Mackerel season is upon us
  |  First Published: June 2015

The hot summer weather has been relentless, and apparently broke plenty of records going by historical weather data, but the change of season has finally arrived. Water temps are quickly on the decrease now, and as is always the case with the cooler weather, the waters are clearing nicely as the wind recedes a bit.

Over the last few weeks the wolf herring and other bait have been getting thicker and the Spanish specialists are preparing the gear for what's expected to be a cracker mackerel season. Consequently, we've loaded up the bait freezers at Akwa Marine with wolfies ranging from 30cm to over 70cm long. Making your own wolfie rigs can be a little daunting and time consuming for some people, but there are a few ways of doing it. The main thing to remember is that they have to swim straight. Each angler has a preference for bait size, and the guys chasing mammoth macks tend to go for the big wolfies, which can be a bit sketchy to eat considering the ciguatera threat, but the guys chasing the table sized fish love the smaller baits.

Speeds at which to troll them is also variable, but most times slow is the go, and just in idle is most common. To get a wolfie to swim at speed can sometimes be almost impossible. Of course, the number 1 lure for Spanish in the north is the good old Laser Pro 190. This is as complicated as I get when chasing them, but the full-on, hard-core Spanish specialists either go for the wolfies or swimming gar. The latter are often rigged on a chin rig, with two 8/0 or 9/0s to get them under the surface a bit.

Then there is the skipping gar, which is usually rigged with a rubber squid over the nose of the spring to add colour, contrast, and a little extra movement on the surface and conceal the deception of hooks and wire.

Downrigging gar is now becoming a full-on pursuit, and those who put in the effort most times reap the most reward. With a couple of people on board to spread the workload, a combination of baits can be trolled together, with say, a down-rigged gar underneath a couple of Laser Pros or skipping gar.

I know that Terry is always busy in the store at this time of year, showing newcomers to the Spanish pursuit rigging techniques and answering questions on the best speeds and locations, so milk him for all he's worth if you come in to Akwa.

If you don't have a downrigger and the fish are deep, it's often very effective to anticipate your bait’s distance behind the boat, and then knock the engine into neutral as you pass over deep fish on the sounder. Depending on how much line you have out, you may have to feed another 10 or so metres of line out to reach them. This allows the wolfie or gar to swim its way down to the macks, and as you hit the bottom, or when you anticipate the baits to be close to the Spanish, simply put the motor into gear and idle off, swimming the baits back towards the surface. If fishing a wreck, then the latter is recommended. Spanish can be in really thick schools, and once 1 starts the chase on a bait, the rest often follow suit and double hookups can be the result.

There have been a couple of billfish sightings and hookups already, so putting a billy lure out the back could be worth the effort. From what I gather it's really been a strange season offshore, and the mackerel never really left. Numbers should get thick in the near future, so being prepared is the key, with a quick action plan ready for when the chance arrives.

Bottom fishing

There's has been some terrific catches of late for anglers chasing fish on the reefs and shoals, but the damn sharks sometimes claim the majority of fish hooked. A move to a new location just seems to find hungrier sharks. Our recent trip to Chicken Reef on board with the 3 amigos, Stevo, Ray and Chris, met with the same problem, and more fish were lost than landed to a range of shark species. Heavy outfits are the only way to go here, and even with 80lb braid and a 120lb wind on fished over a 100lb Venom rod, I still couldn't beat the bastards when fishing for reds at night. Sadly, it's the bigger fish that get monstered, as they take the longest to get to the boat, and offer the sharks the greatest opportunity to take them out.

If you do employ the heavy gear tactic, make sure your hooks can handle the load, as straightening a hook close to the boat on a battle all but won in sharky conditions is very disappointing. I use only 8/0-10/0 Gamakatsu suicides or octopus patterns these days. Even though many anglers, including myself, endorse the circle style of hook with strip baits, sometimes I find my hookup ratio sucks in comparison to the suicide, particularly if they are smash-and-grab style bites.

Venting with a hypodermic needle will also increase the survival rate of unwanted or undersized fish. There are plenty of videos on how to perform this simple procedure on YouTube, and will save me the space here explaining it. You can feel the pressure decrease in your hand when done correctly, and they bolt straight for the bottom when released.

Dropping plastics or big whiptail jigs to the bottom and working them close to the hard stuff can be rewarding, but the GTs, Chinamen and red bass often dominate the hookups. While fun for the first couple of fish, it can be a bit annoying if you’re after a feed. For depths of over 30m, heavy jigheads or Elevator Heads stay in contact with the bottom easier, and all sorts of species will grab a well-presented plastic down deep, but the outfit you use needs to be up to the task.

On a recent trip I trialled a Samurai 30-60lb jig rod, and was stoked with its performance. I was using a reel spooled with 50lb braid and while the rod was short, it did make it easy to stay in contact with and work the heavy heads without the tip collapsing. If bitten at the top end a jigging sequence, it still had the guts to set the hook.

Setting the hook with shorter rods takes 2 or 3 short, quick pump and winds to take the slack out of the line, but keeping the fish’s head pointing in the right direction can be easier with a short, powerful rod. Up and down fighting requires low rod angles to be effective and deliver the most power, and a 'high sticked' rod can often end in tears if the sting hasn't been taken out of a good fish before the journey to the top. So remember to keep that rod down a bit in the initial stages of a fight after the hooks have been set properly.

Close in

There have been plenty of fish available for anyone wishing to lob a bait from the shore, or flick the flats when it's calm, but just be aware of the crocs that have been showing up on beaches and river mouths, so don't take any risks.

Some nice golden trevally and queenies have been hitting the lures and baits, salmon have been coming through in small schools, while the barra have been smashing live gar and mullet. Early morning is the best time to have a go with a lure for the barra and with the water temperature dropping, smaller lures have been the secret.

I heard a couple of rumours of mackerel from the rock pool platform the other day, and while it’s a little earlier than expected, it's a fairly common occurrence in winter. Having a chrome slice like a Halco Twisty at the ready for an extra long cast if they do come in is recommended. If the wind is right, a pillie under a float heading for the island can pay off as well. Not too many people up north use the longer rods, but when a long cast is needed to reach distant fish, the extra length helps.

Up in less than a foot of water, whiting have been in big numbers, and I watched 3 boats the other day pulling plenty from the shallows. They were all lined up casting on the bottom of the tide, and there seemed to be some crackers amongst them. Flicking flattie lures around the dropoffs adjacent to the sandflats should secure a feed also, and always be ready for an unexpected bigger fish cruising the flats, feeding on the whiting and mullet.

I don't believe in giving specific locations, as many of the river mouths have the same characteristics with the mud or sand flats. I prefer to give a starting point for narrowing the search and informing people on what's moving, and then they can check out their favourite spots.

Make the best of the cool change, be ready for the unexpected at this time of year, and you should at least be able to catch a feed, but most importantly, enjoy a day on the water.

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