Spanish mackerel must be one of the most reliable sport fish in the sea. Once you know how and when to catch them you know you are never short of a bit of action. They are the ultimate predator, with a streamlined body that is built for speed and razor sharp teeth that make them the fish killing machines that they are renowned to be. For an all-round quality fish they are hard to go past with their speed and power making them great sport and the bonus of being a sort after table fish. Most anglers would agree that you can never get sick of catching them with the main reason being that they can practically be caught by any method. Trolling is the most common method, with bait or live bait being the second, but to spice it up even more you can try casting stickbaits, poppers or even fly fishing. The mighty Spaniard can more than pack a punch when it comes to emptying your spool, and they can also take to the air at unbelievable heights of over 20 feet.
The Spanish mackerel outside of Australia has many names such as narrow barred mackerel, blue mackerel or the King Mackerel. They tend to like warmer waters, so they are commonly found in northern New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and mid to Northern Western Australia. In saying that, when the warmer currents travel further south, so will the mackerel. Mackerel are known to travel in large schools attacking bait fish and small tuna making double and triple hook ups common. They also grow to a whopping 60kg which is hard to fathom how much they would pull at that size, as the average size is around 12-15kg and at this size will put most tackle to the test.
If you ever think that you are in with a chance of hooking a mackie, you are best to be well prepared for the landing of the fish. It’s best to have a bit of a plan in mind before you put a 1.5m long angry fish with sharp teeth and hooks in your boat (as they tend to go pretty crazy). Have a spot allocated for angry fish, or use lip grippers or a donger to knock them out (they tend to be a bit safer when they are unconscious).
When targeting mackerel it pays to follow surface bait school activity, or to use a sounder searching for either sub surface bait or working larger drop offs. I find that Spanish mackerel prefer depths of around 30 metres, although I have caught them in depths as shallow as 9 metres and as deep as 60. If you can find drop offs, or structure in 20-30 metres to 30-40 metres, it will pay to target these areas if there are no bait schools around. I tend to find that they hang out on these drop offs and are easier to catch working these areas, rather than when they are feeding on bait.
Spanish mackerel respond well to all types of fishing techniques, although one thing for sure with every technique is the use of wire. The razor sharp teeth from a Mackie in most cases will destroy any thickness of mono leader. Some anglers like to use a wire leader which is longer than the fish, although I believe you can go much shorter if you combine your set up with a good length of wind on mono leader. I typically use 3 metres of wind on 80lb mono leader, and 80cm of 80lb single strand wire. Many like to go heavy when it comes to rod and reel combos by using either light to heavy game gear, or 6500 size spinning reels with around 80lb braid or 50lb mono. There is nothing wrong with ensuring you win the fight with heavy gear, although you can get away with much lighter gear as mackerel are not dirty fighters, so providing you have the line capacity to last the long run, you will have a sporting chance on light tackle. The tackle you use also depends on the situation, as different gear is used for different techniques. Lets take a look at a few options out there to target this amazing sport fish.
LBG or land based game is an exciting way to catch Mackerel from the shore. A large party balloon and a stiff offshore breeze are required to get your bait in the zone. Jetties, beaches and groynes are commonly used, although the hot spots are usually cliffs. When ballooning from cliffs or surf beaches you may need a helium /nitrogen mix to keep your balloon in the air to get your bait out far enough from the shore. The ultimate is to have your bait skip along the surface which will attract the attention of predators such as mackerel. It is hard to explain the excitement when a fish hits the skipping bait as they normally get totally airborne. This type of fishing does get expensive getting all the gas and cylinders etc. although when you look at the price of maintaining a boat with fuel prices etc. it is not all that high in comparison. If you think this is maybe your thing, look into it because a lot of new gear may be required depending on what the area you fish. One thing I can say is that this is a great visual way to fish. Mackerel have flying fish on their tucker list so they are known to take baits which are up to 2 metres above the water’s surface. Best baits to use are Pilchards (Mullies) or garfish on 3-5 ganghooks.
Casting or spinning
Casting for Mackie’s is also one of the most exciting ways to catch mackerel. Casting large metal spoons, slugs or spinners can work well from the shore, rocks or cliffs, but heavier tackle is normally required when tackling these monsters from the shore. As for casting from a boat it is best to find where they are by trolling or spotting surface activity before you go burning your arms casting blindly all day. Deep divers can work well for casting even though they are designed for trolling yet most who cast lures for mackerel from a boat are using surface lures such as poppers and stick baits. These surface lures will also see airborne mackerel strikes, which to most of us is the ultimate in fishing. Popper fishing for giant trevally is extremely popular all over the world at the moment so it’s surprising that you don’t hear more about popping for Mackies. It’s hard to beat casting to a school of hungry mackerel which are willing to throw themselves skywards at anything that moves, and will still peel line of your reel at a blinding rate and offer a great all round fight. If you are close enough to your surface lure when a mackerel hits you will hear the sound of its jaws snapping together as it becomes airborne with the lure in its gob, and it gives me goose bumps just thinking about what these prehistoric looking predators are capable of.
