What’s fresh in June? Spanish mackerel

The summer visitors are here, both on land and in the ocean. Each June, Spanish mackerel are a highly valued fish here in the Lowcountry. Anglers catch them from boats while trolling or drifting and from boats, piers, jetties and beaches by casting spoons and jigs and live-bait fishing. While they are rarely seen on local restaurant menus, Spanish are wonderful to eat. They are easily filleted and can be grilled, broiled, fried or smoked. They’re perfect for fish tacos. They are also great for you, as mackerels are one of the richest sources for Omega-3 fatty acids. The bag limit is 15 per person, per day.

Mackerel by the Numbers

Average size: 15 inches, 1 1/2 pounds South Carolina state record: 11 pounds (1983) Maximum age: 11 years

How to Spot One

Spanish mackerel have bluish-green on back, sides silver with numerous yellow to bronze spots and no lines or streaks, anterior portion of first dorsal fin is black, lateral line gradually curves down toward caudal fin, dorsal fins scarcely separated, first dorsal fin has 17-19 spines.


Adults: Inhabit primarily offshore coastal waters out to continental shelf edge; sometimes over rocky bottoms and artificial reefs, or along beaches and in shallow estuaries, bays and sounds.
Juveniles: Primarily utilize high salinity nearshore coastal and beachfront waters; some individuals might also enter estuaries.

Foraging habits

Adults and juveniles are predatory, surface feeding fish, consuming small schooling fishes, including: menhaden, anchovies, herring, shad, small jacks, and pompano, also some squid and penaeid shrimp. Larvae and young juveniles feed on larvae of other open-water schooling fishes.

Availability and vulnerability to harvest

• Spanish mackerel form large and fast moving schools and migrate long distances. As a result, significant numbers of fish within a given area might be available to recreational harvest for only short periods of time.

• Distribution is temperature and salinity regulated. Spanish mackerel are present in South Carolina waters from April to November and migrate during fall to overwintering grounds in south Florida. Fishery availability is typically highest during spring and fall migrations as schools pass close to shore. Juveniles might enter low salinity waters, but adults generally prefer higher salinities.

• No commercial fishery exists for Spanish mackerel in South Carolina; however the potential exists for significant recreational harvest since fish might be caught close to shore. Source: SCDNR

Expert Advice: Collins Doughtie Talks Lures

These two lures are all you need for Spanish. On the left is a Clarke Spoon; troll with these staggered at various depths. It’s best to have a short piece of wire leader in front of the spoon, as mackerel have serious teeth. The lure on right is a Sidewinder. It is best casting with a spinning rod and retrieving very fast. Best of all, it is heavy, so you can cast a mile.

Broiled Spanish mackerel


6 (3 ounce) Spanish mackerel fillets
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
12 lemon slices
Fish seasoning, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

[1] Heat the oven’s broiler and set the oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source. Lightly grease a baking dish.
[2] Rub both sides of each mackerel fillet with olive oil and place with the skin side down into the prepared baking dish. Season each fillet with fish seasoning, paprika, salt and pepper. Top each fillet with lemon slices.
[3] Bake the fillets under the broiler until the fish just begins to flake (between 5-7 minutes). Serve immediately. Serving suggestions: Plate over steamed greens with fresh asparagus and diced tomato on the side. Garnish with a lime wedge and fresh dill.

Wine pairing

“R” Rose Of Pinot Noir by Domaine Serene It’s a unique, proprietary blend that offers the exotic complexity one might find in a Bandol Rose and pairs nicely with the bright, clean and acidic flavor of Spanish mackerel. Its intriguing aroma profile offers notes of citrus blossom, fresh strawberries and passion fruit. Available at Rollers Beer, Wine & Spirits. $37.

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