Spanish, Kings & Bones: Fishing the Foreign Trio
August 12, 2020
Tips on locating and catching these unpredictable summer visitors to our inshore waters. Text & Photos by Tom Richardson
Each August, the coastal waters of southern New England witness the appearance of southern visitors in the form of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and bonito. This trio of toothy, fork-tailed predators—all members of Scombridae family—feed on small baitfish and are often seen leaping clear of the surface. They feed in schools, usually along open beachfronts and around inlets, and are extremely fast and powerful.
Of the three species, kings grow largest. While they can reach weights of 60 or 70 pounds (the world record is 93 pounds), the ones that visit New England mostly weigh less than six pounds. These juvenile kings, which bear yellow spots along their flanks, are nearly identical to Spanish mackerel. However, the two can be easily distinguished by studying the lateral line. In king mackerel, the line dips sharply at a point below the leading edge of the dorsal fin.
Bonito are easy to identify, as they have a much rounder body shape, long diagonal stripes along the midsection and back, and, often, wide vertical bars. They make very good eating (see below).
Finding the Fish
The abundance of kings, Spanish and bones fluctuates widely from year to year, for no discernable reason. Some years they can be found in large numbers, while other seasons find them absent. They tend to show in early to mid-August, and gravitate to areas of clear, warm water where schools of small baitfish are plentiful. Silversides, peanut bunker, and sand eels are all favorite prey items.
A good way to scout for fish is to troll two or three small (four- to six-inch), flashy swimming plugs along a beachfront contour line or sand shoal in 10 to 15 feet of water. Four to five knots is about the right speed. Proven plugs include the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, the Rapala Saltwater X-Rap, and the Bomber Long-A. If you hook up, mark the spot, as you will likely find more fish in the same area.
Once a concentration of fish is located, you can cast these lures or small metal lures, epoxy jigs, and flies. Productive metal includes the Kastmaster, Deadly Dick, Swedish Pimple, and Hopkins No=EQL. As with trolling, a fast presentation seems to work best. Let the lure sink for several seconds before beginning the retrieve.
A good setup for casting to bones, kings and Spanish includes a 7 ½-foot spinning rod paired with a medium spinning reel, such as the Shimano Stella or Spheros 5000 or the Penn 5500SS. Fill the reel with 30-pound test braided line, and add a three-foot leader of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon.
Curiously, bonito don’t require a wire trace, as their pointy teeth are widely spaced and don’t have a cutting edge; however, you’ll want wire if kings are in the neighborhood. A six-inch section of single-strand stainless wire will suffice.
Of the three species, bonito are generally considered the best eating, with a consistency and flavor similar to that of tuna, to which they are related. Their soft, buttery meat is delicious seared or served raw as sashimi.
Be sure to bleed the fish immediately and keep the meat well-chilled. Some anglers gut the fish and pack the body cavity with ice, as is often done with tuna.
The flesh of king and Spanish mackerel is oilier than that of bonito, but many find it to be quite flavorful. And Spanish mack fillets are particularly good smoked!