JUPITER -- Veteran Jupiter light-tackle guide captain Butch Constable knew the Spanish mackerel fishing was frenzied along the Peck’s Lake reef just south of St. Lucie Inlet. A strong cold front had swept through the region the previous day, cooling water temperatures to the mid 70s — perfect conditions for the toothy, silver, yellow-dotted fish to swarm and feed. But Constable wasn’t about to depend solely on the assortment of lures he carried on his 29-foot power catamaran.
“You have to have some kind of minnows,” the captain insisted.
Setting out from Black Pearl Marina, Constable scanned boat basins and flats lining Jupiter Inlet looking for telltale dimpling on the surface and — even better — diving seabirds. His customers, Jan Maizler of Aventura, Maizler’s snowbird friend Don Eichin and I tried to contain our impatient excitement. Eager to hammer the macks, we hoped catching bait wouldn’t take too long.
It didn’t. A gigantic school of glass minnows, also known as majua, was amassed around a trailer park dock, trying to escape marauding pelicans and terns. Constable nosed the boat quietly up to the school and cast his fine-mesh majua net. With three throws, he completely darkened the transom live well — more than enough for daylong live chumming. Now he was ready to head north.
“Why don’t you use regular block chum?” I asked Constable.
His reply: “All block chum does is bring spots, and runners and junk fish. If you’re serious, you’ll put up minnows in the freezer” — something he normally does, but he had exhausted his supply.
As we motored north along the beach, the ocean was literally a-froth with activity: blacktip sharks whirling and leaping; jack crevalles boiling the surface and chasing whatever they saw; seabirds wheeling and diving. The cold front certainly had stirred things up.
When we got to Peck’s Lake, we were greeted with a chaotic scene: boats of all sizes both anchored and idling around, vying for Spanish gold. Constable moved away from the hubbub, marked a school on his depth-finder and anchored just up-current of the black smudges. With the anchor set, he tossed out a couple of handfuls of live minnows and watched as the surface erupted in splashes.
Eichin cast a Clark spoon decorated with a chartreuse strip and a green bead, and immediately got hit. The fish made the drag squeal on his light spinning outfit as it powered away. But Eichin eventually got the better of it: a nice mackerel about 5 pounds.
“Good one,” we all congratulated him.
The next hour or so was practically a nonstop conveyor belt of Spanish mackerel, save for an occasional theft by a shark or dolphin. The live minnows kept the fish behind our boat instead of grazing elsewhere. The frenetic activity also attracted a flock of hungry birds — gulls, terns, gannets and pelicans — that stationed themselves behind the boat and refused to leave. An exhausted brown noddy, rarely seen in Florida outside the remote Dry Tortugas, perched on the bow, looking fierce but not bothering us.
When we had our fill of the mack attack, Constable climbed to his elevated pilot station above the hard top and headed south to look for pompano and cobia close to shore. The noddy flew away to find another rest stop.
By now the tide was ebbing, creating an edge of murk against clear aqua green. That’s where we encountered numerous snapping bluefish and leaping ladyfish and caught them on jigs, plugs, and a Yo-Zuri chugger. Maizler caught the day’s only pompano using a hot pink Doc’s Goofy Jig.
Constable heard from the captain of a sportfishing yacht to the south that a school of cobia had been spotted following a stingray on the surface. The yacht tried to catch up with the cobia but lost them. We didn’t find them either.
We returned to the marina in late afternoon with tired arms, plenty of fodder for the fish smoker, and enough leftover bait to handle the next Spanish armada.