Mackerel on the Fly

April 3, 2013 by  

By Nick Simonson


Bounding over the hip-high waves, I flailed my eight-weight fly rod wildly against the wind coming in off the Gulf of Mexico along the southwest shores of the Sunshine State.  Alongside me, Darby, a mom from central Florida, and the three boys from her vacation group fired off casts into the surf, loaded by the weight of their silver and gold spoons.  I had joined them on the short jaunt down the shore after discussing fishing with the kids on the dock behind the condominium where both of our families were staying.  Having grown up on Florida’s southwest coast, she was knowledgeable and experienced with inshore angling, and made for a most unlikely – but much appreciated – fishing guide.

Spanish mackerel

The author unhooks a beat-up Clouser minnow fly from his first of several Spanish mackerel caught along southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“Definitely mackerel,” she had advised as I showed my shredded leader to her just moments before I led the renewed charge into the water, with an extra-beefy twenty-pound monofilament tippet tied to the blue-over-white Clouser minnow at the end.
Indeed, the toothy fish were schooled up thick in the two-to-six foot deep water between shore and a pair of pelicans patrolling the breakline just twenty yards out.  A shout of excitement came from my left as the first young fisherman connected with the small, but aggressive rocket-shaped fish.  Another followed as the group got into the thick of the school.

I false-casted twice and landed the fly, which I had tied in the January cold some two months before and 2,000 miles away, into a spot between two waves in the warming March waters that allowed me to fish in board shorts and a t-shirt.  No sooner did it hit the water than a whirl and a splash followed up behind it.  I stripped the line rapidly, pulling the fly away from the marauding fish that were schooled up in front of the sandbar.  On my third strip, the line went taught and I pulled down on it while jerking up on the rod.  The hookset was solid and the battle was on.
With the ebb and flow of the waves around it, the mackerel’s energy surged up through the white floating line and into my reel.  I cranked on the handle and backed up toward shore, reducing the depth advantage the fish held against me until it slid sideways in the foam of the waves as they washed along the shore.  Tucking my rod under my arm, I grasped the sleek fish with the yellow green spots along its side, glistening silver like the blade of a sword in the yellow sun.  All muscle and bone, the fish wriggled mightily against my grasp with a force that belied its compact size.

What was left of my deer hair Clouser minnow was stuck tight in the corner of its mouth, which was filled with teeth running in a uniform up-and-down of white mountain peaks resembling those you’d see in a child’s drawing.  Less than a dozen strands of hair on the fly remained at their full length, the rest were buzz-cut down to the hook shank, a lopsided mohawk and a testament to the mackerel’s menacing maw.
One after another, I tied on the remaining intact streamers, with brightly dyed bucktails like pink, orange, chartreuse and yellow over the traditional white and re-upped for another dash into the water.  All casts produced zealous and swirling strikes, some reduced my fly to ribbons and a couple cut the thick line clean off, but I managed a few more fish before my supply was exhausted and I returned back to the vacation complex with my new found crew, fishing guide and a first day sunburn.

The next day, along with a spool of 3/0 thread, I’d get some friendly advice from a local tackle shop owner to use the synthetic fish hair material hanging on the wall. Appreciating his pitch, I bought some and thanked him as I headed out the door.

I pulled cut the thread and dumbbell eyes from each damaged fly, except for the tattered yellow-over-white minnow that I retired and stuck in the brim of my fishing hat as it had landed my largest mackerel at about 14 inches and accounted for two fish – a rarity among my lures.  I reshaped and engineered the hooks and eyes into new streamers during the early morning hours throughout my vacation, making the most out of the pinches of bucktail to add color to the white fish hair synthetic I had purchased from the tackle shop.

While the mackerel were never as fast and furious as they were on the first night of my vacation, when I did connect, they never failed to provide a rush of excitement as I joined new friends in fishing and set the hook into a new species on my fly fishing life list…in our outdoors.


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