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Rous up a schoolie
  |  First Published: September 2004



SEPTEMBER is a prime month to target school mackerel in the Rous Channel. They are regularly caught in good numbers, which is evident by the number of commercial operators who sometimes line fish in this area. If you see boats trolling in the Rous which have yellow backgrounds behind their registration numbers, you can rest assured that the school mackerel are on the chew.

Last November I wrote an article for QFM about targeting school mackerel with spoons trolled behind paravanes. This however, is just one of the successful methods of targeting mackerel, the other is by drifting with baits such as pilchards.

A DOGGIE’S HOME

School, or doggie mackerel as they are more commonly known further north, are ravenous eaters who will often attack anything that looks remotely like a baitfish. Like most species of fish, they switch on and off the chew at times. Sometimes they are easy to tempt and at other times they can be downright frustrating. Schoolies will regularly patrol banks and gutters where there is a good chance that baitfish will pass. In the Rous Channel there is a good stretch of water to fish that is fairly protected most of the time. The main area that seems to hold the school mackerel is between the first red beacon (No.10) and the next green beacon (No.5), as you are heading east. The deeper water in this section of the channel has good tidal flow and is fairly deep at around 7m to 12m. Although I am concentrating on the Rous Channel area in this article, the rigging information is the same for most other areas where mackerel can be found in the bay at this time of the year. Some other areas to try include the Naval Reserve Banks, Lazaret Gutter, Yule Bank, Measured Mile and Middle Bank.

BANK ON IT

The better the tidal flow, the more chance there is that school mackerel will be on the job. With a channel such as The Rous, the best tidal flow is at the lower stages of the tide when the surrounding banks are almost dry. If there is no water going over the banks, then the water running through the channel is a more concentrated flow. This flow will decrease in speed as the banks become covered, as there is a bigger flood plain for the water to flow over. The baitfish concentrated in the channel during the lower stages of the tide cannot escape into the shallower water on the flats, which makes this period very appealing to the schoolies. Towards the bottom of a falling tide, the school mackerel will usually feed along the southern bank, as the baitfish are forced off these banks by the receding tide and become easy prey as they enter the deep water of the channel. On a making tide the northern bank usually fishes best, as rising water breaks over these banks and into the channel, bringing baitfish with it. The entrance to Browns Gutter (on the northern bank between red beacons No.4 and 6) is often a hot spot during the first few hours of the rising tide, as the mackerel feed on the bait traveling through the gutter with the making tide.

LIKE BOILED LOLLIES

Mackerel will eat a broad array of offerings, however the humble pilchard would have to be towards the top of their list. When rigged correctly, pillies will work a treat- the mackerel rarely refuse them. Other baits that can work are frogmouth pillies, large hardiheads, gar, bonito strips, live slimey mackerel and yakkas. Pilchards are easy to obtain and do work well, so they are naturally the first choice for most anglers. Pilchards need to be rigged correctly for the maximum chance of enticing mackerel. Occasionally mackerel will take a swipe at anything they see but correctly rigging your bait will definitely increase your chances of interesting them. The pilchard should stay upright in the water and just waft from side to side in the current. Baits that spins are unlikely to be of interest to the mackerel and you will quickly get a lot of twist in your line. Keep any unused pilchards from your trip for the next sojourn, as they can be cut into small pieces and used for berley, which will often entice the mackerel onto the bite.

STRAIGHT BAIT

When making up your rig, O’Shaunessey hooks (not offset) are best as they are easy to put in the bait while still keeping it straight. I find that linking the hooks with swivels, instead of ganging them together, is a good because it makes the hooks much easier to put in the bait as you have a more flexible join. It also allows the hooks to swivel easily, which I believe helps in setting the hooks.

Hook size will depend on the size of the pilchards used, but rigs in the 3/0 to 5/0 size will handle the majority of baits. I mainly use VMC 9255 hooks, linked with Shogun rolling swivels.

This three-hook rig should be put in the back of the fish so that the hooks point downwards into the gut cavity with the shanks lying along the pillie’s back. The front hook (which has the line tied to it) should go down through the top of the pilchard’s head and come out under the chin, somewhere between the nose and eyes. Make sure this front hook goes through the centre of the head, as this hook is the most important one when it comes to preventing the bait from spinning. Make sure the pilchard is on the hook as straight as possible and squeeze along the backbone of the pilchard with your thumb and forefinger to loosen the bait up.

Next, put the bait in the water and check to make sure it doesn’t spin. If it does spin, adjust the hooks to make sure they are in the centre of the back and ensure the bait is flexible. If these factors are correct, the bait will waft from side to side in the water and will almost look like it is swimming. It’s irresistible to a mackerel.

SCHOOLIE LEADERS

Many anglers use wire for mackerel, as they don’t want to get bitten off. While they will probably not lose a hooked fish, they will not get as many strikes as an angler who’s using a monofilament leader.

When using ganged hooks and a mono leader, I find that you rarely get bitten off. You will also have a better chance of hooking other species that may come across your offering, such as snapper, longtail tuna, cobia, tailor, kingfish and mulloway. I mainly use tough monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders of between 40lb and 60lb, of around 2m in length.

Connection to the main line is best done with a bimini twist double (or a spider’s hitch will suffice) in your main line, which is then Albrighted to the leader. If you use a swivel in this join it will greatly increase your chances of getting bitten off by another mackerel after hook-up, as they often strike at the swivel going through the water.

MACKEREL TACKLE

A main line of between 3kg and 10kg is recommended, with 6kg being my preferred breaking strain. Any rod and reel outfit will do, as there is no need to allow the mackerel to run with the bait before setting the hooks. An adequately set drag is all that is required, as the mackerel will set the hooks themselves as the line comes tight.

It’s best to hold the rod so that you can wind at the slightest indication of slack line as mackerel have an uncanny ability to spit the hooks in the first few seconds after striking. Rods left in holders will get hit just as often, but by the time you pick the rod out of the holder there’s a good chance the mackerel will be gone.

I usually fish these baits unweighted, but if the current is flowing hard I may add a size 00 or 0 ball sinker in front of the hooks to get the bait to sink a little faster and deeper. Drifting will allow the baits to appear more natural in the water and will allow you to cover more area. You will still have a good chance of catching fish from an anchored position if this is more appealing to you. Be aware that this section of water is a navigation channel and that you should keep out of the way of boats travelling through.

TIME AND TIDE

Drifting this section of the Rous Channel can sometimes produce mackerel all year round, however, the peak period will be in full swing by the time this issue of QFM hits the shelves. The next few months will be fairly good but with school mackerel it can sometimes be a case of ‘here today, gone tomorrow and back the next day’, so don’t despair if you don’t get onto them first trip. Schoolies usually feed better on the rising tide but, like all fishing, nothing is consistent.

Spotted mackerel and even Spanish mackerel are occasionally caught here so make sure you know the difference between each species and also the relevant size and bag limits. The bycatch can also include flathead, tailor, bream and plenty of grinners, but if the mackerel are on the chew the others won’t get a chance to get near the bait.

This area is fairly protected during the lower stages of the tide and is a good option if the wind picks up. The action can be red hot at times, with the mackerel smashing the bait seconds after it hits the water. Check it out, as you can Rous up a schoolie too.

Facts

SpeciesMin. legal sizeBag limit
Qld school mackerel50cm30
Spotted mackerel60cm5
Spanish mackerel75cm3

[CAPTIONS]

1) School mackerel are good eating and are great fun to catch.

2) Linking the hooks with swivels makes them easier to use and keeps the bait straight.

3) Previously defrosted pilchards can be used for berley on future trips.

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