With water temps on the rise and the cold fronts behind us (hopefully), we should begin to see an influx of the bait populations further inside the bay. These baitfish will be closely followed by mackerel, both Spanish and King. While the King is usually considered the prize fish, the Spanish Mackerel can often provide more excitement and definitely offer higher catch totals. When trying to locate these fish, focus your attention above water, looking for bait flickering the surface or birds diving on pods of bait.
You can start your search in the deeper portions of Tampa Bay, near shipping channels, markers, or the artificial reefs. Once found you have several options to get one on the end of your line. If you would like to get them on artificial, using trolling spoons through these bait pods, or even casting spoons out to the bait schools, would be best.
If you want to use live bait then pilchards, threadfin, or Spanish sardines are great options but don’t be afraid to use them dead as well. Creating a chum slick in the current with the dead stuff can get these fish really fired up.
As for terminal tackle on the live or dead bait, our preferred hook is a Long Shank J Hook, any size from 1/0-4/0 will do the trick. These hooks offer a little more forgiveness when dealing with the sharp teeth of mackerel. Attaching a piece of wire may prevent break-offs, but we typically use a longer mono or fluorocarbon leader of 30#-50# test tied to our mainline. Rigging with the mono or fluorocarbon leader will lead to more bites and typically provides enough strength to land several fish before needing to re-tie.