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ATTACK A MAC
  |  First Published: April 2011



After such a wet summer, autumn has brought an interesting run of spotted mackerel to Moreton Bay and nearby off shore waters. For fly anglers these fish are a lot of fun and a great challenge.

Extreme wariness is not a great trait of spotted mackerel; a fly angler can get the boat close enough for a cast and once the fly is into the melee it’s usually only seconds before the hook up occurs – that’s the fun bit! The challenge comes when the fish takes off at terrific pace putting as much distance between the boat and itself as possible. At this precise time the angler will find out if their line control and tackle handling tactics are up to scratch.

The tackle

Selecting the right fly tackle for mackerel involves working around two major issues: Firstly, casting the fly as far as possible to avoid spooking feeding fish; and, Secondly, ensuring there’s sufficient power to play a fish once it’s hooked.

Depending upon skill levels, tackle from 8-10wt is capable of fulfilling both requirements. The only issue with the lighter gear is that it might involve a prolonged fight resulting in a shark spoiling the fun. For this reason, plus the chance of a really large fish getting into the act, I opt for 10wt gear as insurance.

A reel for this task should be large enough to hold at least 150m of backing behind the fly line and have a smooth drag with sufficient power to turn a fish before it hits the end of the backing.

A clear, intermediate sink rate fly line is always my choice as the fly will stay in the strike zone for a couple of seconds and allow a fish time to notice it. Floating lines tend to throw nasty fish-scaring shadows. Leader length should stay less than that of the rod to avoid any risk of the connection knot fouling the tip runner at the wrong time.

Mackerel are renowned for biting off terminal tackle so we naturally tend to beef up final connections in order to stay connected. They also seem to feed in such a frenzy that an angler could be forgiven for thinking they would hardly notice a heavier tippet, but this is not the case at all. There are definite limits to what they will overlook, especially wire, and to increase the hook up rate use a very short section of heavier tippet, 25cm of 15kg FC100, joined to around 50cm of 8kg FC100 which is connected to 2m of 15kg line.

This leader, rough as it sounds, will turn over quite well and not prove overly long when playing a lively fish at the boat. Most times a mack that takes the fly a bit deep will only fray the 15kg FC 100 and not bite it through.

It’s wise practice to check out the leader after each fish. If worse for wear, exchange it.

hook up and beyond

Even though mackerel can feed like there’s no tomorrow, don’t be amazed if a fish merely follows a fly at a safe distance back to the boat. If this appears to be happening consistently then speed up the retrieve considerably and watch the result. The line pulls tight; the spare fly line burns the fingers before heading through the guides, and it’s game on!

Let the fish run under moderate drag pressure then, when that first run peters out, pump it back to the boat with the reflexes cocked and ready for the next run, which will occur as soon as the fish sees the boat and your big grin.

Two runs are what it’s mainly about and the fish will then be ready for the landing net or gaff.

Pimp the fly

Nearly any small baitfish pattern will interest mackerel; from Clousers to Crazy Charlies, to Surf Candy or Glass Minnow style flies, but there are tricks to this trade. My experience is that a fly with plenty of shine about it in size 1/0 or 2/0 will be accepted most times.

To avoid bite offs from the outset, the fly can be tied on a long shanked hook. Tie most material at the rear of the hook (starting just forward of the bend) extending to the rear to give it plenty of action but at the same time leaving a fair bit of the shank up front for the fish to chew on.

This tactic alone will prevent quite a deal of bite offs and is something I always employ when fly fishing for mackerel.

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