Mackeral: Baits, Tackle and Fishing Methods

Baits, Tackle, and Fishing Methods

Most boat fishing for mackerel is undeniably crude. Summer visitors who are sea fishing for the first time go out with long-shore-men at holiday resorts, are handed a line furnished with a very heavy lead and a spinner, and trail this behind the boat until a mackerel attaches itself. If mackerel are present in quantity, the visitor will catch them in fair numbers and when he steps out of the boat will be faced with the problem of what to do with his catch, since mackerel will be so plentiful that he will not be able to give them away. Or he may be permitted to work the ‘feathers’ (very crudely made artificial flies that resemble small fish) and load the boat that way. Most holiday-makers’ mackerel fishing is devoid of sport and the participant often sickens of it before the day is through. It need concern us no longer here.

Crude methods are permissible when mackerel are needed as bait in deep-sea fishing. Some can be picked up on the way out to the fishing grounds by trailing a spinner. Usually this means a heavy lead which is tedious to haul, but there is now a device available which, attached to the line, acts as a paravane and goes deeper the faster it is trailed. When a mackerel hits, it comes to the surface and the fish can be easily hauled aboard.- More effective, perhaps, are the feathers. These are chicken feathers dyed in bright colours and mounted on hooks in the manner of crude flies. Seven or eight of them are fished on a trace, to the end of which is attached a lead heavy enough to reach the bottom quickly. The feathers are usually ‘jigged’, that is to say worked up and down by moving the rod top. Once a shoal is located it is possible to haul a ‘full house’ of mackerel at nearly every drop. Needless to say the rod has to be pretty stout to do this work.

Crude as it may be, there are certain tricks of the trade even in this. When you feel the first mackerel hit, for instance, do nu haul up at once. Wait until you feel the other vacancies being filled! It is noteworthy that new feathers work best, and this is due, I think, to the fact that with a new trace the hooks are bright and silvery. It is possible, by using a rod, to beat professional mackerel fishermen (who use stout handlines) at their own game; you can work faster, and the comparative sensitivity of the rod will tell you when you have a worthwhile load of mackerel to haul.

A word of warning is necessary here. A trace of feathers can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of a novice. If the lead slips overboard inadvertently when you are holding the trace, it is quite easy for its weight to drive one of the hooks into your hand — and a hook driven in this way really stays driven! (If this ever happens to you, you may have to nip off the eye of the hook with pliers and thread the hook out shank last.)

Commercial fishermen use barbless hooks on mackerel traces when the fish are very numerous, so as not to lose time in unhooking fish.

I should stress again that I do not recommend feather fishing for mackerel in the ordinary way, but simply to catch fish for bait. A party of half a dozen anglers out for a day’s deep-sea fishing might get through a couple of dozen mackerel baits apiece, so there is a need for some method whereby mackerel can be amassed quickly and in quantity. In this respect, incidentally, an echo-sounder in the boat is of great value in locating mackerel shoals. It will not pick up individual fish, naturally, but a large shoal will show up clearly, as will the depth at which it is swimming. Sea-birds also indicate the presence of mackerel shoals. Gannets are the best indicators; if they are seen massing to feed, it is certain that there are mackerel beneath.

Mackerel fishing from a boat for sport is usually an inshore game and very light tackle can be used. First the fish have to be located and the best way to do this is to trail a spinner on a handline until the contact is made, when the fish can be kept together by trailing a fine rubby-dubby — a net full of oily fish scraps. A trout spinning rod and a small fixed-spool reel loaded with 2 kg (4 lb) breaking strain line makes a useful outfit, and I favour a small, heavy lure like a silver devon or the Swedish `Little Tilly’ bait. Some of the small Continental bar spoons are very effective as well. The conventional mackerel spinner sold in shops is not very satisfactory; it lacks weight for casting and has a marked tendency to kink the line, and the flanges sometimes prevent the hooking of a fish.


Mackerel usually take very firmly. There is no need to strike as a rule; it is enough to hold the fish for a second or two when it takes. Sometimes a mackerel will kick off in mid-fight, but there is little you can do to prevent this happening. A landing-net will be useful to cut down the strain on your rod.

