Smack a mack on fly (Part 2)
  |  First Published: March 2005

In last month’s issue I discussed some of the nitty-gritty involved in finding, approaching and getting a shot at Moreton Bay’s great spotted mackerel.

Conditions lately haven't been as kind as they could have been, but the run of fish has been quite good during those windows of good weather.

Approaching Fish

Mackerel aren’t as shy as tuna, but they’re still a bit touchy. An angler set up with a four-stroke outboard or one of the new direct-injection ultra-quiet two-strokes definitely has an advantage over other boaters when it comes to making a stealthy approach. I have idled straight into a school of mackerel with the 90 E-Tec on slow revs and the fish have fed right under the bow and back past the transom. It couldn’t be easier.

If you don’t have an E-Tec or four-stroke outboard, you can opt to use an electric motor to sneak the boat in close. However, although this works fine in calm conditions, wind and wave action can drastically reduce the effectiveness of these units. In this situation, the fish will probably have stopped feeding by the time you get within casting range.

Before you approach a school you need to be able to assess just how actively the fish are feeding. If the school of fish is covered by hovering terns fluttering just above the water and there are quite a few mutton birds running on the water and ducking down, odds are that the macks have a bait ball worked up. This situation is about as good as it gets. The fish can be approached fairly easily, provided you slow the boat to the point where the hull doesn’t make anyslapping sounds as you move within casting range.

When you’re driving towards the school, look closely at the bait ball to make sure it’s not coming towards the boat. If it is, this will put the macks off quick smart.


Once you’re within range, cast towards the very outer edge of the school of feeding fish. There are a couple of different techniques to employ at this point.

The first one is to start a super-fast retrieve as soon as the fly hits the water. If a fish shows interest, retrieve the fly even more quickly if possible. This should trigger a strike.

The other tactic is to let the fly sink right down on a tight line. This method often secures a hook-up from larger fish than the ones you can see up on the surface. A tuna might get in on the action as well, something which happened to me last month.

Once you feel that sudden yank on the line, you must allow the fish to run or something will break between fly and fly line. Ideally, the fly line should be connected to 20kg leader of around 2m in length, with a tippet of 10kg or less attached to the fly. This year I’ve been using half a metre of 7kg Siglon tippet for my mackerel fishing. I’ve have been happy with the hook-up rate, but if this is your first foray after macks on fly I recommend that you opt for a heavier tippet. Mackerel can really lay it on, that’s for sure.

Terminal topics

Fly size can be important. Mackerel, like tuna, often selectively feed on baitfish of a specific size. You need to work out the size of the baitfish on the day, and about the only way to do this is to sneak in very close and look carefully at what is jumping, skipping or being pushed into a surface-protruding ball. Then all you have to do is select a fly of a similar size.

The question of whether to use a wire trace isn’t easy to answer. Most times I have a few throws without wire to see what my chances are of staying connected to a mackerel. There is no doubt that mackerel detect wire and will shy off a fly if the trace is too obvious. The downside to not using wire is that sometimes macks will grab the fly the instant it lands, not giving you enough time to take up the slack, and the fish swallow the fly right down and bite off the leader. If this happens to you, it’s time to switch to wire.

This year, in those situations when I’ve needed to use wire, I have been using the trusty Tyger leader material. This stuff is brilliant and comes in colours of nickel, black, bronze, and in breaking strains from (for the mackerel fisho) 10lb (4.5kg) to 30lb (15kg). Tyger leader wire is fine for a given breaking strain, it ties well with a two-turn clinch knot and is kink-resistant as well. It’s also nylon coated, which means that fish won’t detect it as easily as plain braided wire.

A hint: don’t use much wire. Around 10cm is plenty, and use the smallest possible top quality black swivel to connect the wire to the leader.

Keeping a feed

Caring for mackerel intended for the table is not a hard task, it just takes a bit of preparation before the trip. Most anglers give the mackerel a belt on the head to stun them before removing the fly. That’s fine, helps subdue the fish and makes things a lot safer. However, once the hook is out don’t put the fish straight in the ice as the flesh can turn mushy. Put him in a tub of water for five minutes until all kicking has stopped and only then place it in the ice box. This way the flesh will firm up a lot better after icing down.


The trouble with birds

Mutton birds will grab your fly if you give them the opportunity, but de-hooking these protected birds can be a bit painful – for you, not the bird. Mutton birds, which dig burrows on Bass Strait islands to nest in, have claws like a feral cat, and they’ll gladly scratch any part of you they can reach as you hurriedly try to get the fly back to have another cast at the fish.

So forget the loud splashing of the fish. Grab a rag and cover the bird’s head and it will settle down fairly well so you can extract the fly. Barbless hooks also help with releasing fish as well as greedy mutton birds.


‘Matching the hatch’ is the clue to catching mackerel, which can be as selective as tuna. Note the quite small amount of wire used on the author’s flies.

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