that losing a big fish to a straightened hook.

The Best Fishing Spots for Mackerel

There isn’t necessarily just one spot where fishing is best for mackerel. Mackerel move around depending on the bait in the area. A good place to try is somewhere with large concentrations of baitfish. When you find these areas, you will sometimes see the mackerel attack the bait by shooting up through the water while participating in the feeding frenzy. Sometimes you can even see the mackerel skyrocket out of the water and see the bait sideways in their mouth as they plunge back into the ocean with their newly caught meal. Then, if things go right for you, they will then be your newly caught meal!

 About Capt. Jeff Shelar:

Captain Jeff is the owner and guide for Catch ‘Em All Sport Fishing Charter in Marathon, Florida. He has been fishing the Florida Keys for over 20 years and is passionate about two things – his family and fishing. Captain Jeff is knowledgeable about catching a variety of species. His fishing trips target Tarpon, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Barracuda, Grouper, Jewfish, King Mackerel, Marlin, Sailfish, Shark, Snapper, Tuna, and dozens of other sportfish species.

You can learn more about Captain Jeff and Catch ‘Em All Sports by visiting