Mackerel fishing you say? Anyone can catch mackerel, yes while I agree in principle there are days when we struggle to fing them and this guide is intended to help the novice on such days.
Although I think some of you more regular boat anglers might find the article of interest especially the safety aspect covered later (not to mention the best mackerel recipe in the world)because in my opinion mackerel fishing on a full charter boat can be the most hazardous form of boat fishing,but by following a few simple safety procedures your day can be hazard free
So to start, the mackerel is part of the pelagic fish group (fish who spend most of there lives in the upper part of the ocean,) so is the barracuda and tuna and if you look at the species side by side you can see the resemblance size apart of course,
As I explained in a previous post most of the fishing done on a charter boat is on or near the bottom, mackerel fishing is just the opposite, usually most fish come on the boat from between depths of 15 feet and 60 feet, the tackle need only be light but most anglers use there 20lb class rod which doubles up for shad fishing during the day same thing with the reel really no need for super lightweight gear on a charter trip as the aim is to get your fish in the boat before they can make a mess of yours and everyone else’s line’s,
Now the usual method for catching these critters is to fish a trace of feathers (FEATHERS) I hear you say? Yes feathers, these are fixed to small hooks around 1/0 in size but they can be as large as 3/0, when wet the feathers pulled up through the water give the appearance of small fry swimming one behind the other they seem irresistible to the mackerel, some times instead of feathers refraction tape is fixed to the hooks or silver tape all work well when the mackerel are huge in numbers but when scarce you will need to play around with colours sometimes red do the trick other times black or plain white, I have witnessed one angler pulling them in one after the other while other anglers fail all because of the colour on the day
If you are the practical type you can easily tie your own own rigs which can be relaxing as well as saving you money, last year I made some simple three hook rigs which were made from red surgical rubber tube and a couple of beads attached to three 2/0 hooks on 30lb mono with a simple loop at each end, they lasted ages longer than the rubbish Chinese imports on the market and only cost a few pence each,
a quick word on rigs keep the number of hooks down to a minimum, on one trip I remember trying to prove the point by challenging one know it all to see who could land the most in 10 minuets I was using only two hooks while he was trying to fish two 6 hook rigs one on top of the other! so with 10 more hooks than me we started and by the time I had 10 fish on the boat he was still trying to untangle his rig which had tangled all the other anglers on the boat, he was not a popular man that day so KEEP IT SIMPLE is the advice
The basic technique I use is to let the lead sink for the count of 10 then stop the the lead by pressing my thumb hard on the spool, I then lift the rod sharp to the 12 o’clock position and then lower the rod tip at the same speed as the lead falls keeping the line reasonably taught so as to remain in contact with the lead, when your tip is just short of the surface lift back up to the 12 o’clock then simply repeat the process around 5 times, if you get no takes release the pressure from your thumb and drop down further to another count of 5 and try again, still no fish drop deeper still another count to five try again, once at around 60 feet wind up and start over again,
This way you will find exactly at what depth the shoal is feeding beneath the boat, you will know when the fish take within a second you feel the fish fighting and I mean fighting, pound for pound you will struggle to find a harder fighting fish than the humble mackerel even on heavy boat tackle
Now here comes the fun you have your fish or fishes hooked the trick is to get them in the boat with as little fuss as possible, these fish are pure muscle and pulling in all directions up down left right across and over each other, and if the bloke next to you is into fish as well then probably the rest of the boat is! so there could well be over 20 or 30 fish on the hooks in the top 50 foot of water going crazy now is the time not to play your fish, or panic
As soon as you know you have fish on start winding don’t allow the fish to take any line at all, as soon as your top swivel breaks the surface place you rod against the hand rails reach over and grab hold of the top swivel /clip with your left hand (if you are r/handed) and lift the rig clear of the water leaving the whole lot OUTSIDE the boat,
the string of fish will now be hanging outside the boat with the lead in the water helping to keep them steady grab a good hold of the top fish and UN hook it carefully and after dropping the fish in a bucket to then move on to the next one keeping hold of the hook above it and so on until all the fish are in the bucket, I find a bucket preferable to a fish box with the mackerel as they are more confined they create less mess,
At all times keep the hooks away from your face, NEVER EVER swing a string of mackerel in over the hand rail on a bent and loaded rod if just one drops off the whole lot will catapult back into the boat with the fish still full of life riving and pulling hooks into somebodies head could be yours, believe me I have seen this done many times by regular anglers who should know better
The procedure I have just given you is the safest method of any, yes you may loose a few fish every time but what the hell there are probably millions under the boat and once a shoal starts to feed they just seem to encourage more fish to join in they often drift with the boat for ages so you can afford to loose a few off in the name of safety.
I prefer to dispatch and gut the fish I intend to keep for the table immediately by holding the fish upside down in my left hand and placing the thumb of my right hand in it’s mouth, I then bend the fishes head back wards very quickly this kills them instantly, undersized fish are simply returned UN harmed, the only sharp bit on a mackerel is a small spike near the vent which you will only feel when drawing your hand from the tail to the head from the under belie and is no real threat,
it’s safer than trying to kill them with a priest they wriggle and rive so much you have more chance of dispatching your hand.
while talking about spikes on fish if you cannot identify your catch ask the skipper before you grab it, some fish can inflict a nasty sting such as weaver fish and gurnards
only take enough fish that you can comfortably eat in a couple of days,
(you will be amazed at the flavour if eaten on the same day) mackerel will not keep for more than that in the fridge and frozen mackerel turns to mush when defrosted unless cooked first, if you must freeze mackerel do so in vacuumed bags so they don’t taint the rest of your food,
My favourite mackerel recipe,
MICK’S MACKERELLAS………… must be freshly caught
Skin and bone 4 mackerel fillets, (after skinning I cut out the lateral line leaving two bone free goujons per fillet) then place the fillets in a bowl add just enough white vinegar to cover, leave in the fridge for 3/4 hours or until the flesh turns pure white, (don’t leave too long or the fillets will fall apart) drain and dry the fish sprinkle with olive oil and coarse sea salt and a little finely chopped garlic, this recipe has never failed to impress and is an excellent summer dish served cold on a crisp salad with fresh buttered bread.
To sum up mackerel fishing from a charter boat is great fun for all the family as long as it’s carried out safely the mackerel can be caught from early July to late October, its especially good fun for youngsters who tire quickly as there is little winding up and down to be done fishing near the surface, I can still remember my first mackerel trip on a boat Ahhhha those were the days,
during 2010 I intend to arrange a farther and sons or daughters day, which will be during the summer and on a Saturday or Sunday, the trip will be around half a day in duration during the mackerel season, I will post more information up soon on my own website keep a look out here www.whitby-sea-fishing.co.uk or better still why not join the RSS feed on my site that way you will be alerted of all my posts
Enjoy your fishing and keep safe Sea Urchin Mick.