Perfect Days to Catch Mackerel and Other Big Game Fish
June typically offers Gulf Coast anglers a much more stable weather pattern with high pressure in control and predictable breeze patterns prevailing. Most days start with a land breeze, or cooling offshore breeze that forms just prior to dawn and dies away late in the morning with the heating of the day. By early afternoon, the breeze has switched around to blowing onshore and increasing to the point of forming whitecaps that often stimulate an afternoon bite for many fish species like the mackerels.
These are bread and butter days for mackerel fishers on the gulf beach piers from Panama City Beach in Florida to Gulf Shores in Alabama. The dependable wind cycle and mostly clear skies keeps the nearshore gulf waters relatively calm and clear, great conditions for targeting mackerel.
As daylight breaks, schools of small plankton-eating fish move toward the shore and gather around any of the beach structures that offer a wind break to provide them more food as well as protection from the larger predatory fish that usually follow them. These ‘living reefs’ draw in king and Spanish mackerel along with jack crevalle, bull redfish, bluefish and ladyfish to give pier anglers a veritable cornucopia of options to target. There may even be a few cobia, also called ling, in the mix. Late in the month, larger and more frequent schools of migrating tarpon appear.
Their choice in tackle brands is diverse, but most mackerel anglers choose a 7- to 9-foot medium-heavy action rod with a fast taper, like this. For reels, a balanced reel would be a 5000 to 7000 series that holds 250 to 300 yards of 15- to 20-pound-test monofilament or braid equivalent, something like this. Many king mackerel anglers frown upon braided line because the slack line tends to tangle faster and cuts surrounding lines of monofilament.
These fast striking, sharp-toothed fish require the use of steel leaders in the 30- to even 60-pound range. Generally, in the clear water thinner wire will garner more strikes. The hooks are usually 3X or 4X trebles in the number 4 to 1/0 range depending on the size of the bait. Again less visible hook size usually gets more bites in clear water.
Most of the time, pier anglers use whatever baitfish are prevalent around that structure at the time, but many anglers prefer mackerel scad, also called cigar minnows. Anglers like these baits because they cast and retrieve so well when using a technique locals call “snobbling.” These baitfish tend to stay on the hook longer than the more numerous, but softer fleshed oily sardines, also called herring, and “LYs.”
Most anglers who catch their own bait use a rod and reel combo dedicated for that purpose with a small sabiki rig, or gold hook rig. Cast it into the bait school and jig it enticingly to get the baitfish to bite the naked hook or fly.
Some anglers even prefer to throw 6- to 8-inch plugs, like a Yo-Zuri 3D Crystal Minnow or a Rapala X-Rap for these large predators. At times, these plugs may even out produce the natural live or fresh dead baits. The action can get hot and heavy at times. This could cause tackle to fail or lines to get tangled and make tempers flair. Therefore, bring your backup tackle and pack plenty of patience and good humor to make the best of any situation.
“The most popular inshore species, speckled trout, redfish and flounder, can be caught at the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, Ala.”
Other areas of the pier may offer different kinds of fish including the increasingly popular spadefish and the ever popular pompano. Brightly painted leadhead jigs are the primary tool to tempt passing pompano. Anglers often also catch Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish and blue runners using jigs. Even the schools of small jacks, mainly blue runners, locally called hardtails, have their followers who often use the larger sized sabiki rigs to catch multiple numbers of these hard pulling fish.
The most popular inshore species, speckled trout, redfish and flounder, can be caught at the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, Ala. In fact, this pier has lights that shine into the waters underneath to attract baitfish and game fish for night fishers. Many hours of sleep have been lost by summer anglers on this pier while dangling live shrimp in front of the lights watching and hoping the large speckled trout swimming around will bite.
Shore Options Still Abound
With the water and air temperatures in the low to mid 80s in June, anglers should have no comfort issues while wade fishing the beaches and passes. In fact, about the only fly in the ointment for getting in the warm gulf water is that it is teeming with all sorts of critters, a few of which can ruin your day. Not so much sharks, which are usually nocturnal and shy, but wade fishers should always be wary of stingrays, electric skates, catfish and stinging jellyfish. These species are hazards, though most of the time they are absent or infrequently found.
Anglers can still catch fish from shore while fishing pieces of shrimp or sand fleas, but they are likely to have that bait nibbled away by myriad smaller active creatures. Many anglers resort to using the synthetic bait called Fishbites in the bright pink or orange colors in shrimp, sand flea or crab flavors with moderate success.
“Another contingent of beach anglers and wade fishers throw artificial baits exclusively to tempt the vast array of fish in the surf zone, or to target a specific species.”
Another contingent of beach anglers and wade fishers throw artificial baits exclusively to tempt the vast array of fish in the surf zone, or to target a specific species. For example, may anglers like to throw 1/2- to 1-ounce silver spoons, such as a Sidewinder or Mr. Champ, in the surf line or around drop-offs near the sandbars and channels. These target a wide range of inshore and nearshore species from speckled trout and redfish to bluefish and even Spanish mackerel. They are most effective when used near schools of baitfish swimming in the areas.
Many anglers along the Alabama and Florida beaches like to cast hard baits like sinking MirrOlure 51M and 52M series baits to target speckled trout that feed along the inside of the longshore sandbar and along sandbar drop-offs near the passes and bays. At times, these fish even strike topwater lures such as a Heddon Spook or Rapala Skitter Walk.
No matter how you approach coastal fishing in June, with the variety of fish species and venues and sheer numbers of fish to catch during our spectacular early summer weather, you should be assured of having great days outdoors!