Traditionally when targeting Spanish Mackerel the first thing that comes to mind is trolling large areas of water with hard bodied lures or rigged baits. The technique is by no means new but with the growing popularity of top water fishing in Australia the sport is evolving and more people are targeting these fish specifically with poppers and stick baits. My personal experiences with these fish on top water began purely by mistake, encountering them as bycatch while targeting giant trevally. As any species specific purist can understand, bycatch becomes frustrating at times but its hard not to get excited when a striped missile fires several meters into the air with your lure clenched firmly between it’s jaws. It wasn’t long and these fish all of a sudden went from being considered bycatch to stealing the spotlight and becoming a regular target.
Inshore islands and reefs adjacent to deep water are a great place to start. Pelagics love current so any structure that obstructs and/or intensifies the current is a great place focus your attention. When working these areas it pays to start your drift earlier than you normally would and extend it a long way past the structure you are working. Often the fish will patrol quite wide and will be holding in what seems like open, featureless water.
Depending on the area you are fishing your approach to finding mackerel is obviously going to vary and the age old saying of find the bait and you will find the fish always applies. All signs of baitfish are always worth investigation, no matter if you are on top of the reef pinnacle or in the middle of nowhere halfway to your destination. You will also find that large mackerel will follow schools of smaller tuna that are feeding vigorously and pick off the outsiders. Often you can be driving along daydreaming and a gigantic mackerel will launch in the middle of nowhere. If you can get to that area within a few seconds of that fish hitting the water then it’s worth peppering the vicinity with casts. Some of the craziest mackerel bites I’ve encountered have been blind casting in the middle of nowhere after seeing a single fish airstrike hundreds of meters away and simply casting in the general area.
There are a few things to take into account when considering what setup to run. Too light and you risk a visit from the men in grey suits or (if you are in GT country) having a big GT take your lure back to its cave as a souvenir. Too heavy on the other hand and the fight only begins when the fish gets in the boat (if you’re picking up what I’m putting down). I don’t know about you but I’m not a huge fan of boating a wildly thrashing fish with 6 hook points hanging from a mouth full of razor blades! My choice of setups when I’m targeting mackerel on top is generally a 10k sustain paired with a Terez black mh running 30-50lb power pro for the lighter lures in the 150-190mm variety or I will stick to my GT setup (20k Stella, PE10 Ocea Plugger) so I can throw large profile (230mm+) stick baits and heavy poppers and know the I can set hooks.
The lighter/smaller stickbaits are great when the fish are schooled up hard and/or sitting high in the water column. With a fast erratic retrieve mackerel will chase down lures faster than you can wind and it sure as heck gets the blood pumping when they come slashing out of nowhere onto your offering! When the fish aren’t as thick and are patrolling in smaller numbers of large fish or just single rogue fish, this is when big cup faced poppers and large profile stick baits come into play. The large presence of a good cup faced popper will attract mackerel in from a very long distance and when given a long pause this can create some of the most mind blowing airstrikes you are ever to witness! The large stick baits come into their own with those big rouge fish that are a little fussy, giving a more subtle approach while still having a large visual presence. Sinking lures work amazing but there is only one problem, they sink. Sticking to the floaters will ensure you a little more security knowing that if you get bitten off on the strike that there’s a good chance the lure will float back up in the area. There is a catch though. On some occasions mackerel can be so damn clumsy you can miss over 10 fish on airstrikes only to boat one. Sinking lures give you a much better hook-up rate but again, if you get bitten of, it aint coming back! Which brings me to the next point.
To wire or not to wire? With the bigger lures it seems though you don’t get too many bite offs but with the smaller ones, if you pause, it is fairly common. I personally just stick to the floating lures and avoid wire purely to get the hook-up. At least then I get some sort of reassurance knowing there’s a chance it will float back up.
Next time the word hits the street and the mackerel are on the chew. Do yourself a favour, leave the trolling gear at home and give them a go on the top! You will be surprised how effective it is and how consistent the results are! Not to mention you will have a tonne of fun. Best of luck and I will see you on the water.