Hunter McCray isn’t about to give some kind of amazing scientific explanation of why Spanish mackerel suddenly show up off the coast of Brunswick County every April around the full moon. He could probably make something up that would sound good, but he’s willing just to take it at face value.
“Based on observations over the years, there are no Spanish around, and then, BOOM, when the full moon shows up, they’re here,” said McCray, who has run the Rod & Reel Shop in Supply — at the base of the high-rise bridge across the ICW to Holden Beach — for more than 25 years. “Once they show up, we have Spanish here all the way through the summer and into November most years.
“You could say that part of it might be based on water temperature, and part of it might be based on food availability, and they are a saltwater fish and driven by the tides. All I know is, unless we have an extremely cold winter, that’s when they’ll show up. If we get a really, really cold winter, it will be the next full moon.”
So fishermen who frequent that section of the coast west and south of Cape Fear better mark April 22 down on their calendars, because that’s when the full moon will light up the sky.
McCray does believe water temperature plays a part in exactly how far off the beach those first Spanish make an appearance. He said that in the spring, inshore waters warm up in the backwaters first and work their way out to the ocean, while ocean waters are warmer farther offshore, and the warm water moves in. Where the two warm currents merge is often where the Spanish show up, from right off the beach to 4 or 5 miles out.
“The first ones may find an eddy of warm water and will come in from offshore and stop when they meet the warm water moving out from inshore,” he said. “There are some years when you can overrun them on the way out.”
McCray said there’s no great secret to catching Spanish once they show up. Set out a spread of 00 Clark Spoons, some at the surface and some down on Nos 1 or 2 planers to cover a good chunk of the water column. They are typically feeding on glass minnows in the spring, so locating schools of bait is a good start.
“Using 00 Clark Spoons is sort of a match-the hatch thing this time of year,” he said. “We won’t move up to a Size 0 until July or August when they start feeding on larger baits. And any planer bigger than a No. 1 or No. 2 is too much for Spanish.”