Spanish party pandemonium

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 05:43 PM

I made a long cast thru the birds and my lure disappeared into the distance. As soon as I felt the lure was touching down, I reeled as fast and furiously as I could. There was the familiar resistance, I raised the rod tip and he was there, shaking his head and taking line.

We were a happy crowd. The Spanish mackerel were running and excitement was in the air. We were a widely mixed group of kids in swimming trunks, old guys that obviously were retired, pretty girls in bikinis, and pretty much every other type of human ever seen on the beach. The rods and reels used were as diverse as the fishermen. There were $400.00 custom rods with $200.00 reels, Wal-Mart specials, bass fishing tackle, and everything in between. When the Spanish run people grab what they have.
We were standing almost shoulder to shoulder, yet there were remarkably few tangles and when there was one, the attitude was that of friendship and common purpose. Even grumpy people get jolly in that kind of action. Lines retrieved at that kind of speed seldom tangle and even when they do it’s easy to get them separated.
Fish were coming on both sides of me, colorful flopping Spanish were everywhere along with the shiny bluefish that lurked under the Spanish mackerel and bit when you didn’t crank fast enough. It was not a fish every cast, but probably one every three or four. That’s enough to keep your adrenaline going and it really made it even more fun in some ways. The fish were not all the same size either. Most were nice keepers, but every once in a while, a 4- or 5-pound fish would come in and the lucky angler’s neighbors would congratulate him.
This party lasted for about an hour before it started to taper off, and then, it just stopped. I was so hot and sweaty from the exertion that the end of the bite was almost a relief. I was one of the first to gather up my fish and take them to the cooler. The bite was so intense that I couldn’t pull myself away and make a trip to the cooler with every fish. I had to get 3 or 4 before I could pull away long enough to get them on ice. I wanted to keep enough to feed every one back at the beach house because the great thing about Spanish is that they are as good on the table as they are on the line.
These fast little fish are as much a part of July on the Outer Banks as hot dogs and fireworks. In surf fishing situations, people sit or lie around casually with only small percentage of them fishing until the Spanish action starts. When it does, everyone grabs a rod and the party is on. Occasionally a big cobia takes the lure meant for a Spanish mackerel and that can make for real entertainment. On the piers, the anglers watch the water when it clears up, looking for jumping bait or bright flashes reflected off the fish’s gleaming body. From boats, the smart Spanish angler hits clear water just off the surf zone early and late.
While the people and the outfits are diverse, the terminal tackle used for Spanish is not. Stingsilvers and the generic versions of them are the rule in the surf. My favorite colors are green and pink combinations or white with a holographic side strip. From the piers, Gotcha Plugs rule and Clark spoons are the weapon of choice for trolling behind boats.
The ideal combo for catching Spanish from the surf is about a 9- or 10-foot light-action rod, a high-speed reel and 10- to 12-pound clear line. Often long casts will get you fish when short ones won’t. No swivels or heavy leaders are normally used as the fish have the tendency to strike at the swivel or knot.  Spanish are sensitive to line and only bite in clear water, so colored lines will cost you strikes.
From the pier or boat, bass fishing gear works just fine and anything heavier simply waters down the fight. If the fish are really distant, the extra distance provided by a surf rod might make the difference between success and failure.
Spanish are where they can find food. They are apt to show up anywhere on the beach but your best bets to catch them from the surf is structure. One of the most intricate surf structures on the Carolina coast that is readily accessible is the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout points. There are a lot of watchful eyes there and someone is always fishing. Hence, the best places to catch Spanish from the beach that I have found are the Cape points. On other areas of the beach, just keep one eye on the air for birds and the other on the surface for breaking fish and bait, because it can happen anywhere when the water is clear.
For the pier angler, the Spanish just sweep in and the party is on. Pier anglers have an advantage due to the great elevation of the pier. If they’re watching, pier anglers can observe schools of fish and bait coming from some distance. Don’t expect to catch Spanish in murky water. They are sight feeders only and rarely are found in anything but crystal clear water.
So this summer when you’re on the beach or pier and enjoying the sun, keep an eye on the birds, and have a rod rigged with a Stingsilver or Gotcha handy. You never know when the Spanish will turn a peaceful beach or pier into a scene of happy pandemonium.

Dick Jones is a freelance writer living in High Point. He’s an NRA Certified Instructor and a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national and regional magazines. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at or