Bait fishing from a boat usually involves float-fishing. The mackerel are gathered by the use of ground-bait (it’s incredible how most sea anglers completely neglect this aid to fishing) and the float is set between mid-water and the bottom, depending on where the fish are feeding, which is something to be found out by trial and error. A 1 /0 hook is about right and the float should be as light as you can make it in the circumstances. Once again, floats labelled in the tackle shop as intended for mackerel are often not suitable — they are a good deal too big, and large mackerel, which become quite shy towards the end of the season, might well be put off by them. Sand-eels make wonderful bait, but most sea anglers are reluctant to use them on fish which are not as discerning as they might be about food. They’d rather use sand-eels on bass. A fish bait is ideal, preferably an iridescent strip from the side of another mackerel. Notice that a cleanly cut strip, long and narrow, is very much preferable to a jagged lump of fish cut anyhow.

As befits a member of the tuna family, the mackerel is a splendid little fighting fish. It is incredibly active on the hook, boring down one minute, then changing direction with extraordinary speed and making for the open sea. The fight is possibly a little harder and certainly faster than with a sea-trout of the same size.

There seems very little to add. In boat fishing, if you can find the mackerel you will nearly always find no difficulty in getting them t15 take. I suppose that the one drawback with mackerel is that they are usually an easy fish to catch, and this detracts somewhat from their quality as sporting fish.

Now to consider shore-fishing.

Spinning from the Shore

There are two distinct patterns in the behaviour of mackerel feeding within casting distance of the shore. There are certain places which, during the season, will nearly always hold some mackerel at a certain time of the tide. Rocky headlands which impose a race on the tide often fall into this category. So long as the weather is warm and settled the angler who knows his ground will be able to take a few fish from such spots on any evening, though he will not always make a great bag, numerically speaking. The second pattern involves the arrival, often in an enclosed space such as a small harbour or a rocky cove, of a large number of mackerel out of the blue at is were. The shoal may stay in the vicinity for a couple of days, or the visitation may be only for the space of a couple of hours at the top of the tide.

Settled weather is an important factor in either case. A storm will drive the mackerel off shore very quickly and they will not return until anticyclonic conditions are restored. The best time to fish is in the evening, best of all when high water coincides with dusk. It has always seemed to me that half a dozen fish taken from the rocks from little companies of mackerel that are passing through makes a more satisfying bag than several score taken from a mass of shoaling fish that are almost jostling each other out of the water in their eagerness to get at the food fish jammed between mackerel shoal and shore. The tackle is the same as used from a boat for spinning — a short, light spinning rod and a fixed-spool reel loaded with light 3-3.5 kg (6-8 lb) monofilament.

There will be occasions when you find yourself underpowered with this gear — when a good bass or pollack takes the mackerel spinner — but this is all in the game. It might be worth mentioning here that very heavy bass will sometimes come in to feed on shoaling mackerel in a tide race near the shore. They seem to work underneath the mackerel, possibly picking off odd fish. If you suspect their presence — and I have had large bass take mackerel off the hook as I was landing them — put up a large spinner, or a good lask of mackerel, and, if the race is strong, lead enough to carry the bait down quickly and prevent the mackerel from getting it before it reaches the bass. If they are there and taking, you will not have many under 2.5 kg (51b) weight.

Bait Fishing from the Shore

In the autumn, not long before the annual migration of mackerel to their winter quarters begins, small companies of big mackerel may be picked up on the bottom on fish bait. I became aware of this for the first time a few years ago when the large tope bait I was legering from the rocks was picked up by fish that ran a few metres with it. Striking produced no result; the hooks were evidently too large for whatever it was that was causing the runs. The tope fishing was slack, so I changed down to a smaller hook and a small strip of herring. The first fish I landed was a mackerel of 1.1 kg (2 lb 5 oz) a good one by any standards. Thinking that if the mackerel were there they’d take a spinner anyway, I set up a light rod and attached a narrow spoon. The mackerel were interested enough to follow the spinner, but not enough to take it. Only a fish bait would do.


Since then I have heard of big mackerel being taken in similar circumstances by other anglers.

The kind of place in which to find these large autumn mackerel is probably in fairly deep water (by shore-fishing standards) — five fathoms or so. The most likely approach is to fish on to sand from the rocks in the vicinity of a fast tide race.

Clearly, some kind of rubby-dubby or ground-bait would be a great advantage in this kind of fishing. Lately, concentrated ground-bait in cube form for sea fishing has come on the market. It is made of biscuit meal and pilchard oil and I have found it especially effective for fishing over sand on slack tides for tope. I have no doubt that it would be equally effective for other ground-feeding species, including mackerel.

19. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Fish, Mackerel, Sea Fishing | Tags: | Comments Off on Mackeral: Baits, Tackle and Fishing Methods


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