Catching Spanish Mackeral

By Jamie Crawford

With their aggressive attitude, fighting qualities and superb eating, its little wonder Spanish mackerel are such a popular sportfish here in Australia. Spanish mackerel, aka narrow barred mackerel, are the largest of mackerel species found here in Australia and are ranked highly amongst recreational fishers.

Although primarily a tropical species, they do extend into southern waters when warm currents push into more temperate regions. Spanish mackerel have been caught off the waters of Perth from time to time, and so too the south coast of NSW when the conditions allow. However, Northern WA, throughout the NT and along QLD’s coastline is the common distribution for this species in our country. 

I love targeting mackies; they’re a cool looking fish and super aggressive when they’re on the chew. They are willing to swipe a variety of lures and live baits, and put up a good account of themselves on the right tackle. They have some impressive dentistry, so expect some lure carnage. They’re not the kind of species you want to drop an expensive hand-painted hard body or popper in front of, as their reckless abandon sees paint stripped, bibs smashed and they show no consideration for tackle whatsoever! 

Spanish mackerel can be targeted using a variety of techniques, but my favourite is to actively cast lures once some fish have been located. To find the fish initially quite often requires some trolling, and keeping an eye on the sounder. Looking for bait balls mid depth is a good starting point, especially when shadowed by some arches. In this situation try trolling a deep diving hard body like the 18cm Mackerel Mauler. These lures track deep and hold their line well, and if there are any mackies in the area they will swipe these lures without hesitation. 

Once we have located some mackerel, we like to pack the trolling outfits away and pull out the lighter threadline outfits. My outfit of choice when actively casting for mackerel is a Biomaster 4000 threadline matched to a 5 – 10kg T-Curve Revolution Offshore rod. Spooled with 25lb braid it’s a cool outfit for messing with mid-sized schooling mackerel in the 5 – 10kg bracket. 

I enjoy casting soft plastics for mackies, especially if the fish are sitting a bit deeper and not actively feeding on the surface. My preferred soft plastic for this situation is a 145mm Flick Bait in Pacific Pearl matched to a 5/8 oz jig head. You will need to ensure the gauge of hook is up to the punishment of targeting mackerel though. 

You will need to impart speed on these plastics to elicit a strike, so I generally allow the plastic to sink 4 of 5m down onto the column before starting a series of short, quick bursts of retrieve. I like to pause after each burst – this allows the plastic to sink back down into the zone before the next burst of speed. As you would expect with the mackerels nasty teeth, soft plastics don’t fare too well and you go through a few during a hot session, but that’s a cheap price-tag to get some quality mackerel into the boat.

If the mackerel are actively feeding on the surface, then it’s probably a good time to pull out some metal lures. Quite often the mackerel will be feeding on small baitfish, so it’s important to keep the metal profile small to best match the natural feed. We have been using Spanyid Raider lures in 20 and 40g and they cast like a bullet which is great, especially for when the fish are a bit flighty and you have to keep your distance in the boat. 

When using metal slugs for mackies, I prefer a flat-out retrieve provided the lure isn’t busting out the surface. Try to maintain a fast retrieve but also ensure the lure is kept just under the surface for maximum action. I have found it pays to exchange the trebles on these smaller metal slugs for a single heavier-gauge hook. Although the factory-fitted trebles are super sharp, it pays to exchange them for the single hook. You can also buy the Raiders with a single Siwash hook which is a good option. This generally improves hook-up rate and will see a longer-lasting connection during extended fights.

On my last couple of trips north I did a bit of vertical jigging with NT jig-master Peter Zeroni. Vertical jigging for Spanish mackerel is a whole lot of fun, and super-effective. It suits deeper-water situations; say in the 25 – 35m depth range, especially when the fish are sitting quite deep. Metal jigs in the 40 to 60g range are ideal, such as the 55g slidend Shimano Butterfly jig.

Drop the jig all the way to the bottom, and then begin a quick crank and pause style retrieve. Repeat this process until the jig is almost to the boat and then drop and repeat again. Quite often you will have a mackerel ‘buzzing’ from side to side behind the jig which is a pretty cool sight… and even better when they inhale the lure in full vision near the surface.

Because of the sharp dental work on Spanish mackerel, it is important to have a short 20cm length of wire to prevent excessive lure losses. You can get away with using a heavy mono leader (and you will often see more action if the fish are a tad wary, especially in harder-fished waters), but it’s inevitable you will see some lure losses… and losing the fish at the same time… Spanish mackerel are on of my favourite tropical species. They fight hard and taste fantastic!