Mackerel are tons of fun on a light spin rod or fly rod, and are an easy fish to catch. Typically living out in the ocean, they come into shore in the fall and can easily be targeted off docks and from shore. This makes them a good species to target if you’re bringing the kids or spouse fishing. They put up a good fight for their size, especially if caught using ultra light fishing gear.
Let me share with you what makes a good mackerel lure, some of the lures I use, in addition to how and when to use them.
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What Makes a Good Mackerel Lure?
When selecting lures, we have to think about the feeding habits of the target fish. Mackerel are a fast-moving, predatory, schooling species of fish. They compete fiercely with other mackerel in their school for food, and the entire school is constantly on the move hunting down different types of baitfish.
Mackerel have large eyes, which suggests a predator that relies heavily on their sense of sight. Based on on these traits, we can make the following conclusions about mackerel:
- Mackerel will not have time to inspect a lure closely. They are always in a race against other mackerel to grab a prey item first. Brightly coloured or flashy lures that grab attention should be chosen. Super realistic looking lures are unnecessary for fishing mackerel. Fast retrieves that mimic the behaviour of fleeing bait fish will trigger a predatory response in mackerel, and produce the most bites.
- Since mackerel are moving so quickly, they don’t really have time to notice a lures scent. Scented lures are unnecessary, and in my experience make no difference in your catch rate with mackerel. Save those gulp grubs for the flounder and other scent oriented species of fish.
- You want to select a lure that can cover large amounts of water. This means something that has some weight to it and is preferably aerodynamic to help with casting distance. The weight will also allow you to fish deeper in the water column if necessary. Make sure you have a reel that can take up line quickly. Reels with larger spool sizes excel here, and will make fishing much more enjoyable.
The take away is we want to use a brightly coloured, flashy lure that will cover lots of water.
What Kind of Mackerel Lures to Use?
Anything flashy, as mentioned above. Here are some of the specific lures I use to catch mackerel. They’re a bit beat up since none of them are new, they’ve all been used in salt water, and they’ve all caught fish.
These types of jigs are my all time favourite lure for targeting Atlantic mackerel. They cast like a dream, and have no problem getting down deep if need be. They do a great job of imitating the sandeels and silversides mackerel are often chasing.
Cast this lure out to a feeding school of mackerel and reel in fast, this often produces on the first cast or two.
Mackerel Metal Jigs (Amazon Link) Can be bought here.
Spoons are another go-to lure for mackerel fishing because they come in a variety of colours, are flashy, and also cast like a bullet. Pictured above are a few different types of spoons I use. I quite like Kastmasters because of the distance they get while casting, and the exaggerated side to side action they produce does a good job of mimicking a wounded bait fish.
That being said, the specific brand doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s a brightly coloured/flashy spoon, it will catch mackerel.
30Pcs Casting Spoons (Amazon Link) Can be bought here. This a great deal if you’re looking to fill your tackle box.
Another very effective type of lure used for mackerel is spinners. They don’t cast as far as spoons but have much more flash and create stronger vibrations when retrieved, so it’s a bit of a trade-off. If the mackerel are feeding a bit closer to shore and aren’t enthusiastic about taking spoons, I’ll use spinners to entice them into biting.
Most spinners used in trout fishing can be used with success, although I tend to go on the large size with these. Spinners with a defined fish “body” attached tend to produce better, but more traditional spinners still work as well.
Dr.Fish Spinner Baits Metal Spoon (Amazon Link) Can be bought here.
Fishing saltwater can be hard on metal lures. If it starts to rust, you can always remove the rust and get them shiny again.
Rapala’s and other swimbaits are another very effective lure to use when targeting mackerel. Use the smaller sized plugs, and go with ones that are brightly coloured. Silver, gold, and white work well.
A commonly used rig for targeting mackerel is the Sabiki rig. Sabiki Rigs are perhaps one of the most widely used type of rig for fishing Mackerel. They are unique, as the multiple lures or flies on the line allow you to cover a much larger stretch of the water column. If you gradually bounce the rig up and down as you retrieve it, you can cover even more of the water column. This makes them a great searching rig, and it’s not uncommon for this mackerel rig to catch several fish at a time.
Sabiki rigs come in many different styles. the most common style has the hooks dressed in feathers or plastic, but they can really be made of anything, even straws and they’ll work. It’s quite easy to make your own to replace any damaged or lost hooks on the rig. You can even by tie a bit of tinfoil to a hook and it’ll work.
Sabiki Fishing Rigs (Amazon Link) can be bought here.
These rigs are for the sit and wait anglers out there. This is set up the same way you would set up a bobber rig for trout. Put a piece of bait or something flashy on the end of the line and a mackerel will grab it eventually. This rig does work, but I find the more active methods of fishing listed above produce alot more fish.
When to Fish for Mackerel from Shore?
Mackerel spend most of the year offshore, but come close to shore in late summer/early fall. Around mid to late August up until sometime in October they can still be caught near shore. The exact dates can vary by a few weeks year to year depending on what kind of summer we’ve had.
Mackerel are heavily influenced by tides. They come into shore with the high tide and leave with the low tide. Two hours either side of high tide produces the best fishing. I also find they bite better during the day, but a well moonlight night can produce an amazing mackerel bite. As long as the lures have some light to reflect.
How to Find Feeding Mackerel?
Baitfish are often associated with structure, and you’ll often find mackerel schools feeding on these baitfish schools. Bridges, wharves, piers, and bays provide shelter for baitfish and you’ll often find mackerel schools feeding just outside of this structure picking off schools of fish that venture to far away from the safety of their shelter.
Mackerel are also attracted to current caused by incoming and outgoing tide. They are strong swimmers, and will eagerly pick off the weaker baitfish that get swept up in the current. You’ll often find mackerel right in the current, just off the side of it, or in the area that the current is draining into.
Birds are a great indicator of fish feeding at the surface. Baitfish often leap from the surface to avoid predators slashing at their school from below. Birds such as sea gulls take advantage of this and snatch the fleeing baitfish as they leap away from the mackerel.
This strategy is true of tracking down feeding fish anywhere. Different species of birds can even indicate different types of prey, and by extension the predatory fish chasing them. Sea gulls and terns will often grab silversides chased by mackerel, while gannets will feed on mackerel if their school is being chased by striped bass or bluefish.
While targeting mackerel may not offer the challenges of trout or bass fishing, this little pelagic fish can still offer many hours of enjoyment. It’s also a tasty fish, especially if cooked on a barbecue the same day it was caught.