Spanish Mackerel are a highly migratory species occurring in subtropical and tropical waters seasonally from Rhode Island to as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula, including the Gulf of Mexico. Higher concentrations occur at the northern end of their range from Virginia to Maine, and again in Gulf waters from Texas to the coast of New Orleans. Between late February and July the Atlantic groups migrate with rising water temperatures, from Miami, Florida north to Narraganset Bay, Rhode Island. In the eastern Gulf they move northward from the Florida Keys during late winter and early spring, until they end up along the Texas coast. They prefer to swim above sandy bottoms in shallow waters between 20 and 40 feet deep, and are occasionally found as deep as 80 feet.
Similar in appearance to small king and cero mackerel, Spanish Mackerel may be distinguished by prominent yellow spots on their flanks. Their long, fusiform bodies are shaded dark green on top and at the tips of the tail, dorsal, and pectoral fins, growing lighter green to silvery along the sides of head and body. The base of the fins, sides, and lower bodies, including underbellies, are white. They have pointed snouts which are much shorter than the rest of their heads. There is a prominent black patch on the first dorsal fin, which is spiny. The second dorsal fin is high then curves sharply downward.Females grow larger and live longer than males. The average size of most Spanish Mackerel caught is less than two pounds. The world record is 13 pounds, caught off San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Spawning occurs in the Gulf from May to September, off the shore of Texas; and off Floridian shores as early as April. Atlantic spawning begins in April off the Carolinas; and from late August to late September in the northern part of the range. These occasions produce long runs, during which huge schools may be seen boiling the surface while they leap, hunt, and chase baitfish. Spanish Mackerel are opportunistic, voracious feeders, schooling near barrier islands and through island passes. The diet for adults includes shrimp, squid and small fishes such as striped anchovies, sardines, and herring which are quickly made mincemeat by the Spanish Mackerel’s razor-sharp teeth. Juveniles are known to consume more anchovies than adults.
These fish are very important to commercial and recreational fishing, providing good meals for many people. On jetties and piers diving birds often indicate the presence of Spanish Mackerel chasing minnows and other baitfish up towards the surface. This is a great sporting fish known for hard, fast runs and energetic fights. Relative abundance makes it an ideal target for anglers of all levels who enjoy excitement while catching limits and returning home with enough for dinner.