While there’s no such thing as a sure thing in fishing, high-speed spinning has always been an excellent way to target the smaller mackerel species. In this article I’ll outlines some simple tips that might help to swing the odds in your favour.
So, is high-speed spinning the easiest form of lure fishing? All you have to do is cast your lure out as far as possible and crank it back as fast as possible, right?
The answer is both yes and no. In its simplest form, high-speed spinning can be little more than mindless casting and cranking, yet still be highly effective. However, when the fish play hard-to-get (which happens fairly often), a little thought and trying different approaches can be the difference between catching a few and missing out completely.
Before getting into the little things you can do to turn the odds in your favour, it’s worth outlining the sort of species you might use them on. Here on the Queensland coast, the number one targets for high-speed spinning are the smaller mackerel species. Schoolies and spotties all frequent inshore areas and will often swim in quite shallow water, as long as it is relatively clear. As a result, they become available to land-based anglers and the small boat brigade, which certainly takes in a lot of fishers in the southern half of the state.
Typically, these mini mackerels range from 1-10kg, which means they are easily targeted on light tackle. Of course, you will occasionally encounter the much larger narrow-barred or Spanish mackerel while chasing their smaller cousins. This is either a much welcome bonus or a good excuse to re-rig and get some more knot tying practice, depending on how prepared you were.
You will probably also encounter various members of the tuna family. The same tactics outlined here will work with tuna, but generally aren’t required. In most cases, tuna will jump all over a straight, fast retrieve, provided the lure is a similar size to the bait they are feeding on, is moving fast enough and is placed in front of the fish.
Metal lures will also tempt tailor, trevally, tarpon, and queenfish, just to name a few. When you throw in long odds captures like pike, barracuda and even flathead, you never know what you might hook next. And don’t laugh about flathead on high-speed spinning gear. I’ve seen snapper and even blackfish grab a lure left to sink to the bottom before being retrieved at high speed.
As we are primarily targeting toothy species like mackerel and tailor, the first thing we can do to improve our success rate is to use a length of bite proof material at the business end of the rig. The trusty nylon-coated wire trace is the usual answer for most people, being cheap and convenient. However these days there are other alternatives.
I have tested two new types of metal trace materials from Shipton Trading recently and despite the extra cost, have found they offer some worthwhile advantages.
The first is called Graphite Metal Tresse and is basically a braided line which has metal fibres woven in with the braid. The result is a very soft and flexible braided trace line, which can virtually be knotted like mono. The second trace material is called Metal Line and is similar to the more traditional steel trace, except that it is constructed from ultra-fine micro strands and has no plastic coating. Therefore, it is extremely thin and flexible.
These materials are a little bit specialised and are not always easy to find, but your local tackle store should be able to get them in for you if they don’t already stock them. Unfortunately, they are more expensive than the pre-packaged traces, but if you are looking for increased performance, then this is the price you have to pay.
Both of these materials can be substituted for heavy mono or normal plastic coated wire traces. They provide a comparable level of security to wire, but both are significantly more flexible and user-friendly, as well as being much less noticeable when rigged. I’ve found both materials do a reasonable job of standing up to the dental equipment of the smaller mackerel species. The trade-off is that they can’t really provide the same level of security of as a heavy-duty wire trace on big Spanish mackerel but that’s the chance you take.
I feel they are still well worth using because they allow the lure to behave in a much more life-like manner on the drop. This is a highly desirable feature, as we are about to discover.
Sometimes, the best retrieve for mackerel is no retrieve at all!
As silly as it sounds, it is possible for the most productive part of a high-speed retrieve to be the point when the angler stops winding and simply lets the lure sink.
Often, a fish that has been attracted by a fast retrieve but hasn’t struck will grab the lure if it is allowed to tumble towards the bottom. The problem is that slim, cigar-shaped lures, which are ideal for high-speed spinning, aren’t always the best choice for this type of approach. Generally, flat-sided, angular shapes produce the best ‘flutter and flash’ on the drop, and that’s what gets them bitten.
There are plenty of local and overseas metal lures to choose from these days and while most of them can catch fish on a straight retrieve, three particular models have stood out as the most productive when used this way – Halco Twisties, Spanyid Raiders and Maniacs.
These lures can be retrieved at a fair pace without planing to the surface too quickly, and when allowed to sink on a slack line, will flutter from side to side and send out plenty of fish-attracting flash.
When it comes to deciding exactly which model to tie on, the decision is usually based on how windy it is, how deep the water is and how strong the current is likely to be. Twisties are quite heavy for their length, and this makes them a great choice for windy conditions and deep water or strong currents. Raiders and Maniacs on the other hand are better suited to shallower situations and calmer conditions. The lightweight Maniacs in particular are ideal in really calm conditions when casting distance is not restricted, or during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk when their wide, flat sides allow every bit of available light to be reflected.
Lure size should be in keeping with the smaller size of the target species. Most of the lures that have worked for me range from 40-70g for Twisties and Raiders and 20g for the lighter built Maniacs.
Once the lure is all sorted out, the next thing to do is give it a chance to do its best work. After casting out, it’s generally a good idea to let your lure sink on a controlled amount of slack line. Depending on the terrain, let it sink either a couple of metres or right to the bottom. At the very least, let it get down far enough for the lure to spend as much of the retrieve as possible beneath the water’s surface.
Once the lure has sunk to the desired depth, start a high-speed retrieve until you see it about to come to the top. At this point, freespool the lure, and let it sink again. Often a fish that has been following the lure will inhale it as it sinks.
If nothing happens as the lure sinks, start cranking it in again until it is almost back to your feet. It’s a good idea to let the lure freefall again just as you are about to lift it out of the water. Even if you don’t notice anything following your lure, you will be amazed at how often the fish will grab it virtually under your rod tip.
While it might seem like a bit more trouble then mindless casting and cranking, putting those couple of freefalls into the retrieve gives you a far greater chance of getting a strike. In fact, I find that the majority of my strikes occur while the lure is sinking, rather then being retrieved.
At the very least, this often translates into a couple of extra fish per trip, and sometimes the only fish of the trip. So, if you’d like to swing the high-speed spinning odds in your favour, have a flutter and see if you have backed a favourite.
Even the best lures can still be tweaked to make them more user-friendly. A lot of the mackerel will be close to or just under the legal size limits and need to be released. There is no point letting fish go if they are going to die afterwards as a result of hook damage or prolonged handling.
I swap the treble hooks on my mackerel lures for a short shank, wide gape single. The single hook point is easier to remove and does less damage than a treble. Admittedly, there is a trade-off in terms of missed strikes, but I believe it is well worth the change.
Another worthwhile modification is the addition of a small black swivel on the front spit ring. Your lure shouldn’t spin as it is wound in (get rid of it if it does), but line twist can still develop as the lure is fluttering to the bottom or as it tumbles along by the current.