Lighten Up

by Capt. Beau Woods

Lighten Up

It's the perfect time of year to lighten up your tackle selection for a trip to the patch reefs to target one of my favorite species--the cero mackerel. Light spinning rigs in the 30 and 40 class (8 to 10-pound) don’t get much action on my boat, but they sure are fun to put into action against these speedy critters. They aren’t going to run you into the rocks and not many predators will bother you, making this light tackle doable.

Ceros are commonly confused with Spanish and king mackerel, both of which have a lesser than average table fare reputation. The easiest difference to identify ceros are the marking on their sides, which I describe as looking like a Morse code of broken bars and dashes.

Cero mackerel don’t have the fishy oily flavor of its cousins. In fact, to me, it’s closer to the Cero Mackerel - FishMonster Magazineflavor and texture of wahoo, which everyone loves. Most of my clients that like raw fish “sushi” give me the hairy eyeball when I tell them it’s high-grade stuff, but, after a quick taste, they no longer doubt me. With such a delicate meat, I highly recommend washing it with saltwater instead of freshwater, as freshwater has chlorides and will begin to cook it. I prefer to put them on the grill with skin on (skin will fall off like salmon when done), with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of lemon pepper seasoning. It cooks fast, so as soon as the top turns white, get it off the heat.

Ok! So, enough about eating them! Let’s get into targeting them!

Honestly, I believe more are caught as bycatch while running a chum line for snapper. They typically don’t eat a drifted dead bait, but will hit anything moving fast such as when you’re reeling your snapper bait in for another drift.

The best way I’ve found to actually target them is a live pilchard or a ballyhoo pitched outside the chum slick, on a light section of wire and a small treble hook with an Albright knot, connecting the wire to the leader material instead of a swivel. This connection is important. Remember, when I said they will hit anything moving fast? Well, when you hook one of these little rocket ships, their buddies will hit the swivel as it’s flying through the water following the hooked fish, and you’ll lose both the hooked fish and your rig. Fishing a frisky live bait is an important deal too, so if it’s not moving around on the hook, trade it out for another. Another sneaky approach is to keep a small topwater plug rigged, and, when you observe ceros blowing up ballyhoos in your slick, get that plug into the middle of the action.

Remember, these toothy critters will cut you coming and going, so when handling them be careful of their business end and use a de-hooker. Stay away from that mouthful of razor blades.




Capt. Beau Woods
Capt. Beau Woods

Author

Captain Beau Woods is a twenty year veteran of the Coast Guard. His charter vessel is a 30’ custom light tackle center console operating out of Cudjoe Gardens Marina in the Lower Keys. He specializes in reef/wreck/offshore, deep dropping and daytime swordfishing. 305-294-3882 FishDoubleOCharters.com



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