Mackerel on Fly
  |  First Published: February 2007

Anglers looking for some fun with the fly rod in Moreton Bay won’t have to go too far to find mackerel. All you really need is bait, and my Lowrance sounder has been showing huge numbers of baitfish in the Bay. I’m going to stick my neck out and predict some great mackerel fishing for the next couple of months.


Mackerel are rated as gamefish thanks to their super fast speeds. Anglers chasing mackerel often report good by-catches of cobia and tuna. At times – particularly around Tangalooma, Comboyuro and Amity/Rainbow Channel area – some larger Spanish mackerel join their spotted cousins so it pays to err on the heavy side when setting up gear.

I’d suggest a 9 or 10 weight outfit mated to a reel that has a reliably smooth drag plus good line capacity (300m of 50lb braid) plus a weight forward line. This outfit should provide keen anglers with a real chance of taking these feisty speedsters.

Rods: pay more, get more

Premium rods will provide the goods. Casting from a moving boat is different from casting in the park so if you can afford the best, the results will follow. Take the G.Loomis 9’ 9 weight Native Run GLX for instance. I used one recently on mackerel - the fish being really hammered by other anglers at the time - with great success. It’s effortless casting ability and great reserves of power allowed me to easily reach touchy fish and then play them to a standstill in record time. The Native Run is one of the finest fly rod that I have ever used. Perhaps it just suits my particular casting style but these rods, with their roots in North American salmon fisheries, are designed for repetitive casting.

Intermediate fly line ideal

Intermediate sink rate, clear, fly lines are the go as macks have very good eyesight and are quite shy of any line, especially a fly line that’s floating on the surface. When testing the G.Loomis Native Run rod I spooled up a Rio Saltwater Tropical Intermediate green/clear tip line and put it to the test as well. These are very slick fly lines that cast well even in the hands of novices. The clear tip section of the Rio Saltwater Tropical fly line extends for 3m, which is enough to fool the fish, as the green section is almost clear anyway. These fly lines come with already formed loops at either end on which to attach both backing and leader.

A rod’s length leader is fine. I start off with a 1.5m of 60lb leader material such as Siglon, Penn 10X or Jinkai connected to the fly line with 1m of 50lb Ten X or fluorocarbon as the next section onto which a final tip of fluoro (I use 38lb Siglon) is attached. Some macks will bite the fly off, most don’t.

Wire: yes or no?

It makes sense to avoid bite offs with fine wire but one of the few brands that mackerel can’t see is Tyger. Tyger leader material is great but all it takes to wreck a lovingly set up wire trace is one fish.

Your alternative is to use a fluorocarbon trace and put up with some bite offs. I cut back to 38lb Sunline Siglon and caught most but still lost but a few. I suggest buying some 50lb Penn 10X and tying flies directly to it. If the fish are still wary, try changing to 40lb Penn or 38lb Sunline. I also tie some of my flies half way back along a long shank size 1/0 hook. The flies might look a bit odd but the number of bite offs will decrease.

Bait sized flies

Last month a spectacular mackerel bite took place in the Rainbow Channel, near Myora. Mackerel would bust out everywhere, boating anglers homing in like torpedoes as the terns dived and the macks slashed the surface. Sadly, most anglers failed to hook up, as their metal lures were too large.

Small 3cm flies were popular if they landed in the area where fish were, or had just been, working. That’s one of the secrets of taking mackerel on the fly. If the birds lift and the fish seem to switch off, don’t just assume it’s all over. Mackerel will hang around a bit deeper in the water column if the bait is still present. Suddenly an olive green torpedo will burst through the bait school and if the fly is there, being stripped quickly back, the result will be a terrific wrench on the rod and a hook up.

Choice of flies is not hard: if it looks like a tiny baitfish it should bring results.

Find ‘em, catch ‘em

Often the hardest thing to do is find the fish. Being on the water early is a big help, and watching the terns as they fly suddenly in the one direction often reveals a surface feeding frenzy. Mackerel often target bait balls and so reduce your engine revs and coast in at idle.

Other anglers

As fly anglers we can’t expect to have the fish all to ourselves but we do need to get closer to a school of working fish than our slug throwing mates. Rather than throw a hissy fit because others are rushing at the fish you want to have a crack at, it’s better to sit back a bit and watch the surface activity and assess which direction the fish are going. Once the pattern emerges carefully position the boat ahead of the pack so that when the next burst of surface activity takes place your boat is more favourably placed than others. Works for me…

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