There are many ways to entice a Mackerel, although it is hard for a Mackie to pass up the opportunity to take a fish in distress. Live-bait works in many situations yet most commonly they are put under a balloon, as Mackerel tend to mainly feed at the surface. They are also not too fussy on which fish you use for bait either. When I live-bait for mackerel, I combine it with fishing for reef species such as emperor on the bottom. I typically use a small legal size emperor, approximately 2-3 metres under a balloon and let it drift 30-50 metres from my boat or kayak while I work plastic lures, or bait on the bottom in 20-30 metres. When that balloon goes off it will always be something big, which is usually a shark, mackerel or a barracuda, and the best thing is that you tend to get bigger mackerel this way than with trolling. The other common way to live-bait for mackerel is to slow troll, normally a yakka or a slimy mackerel is the way to go. The rig is the same using the 3 metre 80lb mono wind on with 80-100cm of 80lb single strand wire to a 8/0 circle hook. Hook the circle hook through the bait fish’s nose and troll at around two knots letting out around 70-80 metres of line making sure the bait fish swims as naturally as possible. These techniques will also prove to be successful with cobia, tuna, sailfish or even marlin.
Trolling is by far the most popular way to catch mackerel, and with this method being so easy, it’s not hard to see why. Forever and a day the technique of trolling a garfish on ganghooks with a pink octopus lure has been used, and is still successful today. Professional mackerel fisherman have not changed their technique for years and will pull in one after the other with the same trolled garfish rig method as they did many years ago. Trust me, if there was an easier way the pro`s would be on to it. Sure they use handlines which shortens the fight, although the method is pretty much the same as most amateurs are using in their own trailer boats with a rod and reel. Most anglers today are opting to use deep diver (bibbed minnows) which may be more expensive, but avoid the hassle and smell of using bait. Rigging a garfish to swim straight at 5 knots is not as easy as you think. Even the mouths must be wired shut to do a proper job. Lures have made life easier, and most popular lures tend to be red heads, pilchard or golden coloured deep divers. Deep divers range from diving at 1 meter to 8 metres below the surface. Everyone has their favourite colours and brands and depths and personally I have had the most success with red heads in the 7 metre-plus range trolling very close to the boat. When you are trolling with two or three rods, try them all with different depths and colours and you will soon see which lures get the most action, and you will develop your own favourites. One thing for sure is you will need a lure with heavy duty treble hooks, and some cheaper lures may need the hooks to be upgraded. As for a trolling speed, I would recommend around 4-6 knots, however, if you are finding fish on your sounder and not getting strikes, speeding up to 8 knots can be very effective.
Floating baits are a great method that will catch many shy fish. Floating baits are a great way to tempt fish that will only take a more “natural” looking bait. The old paternoster rig with a heavy snapper sinker will not entice a strike as much as a bait slowly sinking which looks like it is not attached to a line. This technique can be deadly when used with berley, especially if the berley is the same as the bait used. To do this, use cubes of pilchards similar to the way that tuna are attracted, although instead of using a cube on a circle hook use a whole pilchard which can be cast in the berley cubes, and floated down through the trail. Many a Mackie have fallen victim to the method and if your bait manages to sink down enough, the by catch bottom species are endless. Spanish Mackerel are also a great eating fish and the large fillets are quick freezer filler. Some fussy seafood eaters are not fans of the flesh because of the oily taste, but to others it is a delicacy, and the oily flesh makes them the perfect fish to smoke or for Sashimi. I prefer to pan fry the fillets in a herb and crumb mix, and on occasions enjoy it so much that on the occasional camping trip with my brother, we have gone up to 3 or 4 days eating nothing but that. I also recommend that they be released. One or two of these fish are more than enough to eat. When releasing Spanish Mackerel it is best not to bring them aboard the boat for the fish’s safety, and your own.
Spanish Mackerel are an important part of sport fishing and it is hard to imagine the tropical waters without these pelagic speedsters. Before targeting Mackies, take note of size limits and bag limits of which rules apply in differing locations. It also pays to know the difference between the types of mackerel, as bag limits and size limits have varying requirements depending on the species. Let’s aim at preserving these great fish, because without Spanish mackerel, sport fishing just wouldn’t be the same.