| August 11, 2008
Catching blues and macks from the surf and from the pier
By JOE MALAT
Bluefish and Spanish mackerel may be caught by Hatteras and Ocracoke
surfcasters and pier anglers from May through October. They travel in
schools, constantly on the move, looking for something to eat.
These aggressive, vicious predators frequently show themselves when
feeding by chasing harried baitfish in a frenzy of slashing and
crashing surface activity.
Pier anglers have two distinctly different strategies for catching
these fish. Spanish are rarely caught on “dead
baits,” natural baits fished on the bottom. But blues will
readily take a piece of fresh mullet presented on a bottom rig.
Two-hook fireball rigs are favored by bait-fishing bluefish fans and
any type of fresh fish, cut into strips or chunks, will tempt a
bluefish but oily menhaden and mullet are the local favorites.
Spanish mackerel rarely go for a piece of natural bait, so the most
effective and exciting way to catch these “run and gun”
feeders is on artificial lures. In the blink of an eye, a clear
calm ocean may suddenly erupt into a frenzy of feeding mackerel, and
it’s wise to have a rod rigged up and ready to throw a lure at
Got-Cha jigs are the runaway favorite lure among the pier fishing
crowd. This lure resembles a thin plastic tube, with a heavy head
that’s cut at a sharp angle. Got-Chas are most effective when
they are allowed to sink in the water column at the end of a long cast
then retrieved with an erratic, up and down or sweeping motion of the
rod tip. The angled head allows the lure to sink quickly whenever there
is some slack in the line.
The “hot” color may vary from day to day, but it’s
tough to beat the red head and neon green body or the red head and
white body combination.
To deter the toothy mouths of the blues and macks, some anglers opt for
a short piece of black, braided wire in front of the lures, while
others prefer a length of 50-pound test monofilament, tied directly to
the line with a Uni-Knot. I like the mono because it will
frequently draw more strikes from these keen-eyed and leader-shy
mackerel, and the loop of a Uni-Knot allows the lure to swing and
“swim” easily. Bluefish are not as particular, and the wire
leader is not usually a problem.
Many pier anglers who target mackerel and blues will have two rods
rigged and ready. One might be a stiff-tipped, 7- to 8-foot-spinning
rod, mated to a reel filled with 14-pound monofilament. This is
the outfit that’s used for fishing with bait for the bluefish.
The other, a 7-foot spinning outfit, with 12-pound test line, is used
only for casting artificials. The rod can be lighter than the bait
fishing rig, but extremely soft “buggy whip” sticks should
be avoided. A rod that’s too soft will make it difficult to
pull a thrashing, two-pound fish out of the water, up and over the pier
Clear water is the best condition for throwing artificials. Depending
on the stage of tide, availability of bait and wind direction, blues
and macks may appear at any time, but early and late in the day are
usually peak times for the best action, and the odds are better if
those times coincide with a rising tide. Early is my favorite time of
the day, especially during the summer, as the fish tend to be less
active under a blazing hot sun.
Blues and macks may be caught anywhere from just outside the breakers
to the deeper water at the ends of the piers. These fish are
always on the move, but Spanish frequently show themselves by feeding on
the surface, chasing baitfish, or jumping several feet out of the water.
Surfcasters who happen to be in the right place at the right time can
have a lot of fun, and these fast swimming, hard hitting torpedoes can
add spice to the typically lackluster summer surf fishing.
Spanish will readily come to the beach, but the water in the surf zone
must be clear and calm. Spanish mackerel usually feed on
silversides in the surf, small menhaden or very small finger mullet,
and it only makes sense that the most effective lures are those that
are shaped like silversides, menhaden, or mullet. Correct lure
selection, combined with an effective presentation, is essential to
consistently catch macks from the beach.
Lures that work best for Spanish mackerel are those that can be worked
with a high speed retrieve, probably because the fast moving lure
resembles a panicked baitfish swimming for its life. The most
popular artificials are usually metal jigs, called Stingsilvers, 2 to 3
inches long, weighing up to 2 ounces.
Sometimes the macks will show a distinct preference for a certain
color. Silver is a consistent producer, but a few other finishes
and colors are also popular among the surf casting crowd. A
pink-and-white combo, chartreuse, and gold are several other
combinations that produce.
On the beach, long casts are often necessary, so specialized tackle is
often necessary to propel a lure that weighs less than 3 ounces almost
100 yards. Graphite or graphite composite rods in the 9- to
11-foot range are ideal. The tip should be light, but not too
whippy, or the rod will absorb most of the power of the cast.
Graphite’s advantage is light weight, which is very important
when repeated casting and extra distance are involved.
Spinning reels with skirted, deep spools, filled with 8- or 10-pound
monofilament allow for maximum casting distance. A shock line of
12-pound test mono tied to the main line with a blood knot or Uni Knot
will prevent break offs on the cast, and act as a leader in front of the
Spanish mackerel and bluefish may appear anywhere along Hatteras and
Ocracoke islands, but some of the most consistent hotspots are Cape
Point, Hatteras Inlet, and the South Point of Ocracoke.
Be careful when handling bluefish and mackerel. Both have teeth, but
those of a Spanish mackerel are pointed and as sharp as any
surgeon’s scalpel. I always use pliers to remove the hooks,
even on the smaller macks, and watch out for those treble hooks!
They will hook a finger as well as a fish.
Bluefish and Spanish mackerel can add some spice to the sometimes
lackluster doldrums of summertime pier fishing, and they are always
welcome guests at my dinner table. I like them broiled or grilled, with
a dash of salt, lemon pepper, and butter. If you are lucky enough
to catch a few for dinner, be sure to throw them in an icy cold cooler
immediately and clean them as soon as possible to fully enjoy their
Malat lives in Nags Head and is a professional outdoor writer, book
author, and director of the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools. He writes
about saltwater fishing along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and is
published regularly in national and regional magazines. To order
his books, or request information about the Outer Banks Surf Fishing
Schools, visit Joe’s Web site at: www.joemalat.com.)