These sleek, torpedo-shaped fish are known for their distinctive, sharp teeth and vibrant, spotted coloration. Found in the Atlantic Ocean, Spanish mackerel migrate seasonally, providing excellent fishing opportunities along the Maryland coastline, especially in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waters.

Best Time to Fish

The prime season for Spanish mackerel in Maryland typically spans from late spring to early fall, with peak activity occurring from July to September. During these months, the water temperatures are ideal, and the mackerel migrate northward, following schools of baitfish.

Ideal Locations

Spanish mackerel can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Key spots include: 

  • Ocean City Inlet: A well-known hotspot, especially during peak migration.
  • Eastern Bay and Tangier Sound: Both areas provide ample opportunities for encountering schools of Spanish mackerel.
  • Any part of the main bay, all the way up to the bridge.

Equipment and Tackle

When trolling for Spanish mackerel, it's important to use the right gear to maximize your success. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Rods and Reels: When casting, medium-light to medium-action rods paired with spinning reels or light conventional reels are ideal. 
  • A line rating of 10-20 pounds works well. When trolling, use typical trolling rods and reels similar to your rockfish setup.
  • Line: 10-15 lb test monofilament or braided line, with a fluorocarbon leader of around 20 lbs to prevent break-offs from the mackerel’s sharp teeth.
  • Lures: Popular choices include small spoons (like Clarkspoons), jigs, and plugs. Silver and gold colors work best to mimic the appearance of baitfish.
  • Planers and Diving Birds: These tools help get your lures to the desired depth. Planers can take your lures deeper while diving birds keep them near the surface.

Trolling Techniques

Effective trolling for Spanish mackerel involves understanding their behavior and adapting your methods accordingly. Spanish mackerel are fast swimmers, so a trolling speed of 5-7 knots is typically effective; adjusting the speed based on activity can trigger more strikes. They often feed near the surface, so start with lures set at various depths and adjust using planers and diving birds as needed. Using multiple rods to create a spread covering different depths and distances from the boat increases the chances of locating active fish.

Identifying and Handling Catches 

When a Spanish mackerel strikes, it’s typically a fierce, quick run. Allow the fish to hook itself with the lure’s movement rather than jerking the rod to set the hook. Use a soft touch when reeling in to prevent the hook from pulling out, as mackerel have soft mouths. Handle them carefully to avoid their sharp teeth, using a towel or gloves and a dehooker tool for quick and safe release into the cooler.

Get Ready For Your Next Fishing Outing

Looking for more information, inspiration, or a sneak peek into what Maryland has to offer? Explore Fish & Hunt Maryland’s latest articles written by fellow sportsmen and women and local partners, alongside our extensive library of videos available. 

Be sure to acquire your license from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources if you plan on heading out on your own (charter passengers are covered by the captain’s license).  

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