Mack time in Mack Town
  |  First Published: November 2011

At the moment, Mackay harbour could more correctly be named mackerel central, as there are macks everywhere in the best run we have had for a few years.

Greys, spotties, doggies and Spaniards seem to be all over the place, and the key element making this all happen is the calm northerly, which bring large schools of herring and small hardiheads right in close to the shore break. It is actually possible to cast from the beach and catch small macks which is pretty good stuff.

Best part is that the macks are not alone as there are plenty of tuna, both macks and longtails, mixed in with them as well as the odd smattering of trevally and cobia. Throw in a few sharks and barracuda and the close inshore fishing gets to be pretty exciting.

Sure the weather is hot and the first storm build ups are happening, but it is just magic to be on the early in the morning with little ruffle to the surface, birds wheeling and diving and fish smashing into bait all around. If that doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping then nothing will.

To make the most of the northerlies, head out early and back by mid to late morning before the winds pick up.

The macks and tuna will respond to many approaches from simply drifting a pilchard to flyfishing. Pilchard drifting is probably one of the easiest ways to nab a fish or two, but a little care in the presentation will get some better results. Berley will also assist in bringing bait and the macks close to you.

Pilchards are best in the IQF style as they seem to be in better shape than those frozen in blocks. Macks can sometimes be pretty fussy, so I like to cut the tail off when using the traditional gang hook rig as this tends to reduce spinning in the current and also sets up a mini berley trail.

When drifting, most anglers do not use weight, but I like to use a very small pea sinker right on the nose to help the bait sink a bit. Remember while macks feed on the surface and are very visible, there will be far more fish down a few metres in the shallower waters around the harbour.

Trolling pilchards is also quite popular, but they can be a pain to get to swim straight, and again a small weight will help. Trolling is a great way of covering the water to locate fish, and using a variety of lures is the most effective method.

Metal Toby type lures are a favourite and can be trolled with small minnows, plastic squid over a sinker and any number trendy soft plastics. Given the razor sharp teeth of all these fish though, the soft plastics don’t last too long and it is basically one fish ruins the lure unless you are very lucky. There is no denying their effectiveness though.

I prefer Toby styles, and I still have a couple of the originals in my tackle box, and I combine these with small minnows in both shallow and deep versions. Any well made barra style minnow will work on macks and tuna, so stick to the Aussie made ones with strong hooks and rings. Many of the imported lures will work fine, but it is a pain to pay $15 or $20 for a lure then have to change hooks and rings.

Look for the popular names like Reidy’s, Halcos and Koolabungs and they won’t let you down. The smaller sizes up to about 100mm length seem to work well, and when set in a pattern you can cover quite a section of the water column.

Another lure fishing style becoming more popular is jigging with either metal or soft plastics, but this usually needs deeper water of about 15m or more to be really effective. Plenty of macks and tuna will be found in this deeper water and will respond to jigs worked right through the water column.

Dave Fraser found some good Spaniards around the 10kg mark recently in about 100ft of water that responded well to heavy jigs. He still has a number of the old Grim Reaper jigs and they still work just as well as ever. There are plenty of varieties of heavy jigs on the market and good solid heavy jig heads with substantial hooks for the softie brigade. Jigging in deeper water turns up all sorts of different fish, including small snapper, trout, grunter, cod and others so don’t be surprised what comes up next.

Back in the shallow water near the harbour, I like to use my electric outboard to sneak up on feeding fish and cast either metal lures or jigs with plastic tails to the fish. I also use some 1/2oz bullet type jig heads that I have dressed with a little fly tying materials, which are also effective.

Using a good spin rod with a fairly light tip means that these lures can be cast a good distance and the macks are heaps of fun on the relatively light gear. This is much more fun than dragging around a heavy spoon on venetian cord line.

I am yet to catch a mack on fly but this could be the year! My problem is casting distance, but using the electric and casting into the wind, hopefully I will able to get close enough with the 10 weight to have a crack at them. Wayne Kampe has shown me how to tie small flies well back on the shank of the hook to minimise bite offs, and I am keen to nab my first mack.

With the close of the barra season, most of us will be chasing the macks while they are around and when looked after well, mackerel can be top class food. Macks should be killed straight away with a donger or brain spiked. Then immediately cut their throat and bleed them really well. There will be plenty of blood too, so make sure you have done this really well.

Next wipe the skin down to remove the slime and for preference gill and gut the fish. Then pack it in ice with some in the gut cavity, and don’t just lay it on top of ice in the esky. The idea is to bring the body temperature down as quickly as possible. If you have spent half a morning chasing macks all over the ocean, it makes sense to treat it properly and ensure you have top quality fish to bring home.

Generally I fillet my smaller macks. They are a really easy and quick fish to dress out into fillets, and the skin can be removed easily too. Cut out any of the bloodline, and you will be left with first class fish that can be prepared plenty of ways. Macks are good dipped in flour and or breadcrumbs and fried, steamed, grilled, smoked or cooked on the BBQ.While I have concentrated on macks this month there is plenty of other action about with the estuaries and creeks really firing up with whiting bream and flatties aplenty. Throw in jacks, cod, fingermark, grunter and a few odd bods like queenies and trevally and there is plenty of variety for the anglers.

In the fresh of course our three stocked dams have some huge barra waiting to smash your lure and the sooties are ever ready for a tussle in among the snags.

So there is plenty on offer during November in Mackay, so see you at the ramp.

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