Settling Into Summer
Its summertime and the beach and pier fishing is easy.
No month better exemplifies summertime fishing along the Emerald Coast than June. The full range of venues and species available is opened up for shore bound anglers to enjoy and take advantage of before the sun’s searing rays make the heat unbearable. With frontal passages becoming a rarity, a more benign wind and weather pattern takes hold over the area and water temperatures soar into the 80s. This is spawning season for most of the coastal pelagic species (mackerel, jacks, etc.) and they feed heavily upon the rich feast of smaller plankton-eating fish in the surf zone. Hordes of Round scad (“cigar minnows”), Scaled and Spanish sardines (“LYs” and “herring”) along with dozens of other species flood into the nearshore regions around the gulf piers. They are attracted to the lights which focus plankton at night, as well as the structure and shadows by day which offers some degree of protection from the roving predators.
Fishing Fit for a King
Pier fishing is at its best this month when king mackerel stage runs practically every morning at first light. At that time they swim shoreward, pressing schools of baitfish into tighter groups before their slashing attacks give away their position to eagerly awaiting anglers. Many of those kingfish anglers get into position along the outer rails of the piers long before the first hint of red illuminates the eastern sky. They bait up steel leaders and treble hooks with frozen cigar minnows, live bait or even with medium to large plugs like Rapala X-Rap, Yo-zuri Crystal Minnow or Bomber Saltwater Series.
“Often the trick to being that lucky angler out of the crowd who hooks up to a nice king mackerel is to have a bait that looks or acts just a little different.”
The whole idea is to just get something that looks edible in front of a hungry mackerel and it just might get eaten. Then the angler is in for a ride as the panicked mackerel streaks for the southern horizon at what seems like 100 miles per hour. But mackerel are sprinters and the fish soon exhausts itself running against a moderate drag. So line capacity becomes critical to allow the fish enough room to run out and tire. Most king mackerel of 20 pounds or more can easily run off 250 to 300 yards of line on their initial run. Some occasionally a little more. And there is always a chance the angler might hook an even stronger gamefish like tarpon that requires even more strength and stamina to wear down. But mackerel are most often sought after with 15 to 20-pound test line
Often the trick to being that lucky angler out of the crowd who hooks up to a nice king mackerel is to have a bait that looks or acts just a little different. It is amazing how a mackerel will pick out a wounded or dying bait from thousands of similar looking baitfish near the pier. One great trick Panhandle pier fishers have long used effectively for kings is “snobbling” dead cigar minnows or similar dead baitfish. Even strips cut from these baitfish can be deadly on smaller kings and Spanish mackerel.
The idea is to cast the bait out with no weight or line tension and just let it sink naturally towards the bottom. After the bait is out of sight pick up the line with the tip of your index finger holding the rod, and give a few twitches, or retrieve a few feet. Then open the bail and let the bait sink again. This ‘dying action’ should attract the attention of any deep lurking predatory fish (like mackerel) which will then either grab the bait or begin to swim around it. At that point, it may only take another slight twitch to entice the fish to grab the bait and run off to eat it. Allow the line to become slack for a few seconds after the fish grabs the bait, to allow it to turn seaward and accelerate to aid in swallowing. That’s when you trip the bail and when the line comes tight, jab the fish a few times by sharply lifting the rod tip. A good-sized king mackerel will take off in a blistering run for quite some distance before tiring. Don’t panic by tightening the drag, as that will usually result in the fish either breaking off or pulling the hook.
Proper preparation and patience are keys to hooking and catching big mackerel from these piers and cooperation among the anglers are essential to accomplish that goal. Everything from other anglers clearing the rail to allow passage for an angler hooked up to a hot running king, to having someone waiting with a gaff to seal the deal and put the prize on the deck – safely. Always be careful, those mackerel teeth are razor sharp!
Getting the Kids Involved
Still, the gulf beach piers provide ample room and opportunities for even young anglers to get a taste of just how much fun catching mackerel and the other available species is all about. If nothing else children can be taught to use sabiki rigs to catch bait. But often for a day or two after an occasional hard blow, the water is too dingy to effectively fish for king mackerel. And that may be an ideal time to target alternative species like Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, blue runner or spadefish.
“Use just enough weight to get the bait to sink into a school, and wait for the telltale ‘tap’ that signals the bait has been eaten.”
Atlantic spadefish are very common around the piers in June and are a non-regulated species if you’re looking for a tasty meal. They pull very hard for their size, like bream on steroids. The average size is about 6″ to 10″, but they often reach several pounds and are truly a challenge to land from the pier anywhere near that size. They have a small mouth, built for biting off chunks of jellyfish upon which they often feed. But they readily take small bits of shrimp, squid, cut fish or even Fishbites if presented on a small # 6 single hook. Use just enough weight to get the bait to sink into a school, and wait for the telltale ‘tap’ that signals the bait has been eaten. When you set the hook, you have to reel and hold the rod up and away from the pilings which they instinctively dive for to get away. But if you land some of these little, striped bandits, you are in for some good eating. Their delicious flesh cooks up white and flaky either deep fried, pan fried, baked or broiled.
Pompano and whiting still please anglers fishing the surf edge along the Gulf beaches, though their numbers are not near the high counts of spring and fall. But summer beach time can bring a myriad of other fish into the surf zone within reach of eager anglers. Ladyfish are common pleasers for folks just looking for a good pull on their line. This is a great time to throw small plugs, spoons and jigs to target ladyfish (locally called “skipjacks”) and other small game fish. You can also expect to see plenty of blue runners, bluefish etc. and even some flounder or occasional Spanish mackerel near the surf line.
Anglers on piers in the back bays and docks can expect to see most of these along with occasional speckled trout, “white” trout and redfish. And as the weather gets warmer, the night fishing around dock lights and inshore piers only gets better. This is especially evident the farther west one goes along the Emerald Coast in the month of June.
So if you have the time and the inclination, it would seem this month offers shore-bound anglers just about every available possibility to find some pleasing fishing.