The Spanish Mackerel is the racehorse of the ocean. These exciting game fish occupy coastal waters from Geographe Bay northwards. Mackerel are taken offshore from boats during the late summer months in southern waters but are caught all year round in the tropical and sub-tropical waters.
There are several closely related mackerel in WA but the most popular is the Narrow-Barred Spanish Mackerel and thats the one well concentrate on here.
Spanish Mackerel are common in the warm water areas of the Indo-Pacific region and, in the past, only occasional catches were recorded around the southern Perth metropolitan area down to Busselton. In recent times, however, they are a fish that can be targeted over summer through most of the WA coastline to Cape Leeuwin.
Rather than school in deep water areas, most macks are caught in reasonably shallow waters to 20m around structures like coral reefs, rocky bommie systems and will often follow current lines when hunting or travelling.
As one of the most fierce of WA’s pelagic species, they hunt schools of baitfish and tear them apart with a set of amazing dentures that would make a barracuda proud.
They grow very fast and start life in reasonably large schools. As the fish grow, the school sizes decrease to the point where a fully grown adult may hunt alone or in pairs. They do, however, congregate in large numbers to spawn in the tropical areas of the region.
Studies by Fisheries WA show the catch rates in the December to March months to be much lower than the June to October months in the areas north of Carnarvon. In Perth, the peak fishing months are January and February but we are seeing a trend to an even earlier season.
How To Catch Them
Trolling lures and baits is the most popular way of catching these predatorial, fast moving hunters and they commonly hit baits being trolled for Marlin and Sailfish. As with most predators, they will also take baits and, sometimes, even smaller hooked fish making them a good target for live baits.
Being a coastal fish they are also targeted by land based anglers who catch them from beaches, jetties, groynes and cliffs. Some of the hot spots for LBG (Land Based Game) anglers chasing macks include Steep Point (south west of Denham, Shark Bay), Kalbarri and off the cliffs at Quobba Station (north of Carnarvon).
Surface ballooning entails inflating a party balloon and using it, more or less, like a big float to drift your bait out with the wind or current. Gas ballooning uses a lighter than air gas like helium or a helium / nitrogen mix to provide lift which keeps your bait on the surface of the water and acts as a sail so the wind can blow the whole rig offshore quickly (you do, of course, require an offshore breeze).
Whilst getting started can be expensive with gas prices, cylinder hire and large balloons it is a very exciting method of fishing. A well balanced gas balloon rig causes the bait to skip on the surface of the water – sometimes leaving it altogether and splashing down many metres away.
Spaniards chase bait fish with great speed which causes the small fish to leave the water to get away at times (most well known at this are flying fish which are also on the spaniards diet). Mackerel will sometimes leap high from the water to catch them and will do the same to your bait which is one of the most exciting forms of fishing in the world. Most ballooning anglers can tell you of baits being hit as high as two metres above the water when hit.
When up north, don’t waste expensive fuel on trolling for mackerel. Instead, find water in the 16m range on the dropoff from a reef or bombie. Drop your anchor then attach an 8ft wire trace to a gang of three 5/0 hooks.
On the mainline above the swivel attach a slice of styrofoam. Do this by slicing two indents either side of the foam then wrap your main line around a couple of times. When a feeding mackeral comes along it will take the bait and the line will snap the foam leaving a straight line fight. This stops the common problem of balloons that won’t burst or leave the line.
You may also want to try fishing the upcurrent side of the bottom structure as the macks attack the food pushed up in the current rising over the reef.
Another method when fishing the far north is to find a “run” of fast moving tidal water and troll down that. Macks are very often sitting there out of sight and will fight very hard in this situation. Lures like Rapala CD18s or Husky Jerks are most effective and the middle of the dry season will produce the best results.
Around Perth, most mackies are taken at the back of Rotto’s West End which is rich in food for schools of smaller fish. Trolling here is the way to go because NW blowies are tending to ruin live baits quickly these days.
The reefs a way offshore of Hillarys and Yanchep also provided a lot of great mackerel action last summer and there’s no reason to suggest any differently this year. If you have a sounder, troll around the reefs until you see an area where baitfish are concentrated. This is the area to work with your lures. If you can’t fish baitfish, it’s better to anchor with a live herring or yellowtail and wait for something to come along.
Being a very fast swimming fish, Spanish Mackeral are capable of taking 200 to 400 metres of line off of a reel against even a heavy drag so reels with a good line capacity are recommended. Boat fishers tell tales of being spooled by a running mack before the anchor can be raised.
LBG makes it even harder as you cannot chase them to regain line and you often have 100 to 200 metres of line out to begin with. While very much sprinters that tire out after a couple of medium length runs, a large fish will often slog it out for ages at the end of a 400 or 500 metre run.
Ranked as one of the great light tackle sportfish, the Spanish Mackerel is also a fine table fish. Its white, oily flesh has a subtle flavour and can be prepared in a variety of ways from barbequed cutlets to fish curries or deep fried fillets. Because of the high oil content it also keeps very well in the freezer.
While many people rave about cutlets of mackerel, a good alternative is to take a side fillet and remove the blood line giving four triangular fillets per fish which can be sliced in 1cm fillets at a 45 degree angle giving a lot of same sized fillets. The yield of meat to fish weight of mackeral is up around 80% which easily beats most large headed bottom fish.
How To Rig Your Line To Catch Them