With a combination of speed, power and aggressive good looks mackeral remain an enormously popular species for the bluewater brigade. Throughout the last decade various trends have emerged for targeting mackeral with everything from throwing poppers and stick baits to micro jigging, with all being incredibly fun ways to target these aggressive predators.
However as aggressive as these fish can be they can be as equally as fussy. Bait fishing for mackeral remains the number one technique in many parts of our continent which sees consistent results on these temperamental feeders. It would be truthful to write that bait fishing techniques become more important dependant on geographical location. In the far north and on our west side catching mackeral can be as simple as trolling a lure. However through South East Queensland and Northern New south Wales bait fishing techniques seem to certainly shine and consistently bring about better results.
With time, being a huge factor for many of us these days and never ending battle of trying to get good weather, simple bait fishing techniques for mackeral should always be part of your plan. This will help maximise your chances and bring about far more success. Bait fishing can be a mixture of both trolling and fishing baits at anchor with certain techniques deadly on mackeral.
Trolling large baits
If you make the commitment to troll BIG baits such as bonito, tailor, wolf herring and even small mack tuna, realistically you are targeting the largest of all them all, the spanish mackeral (or narrow barred mackeral). These ferocious predators can grow to downright scary proportions of over 2.4m in length and in excess of 40kilos in weight. Taking this into consideration it certainly makes sense that they are fond of a BIG meal. Put simply, trolling large baits is one of the best ways to target big Spanish mackeral.
Many anglers seemingly have a mental block when it comes to trolling big baits as they believe it is rather complicated or too involved. This is a mistake. Most tackle shops sell very simple and well-made ‘chin guards’ which make rigging up big baits a real piece of cake. A chin guard is basically a lead head shaped to fit under the ‘çhin’ of your desired bait. These are commonly sold with a set of trailing gang hooks. With a bait in hand it is then a simple matter of inserting the two prongs (on the lead head) into the bait and lining up the gang hooks which are inserted underneath the bait. Lining these up correctly and very straight is important otherwise the swimming action of the bait will be compromised. Straight and neat makes for a great swimming bait. It is also always a great idea to simply swim and check your bait boat side before sending it down to the depths.
Trolling small baits
Trolling small baits such as pilchards and slimey mackeral is a devastatingly effective technique on the smaller mackeral species such as spotted and school mackeral. In saying this however there are also many times when a big Spanish mackeral will happily nail a smaller bait also. On the whole though, the rule of smaller baits for smaller fish seems to apply.
An effective way to rig small baits begins with a set of gang hooks. My preference here is for VMC’s 9255PS which are straight in the shank and do not feature an offset point. Size of the hooks will vary according to the size of the bait. These are then laid alongside your pilchard or slimey mackeral to obtain correct positioning for hook placement. By slightly pressing your hooks on the side of the bait, a small indentation will be left to act as a guide. Your first hook should go in at the tail end and underside of your bait, with the next roughly in the middle and the final hook inserted in the chin area. Over this near completed bait slides a pink squid skirt (again available at any tackle store) which will assist in your bait not ‘spinning’ when swimming. This pink squid skirt also acts as an additional attractant.
My preference for leader material is 80lb monofilament and I choose not to run wire anywhere in my rig. When trolling these small baits those who run straight monofilament will receive way more hits than the guy rigged with wire. Yes, you will suffer the odd ‘bite off’ but ultimately you catch far more fish. Your leader is best made quite long somewhere in the vicinity of 6ft up to a swivel. A barrel sinker running on your mainline will slide down to this swivel and set your depth for trolling. Naturally the larger the sinker the deeper your bait is swimming. The longer leader assists in keeping your lead a fair distance away which makes for a more natural swimming bait while on the troll.
Float lining baits in a set burley trail
Much like the techniques used for big tuna float lining baits in a set burley trail works incredibly well on mackeral. These fish are serious suckers for a carefully laid burley trap while at anchor. All this needs be is cubed pilchard pieces and on certain days you can quite easily have mackeral schooling at the back of your boat in plain sight. Certainly gets the heart pumping when you have this scenario although you cannot sing your cheers just yet. Once again these finicky fish will be in one of their two moods, either aggressively feeding or ultra-wary and feeding cautiously. Bait presentation is of the utmost importance and when cautious wire cannot come into the equation as the fish simply look at your floating bait and shy away. This can be extremely frustrating and you simply have no choice but to put up with the inevitable bite off here and there.
Float lining pilchards on a set of gang hooks can be a real exciting way to fish and my preference here has always been overhead reels. These give you the ability to have your reel in total free spool where you can carefully feed line out which makes for a very natural looking bait sinking through the water column. Getting a hit will see your line spew off the reel quickly (with your thumb in control) and it is then a simple matter of pushing the lever up to strike position and coming tight on the fish. It is real hands on fishing that gives the ability to stay ‘in touch’ with the fish from the moment your bait is taken.
Live baiting is an absolute go-to technique. The more common baits used with huge success are yellowtail, slimey mackeral, yellowtail pike and tailor. Size limits need to be observed though if tailor are your chosen bait. Fishing live baits is effective both at anchor and on a slow drift.
After a reasonable amount of trial and error I have now settled on what I consider a deadly rig for live baits. The rig begins with a size 4/0 Mustad Livebait hook and I start by taking some side cutters and carefully open the eye of the hook. As a sidenote I have found the Mustad Livebait hooks the best for this as in most cases they do not break when opening they eye. Once the eye is open the next step is to insert a size 4 Owner solid ring and then simply close the eye of the hook with your pliers.You now need to run two lengths of wire from the hook with one coming from the actual eye of the hook which should be about 25cm up to a swivel. The second length comes from the solid ring you inserted in the eye of the hook and the length of this will be determined by the size of your bait. Mine are commonly say 20cm and this is run down to a size 1 Owner Treble (referred to as a ‘stinger treble’). The importance of the solid ring you inserted is to stop the two lengths of wire jamming on one another as without it you will have two sections of wire running from the same eye of the hook. Once completed the livebait hook is placed through the bottom jaw of your livebait and out through the top jaw with the stinger treble being pinned towards the tail end of the bait. It is an incredibly successful rig and in nearly every case the stinger treble will simply not miss as a mackeral attempts to slice your bait in half.
Preparation is key
As with all forms of angling, preparation is the key to success. Bait fishing for mackeral is by no means hard but does require careful gear selection and attention to detail. Mackeral are most definitely a fish that will expose any weaknesses in your gear, knots and rigs. Take the time to make all rigs at home paying attention to necessary detail and store them in an organised manner. Trying to tie complicated rigs on the boat in a rolling swell or wind chop can be frustrating and even worse if there is a hot bite on. With a combination or organisation and thought out techniques such as the ones mentioned, you will be on the right path to having some toothy mackerel thrashing around the deck on your next outing. Just be mindful of your toes.