IT WAS a long time coming but the Beattie Government’s decision to ban ring netting of spotted mackerel has already proven a winner for amateur anglers. In recent months Moreton Bay, particularly the area north of the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef and towards Shark Spit on Moreton Island, has been fairly jumping with these feisty fish. What a refreshing change it is to see such great eating sportfish there for us to enjoy instead of seeing them thrashing in nets.
I can recall previous years when the fish would show briefly in early December and then be virtually wiped out by January; a sad state of affairs indeed. Then, with only a few extremely nervous stragglers surviving the carnage, taking mackerel for the table was almost exclusively the precinct of the spin angler. The fish were so wary that getting close enough for a shot with the fly was almost impossible.
How different it is now! The fish numbers this year have increased so noticeably that fly anglers are right in there with just as much opportunity as their mates tossing spinners. And don’t think all that chopping and splashing in the Bay is mackerel – there some great northern blue (longtail) tuna with them as well.
The great thing about spotties is that they love to feed on the surface, which makes them ideal for the fly angler as a sporting proposition. I'm a real fan of mackerel on the fly rod and it's a pleasure to be able to share some ideas on how to stay connected to these rockets of the sea.
With the success rate on recent trips being virtually assured – sometimes six or more schools of fish have been on offer – I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try out new ideas, plus really give a heavy-duty fly rod suited to mackerel (and tuna) a thorough workout as well. We'll look at this a little later in the article.
First and foremost, to take mackerel on fly you need the right gear in the boat. Sure, really experienced fishos can play with them on 8wt tackle but the sheer strength and hook-up impact of these fish virtually demands a 10wt rod. Besides, there are some awfully large tuna sometimes feeding with the macks and even a 10wt outfit will be found lacking in stopping power if one of these heavyweight brawlers takes a fancy to a fly. So we need a 10wt rod, a 10wt fly line and a reel with lots of room for backing.
We'll look at the reel first. I recommend wide, large arbour reels such as the Snowbee 910 or others of a similar size, simply because 300m of 50lb Bionic Braid plus a 10wt fly line is a lot for a reel to swallow in one gulp. Rest assured though, it may well all be needed. Some of those tuna are obviously in the 12kg+ class!
I've messed about with a few different sorts of fly line but it's hard to go past the Scientific Anglers Striped Bass Tropicore as the cream of the crop. These clear lines with their ultra-slick finish and tropical quality inner core can stand up to the most demanding fishing, in even the hottest weather, without losing that desirable degree of stiffness that allows them to carry a fly to the maximum distance. Intermediate sink is the one to use because, with a sink rate of 3cm to 5cm per second, it allows the fly to sink just below the surface before you start the fast strip (quick as you can!) retrieve. Remember, wash the line after each outing and check the tapered section for nicks and abrasions from mackerel teeth.
A braided loop should be used to connect the fly line to both the backing and leader. Most tackle stores that sell fly line will set up a couple of braided loops on the line as well. They are not hard to do, at any rate, and add to the enjoyment of messing about with tackle. For a leader I set up around 1.5m of 40lb Jinkai on the loop at fly line end and add another metre of 9.5kg Siglon Sinking fluorocarbon line to the Jinkai. Next comes the wire (leave it off if you’re chasing tuna), which should be kept short. I use around 6-8cm of wire (20lb) with a tiny black swivel connecting wire and leader. Alternatively, an Albright connection between wire and Siglon, with a drop of super glue on the knot, can be just as good. My advice is to test the Allbright thoroughly before trusting it. A simple figure eight knot in the wire will connect the fly with complete peace of mind.
SWhich fly to use? I’ve seen some neat flies which worked well last summer rejected this season. Thinking that the bit of wire was the problem I have even tried presenting flies minus wire, but the rejection rate was much the same. On some days the fish can difficult, but if you have a selection of small Clouser or Deceiver style flies (not longer than 10cm) tied on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks and in colours from overall bright silver to silver with dark green on top, you’re in with a chance.
Choosing the right rod is very important. It must cast easily for extended periods and have enough reserve power to keep you in control, especially – and this is vital – when a mackerel is near the boat for tailing or the gaff. If a mishap is likely that's the danger zone.
I gave full marks to the G.Loomis Cross Current GLX four-piece 10wt I reviewed last year but lately we’ve had the chance to put a 'standard' G.Loomis Cross Current 10wt to work. It certainly worked on the mackerel. Overall standard of finish is virtually equal to (but less elaborate than) the deluxe GLX and having used the rod for some time now I can confidently say that the three-piece 9'9" Cross Current in standard specs would suit the most discerning of saltwater anglers. It’s also cheaper than the GLX.
The rod still has that characteristic Cross Current feeling of lightness and the inherent reserves of power are certainly there as well. And like the Cross Current GLX four-piece the standard rod has a very stiff butt section (to aid control of big fish) mated to a softer tip section for casting ease. In practical terms the rod has enough flexibility to withstand a big hit from a fish yet can provide confident control as well. This was amply demonstrated when, with fish chopping virtually all around the boat, a couple of very sneaky mackerel hit my fly when it had been retrieved almost to the point of being lifted out for the next cast. To quote the Croc Hunter: “Crikey!”
At the time it was quite unnerving – almost frightening – as the rampaging fish blindsided me by tearing out from under the hull without any warning to hit like freight trains. It was only the power and flexibility of the Cross Current 10wt that prevented these blindside attacks from either ripping the rod off me or at least removing a fly.
Once Mr Mack was out away from the boat and I'd gained some composure and a measure of control, things were different. However, for those first couple of seconds mayhem reigned – hence my earlier comments about overly light tackle. You can’t play around with mackerel because sometimes it's the largest fish in the school that grabs the fly without warning.
So make the best of the fishing while it's there. Quality has been pretty good with most fish taken being around 3.5-4kg. And think of this: if the fishing is of this standard so early after the ring netting closure, what lies ahead? 12wt rods and 30lb Siglon for next year, maybe.
1) Scott Kampe used a G.Loomis Cross Current 10wt rod to take this fat Moreton Bay spotty.Reads: 932