I just can’t get enough of flyfishing for Moreton Bay spotted mackerel! The spotties started showing in early December and should be around until the beginning of April if this season runs true to form.
This article is the first in a two-part series on targeting mackerel a go with the long rod. This month I’ll outline the best ways to find mackerel and then how to get close enough to land a fly among them. I’ll also give you a few pointers on the best tackle for targeting these fish. Next month’s article will concentrate on tackle tactics, playing fish, and a few tricks.
Mackerel fishing provides the sort of sport that fishing programs show. It’s exiting stuff, watching the dipping flocks of terns, the mutton birds peering down to assess the state of play, and the slashing, ripping melee of mackerel ripping a bait school to bits.
Spotted mackerel are the ideal quarry for fly anglers. Sight fishing is always a big part of flyfishing enjoyment and spotties surface feed far more often than the school mackerel of late winter and spring. Seeing numerous spotty schools surface feeding from daylight into mid-morning is the norm rather than the exception.
Find a flock of birds and it will be either mackerel or tuna on the surface below them. Tuna tend to make much larger splashes, with a glistening back, tail, or entire fish broaching from time to time. Mackerel usually make much smaller surface disturbances, especially if they have rounded a hapless school of bait into a ball and are just leisurely ripping a dozen or so baitfish off the ball with each pass.
Interestingly, I’ve found that a decent bait ball with a good number of macks working it might have only two or three birds in attendance. The presence of a couple of birds consistently dipping in the one spot is definitely worth a look, as mackerel feeding in these circumstances are sitters – if you go about things the right way.
Anglers chasing macks in Moreton Bay usually look for the fish in the bluewater areas away from the influence of the shoreline chop, which tends to discolour things. That said, you can launch at virtually any ramp from Bribie Island to Cleveland or Victoria Point with a chance of finding fish in close.
If I’m launching at Cleveland or Victoria Point I usually head for the northern end of Peel Island and work over towards the Rainbow Channel to look for flocks of birds. From Wellington Point or Wynnum I usually head for the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef end of the Rous Channel for bird action, and if I’m leaving the Brisbane River I go straight out towards the eastern side of Mud Island and up to the E4 and E5 beacons south of Tangalooma.
Bribie Island is about the pick of the spots, with mackerel schools likely to show up from virtually anywhere out from Skirmish Point. Generally speaking, when launching anywhere except Bribie Island, the clue to locating feeding fish is to head north in the Bay towards cleaner water (when launching from Bribie you just head east from Skirmish Point). An incoming tide usually provides the best clean water.
The timing of an expedition can be important. Mackerel have small gullets and it doesn’t take long for these fish to fill up and go off the chew. If you launch early you’ll find that the fish are just that much more keen to feed, and that much more easy to approach with the boat.
You need to approach fish on the surface with a lot of stealth if you want to get a fly into them. The last thing you should do is roar at full throttle towards a flock of diving birds just to beat the next boat to the school of fish. If the other bloke looks as though he’s closer and is obviously heading for the fish, let him have them. That way, at least one of you will have a chance.
The idea is to approach at reduced revs, maybe just on the plane, and if you have an electric motor use it when you’re around 50m off to sneak in close enough for a shot. Otherwise, close the distance slowly at idle speed.
The other thing to remember at this point is to watch the lead birds, especially any mutton birds that are present. The birds usually know just when the bait is coming up with the mackerel under them, and if the range is right this is the time to lob in a fly.
Don’t overthrow, however, or you’ll soon find that a fish has bitten the leader through. The trick is to drop the fly just into the edge of the action and then retrieve it as quickly as possible. A fish taken on a tight line will usually be hooked just in the front of the mouth and won’t bite the fly off.
9wt or 10wt gear is about right. Some anglers use 8wt rods but this is for more expert flyfishers.
Remember that a mackerel reel with its intermediate rate sinking line must have plenty of backing to allow for the odd tuna that hooks up by accident. A fluorocarbon leader is a great asset. If the fish are gobbling flies straight down and biting them off you’ll need to switch to wire, otherwise rely on a 6-8kg tippet. We’ll go into this aspect next month, along with tactics for playing fish, tricks to induce a following fish to take the fly and other nitty gritty stuff.
1) The author with one of the first fly-caught mackerel of the 2004/2005 season.
2) A work up of bait like this one is a sure sign macks are on the job.Reads: 629