THERE’S a variety of mackerel species, including school, spotted and Spanish mackerel, available to Queensland fly anglers. They all have triangular-shaped teeth that mesh with the accuracy of a Formula One gearbox, and they can bite through mono traces with as little effort as your wife saying ‘no’ to a new fly rod purchase! Their spear-like shape is perfectly designed for speed, be it for chasing smaller fish or trying to escape from a fly wedged in the hinge of their mouth. Spotted and school mackerel are encountered in large schools like packs of ferocious wolves, while the large Spanish mackerels tend to hunt in small packs.
Mackerel are exciting to capture on fly – or any type of tackle – as they greedily attack any small fish-shaped artificial. The fly pattern best suited to the task is the Surf Candy, as its epoxy body resists the onslaught of those can-opener like teeth. Other fly patterns that induce strikes (but can become reduced to a nearly bare hook after a few hits) are the Lefty’s Deceiver, Joe Brooks Blond, Glass Minnow and Clouser Deep Minnow.
If you’re concerned about losing flies I recommend that you attach them to the leader with a 58lb breaking strain single-strand wire trace about 100-150mm long. Haywire twist the fly to one end of the trace and use a similar connection procedure to attach a 38lb swivel to the leader end. The wire trace should save a few hours in your fly tying room.
For spotted and school mackerel, a 7wt to 9wt outfit should have all participants enjoying their adventure, and for Spanish mackerel a 12wt to 14wt outfit should do the job. Fast-sink shooting head fly lines have a part to play, as do intermediate fly lines matched to the outfit. When using an intermediate or shooting head fly line it’s best to select a line weight that’s one or two weights higher than the rod. This will help load the rod for a quick and sometimes lengthy cast. Of course, check with the rod manufacturer first to ascertain if the rod can handle the overweight line so you don’t void your warranty.
Mackerel start showing up in south-east Queensland in the warmer months, coming into Moreton Bay and other inshore waters to feed on baitfish schools. The mackerel use the contour of the ocean floor like a jackeroo uses a fence to muster cattle, driving the bait school from deep water towards a sand shoal. The bait fish are forced to follow the sand up to the surface, where the mackerel circle around the bait ball and gorge themselves. You can see this feeding frenzy from some distance away, with the assistance of birds hovering overhead and diving into the bait school for an easy meal.
When you approach a baitfish school being slashed by mackerel in about a metre of water, cut the engine and let the momentum glide the boat into an upcurrent position about 10-15m from the action. If the wind is slight the boat should be behind the bait ball and drifting with it at the same speed. This should give you plenty of time to land quite a few fish before the mackerel get spooked or the bait ball breaks up.
Cast your fly so that it lands about a metre past the bait ball. Let the fly sink to a depth of about half a metre, then start a medium speed retrieve through the bait ball. If everything goes well the fly will be attacked before it’s more than one metre from the bait ball. When the fly is hit, pull back on the fly line with your stripping hand to set the hook. This is the most awkward time – on one end of your line you has a cranky mackerel ready to hurtle off at great speed and at your feet you have 10m of fly line ready to tangle on everything. This is the time to stay cool and look down to make sure the line isn’t underfoot or looped around the gaff handle. Once you’ve cleared the fly line you can fight the fish off the reel. A 4kg spotted mackerel in full flight will make a fly reel spin like the blades on a Southern Cross windmill in a 40-knot gale! Very exciting and intimidating for even the most experienced fly angler.
A 3kg spotted mackerel can strip one hundred metres of backing from a fly reel in seconds on the first run before it tires. The angler can recover most of the lost line before the Mackerel gets its second wind and shoots off again. Two or three good runs is what an angler can expect from most spotted and school mackerel, but when it comes to a 25kg Spanish mackerel, my advice is this: good luck! You’ll need it!
So if you’re looking for some fast action this summer and you have access to a seaworthy craft, stop dreaming about bonefish and land a few macks instead. – Robert and Melody Jarvis
1) Robert Jarvis with a strong pulling Moreton Bay spotted mackerel.Reads: 669