SCHOOL mackerel can fight spectacularly with blistering runs when hooked on light line, and the clean white flesh is delicious when freshly cooked. In recent seasons the ring-netters depleted mackerel stocks significantly, but with a ban now in place we should see the mackerel numbers increase rapidly, making this season one of the best for many years.
There are several ways to target school mackerel (also called ‘doggie mackerel’ further north) including jigging beacons, casting lures to schooling fish, drifting pilchards and trolling lures. The latter is a good option when the fish are loosely scattered and not feeding on schooled-up baitfish, or when they are feeding deep. You can cover a large area while trolling and you can usually find where the concentrations of school mackerel are. Once you find one you’ll usually find many more in the immediate vicinity – they aren’t called ‘schoolies’ for nothing.
Professional fishermen still target school mackerel by trolling lures, and if they can catch good quantities of mackerel so can you. Let’s have a look at the basic components and rig to get you started.
While mackerel may be tempted by a broad array of lures at times, there’s no denying their preference for shiny metallic lures. The most productive artificials seem to be the chromed metal lures generally referred to as spinners, spoons and wobblers.
The professional mackerel brigade mainly use spoon-style lures such as those made by Halco, Luhr Jensen and Macka. The Halco No.3 and No.4 Barra Drones are the most popular amongst the commercial guys, due to their performance, price and availability. Most good tackle stores stock them and they are almost a necessity for chasing school mackerel on lures. Luhr Jensen Reflecto-Spoons (also called Ripple Spoons) are great but they are much harder to come by and are slightly dearer. Other lures that can work well include Flasha Spoons, TT Spoons, Toby’s and Spanyid Maniacs. Minnow lures are another option, although they’re not nearly as effective and can cost more than three times as much as spoons.
Trolling your spoon effectively so that it performs properly and is in the strike zone has a big effect on your results. Spoons are curved, which is one of the reasons why they spin the way they do. This camber makes them plane to the surface quickly when dragged through the water, so you need a way to keep them under the water while trolling. There are three ways to do this. The first is with the use of a large sinker a few metres ahead of the lure. This will work if you are trolling slowly and only want the lure just under the surface, which is no good if the mackerel are feeding deep.
The second way is with the use of a downrigger, which can be used to good effect for this and many other applications. They are at least a few hundred dollars, however. I’ve used my Scotty Depthmaster with good results but few anglers have quality downriggers such as these.
The third way to get the spoon down to the desired depth is with a paravane or planing board, which is the most convenient and cost effective method – and best of all it works a treat.
Planing boards are specially shaped pieces of plastic designed to work just like the bib on a lure. The planing board is forced down by water pressure on its upper surface as it is dragged through the water. There are several types available and they can range in price from approximately $15 to $35.
The most popular planing board is the Blue-Line Paravane, which is around $15. The recently released Signature GH Depth Buster (also priced at around $15) is my favourite as it is easy to use and works extremely well. Its advantage over most other planing boards and paravanes on the market is its short, blunt nose. If the Depth Buster hits bottom it skims across sand instead of ploughing in and snagging like the pointy-nosed products.
Both these paravanes have several tow points for different depths. They can also be made to swim to one side of the boat or the other depending on which of the rear holes you attach the leader to.
Another Japanese-designed planing board I’ve used looks just like a miniature surfboard. It comes in several sizes for different depths and is made by Yo-Zuri and Yamashita. It is also effective and is preferred by many anglers, but at prices up to $35 it is the dearest of the group.
Planing boards and are connected to the line a few metres in front of the spoon. For Moreton Bay, where I do most of my fishing, there is a preferred set up amongst the professional fisherman, who are now limited to line fishing for mackerel. All rigs vary slightly but the principles are the same. First, connect a good quality ball-bearing snap swivel to around 5m of 20-24kg clear, tough monofilament, such as Black Magic or G.H. Signature. If your spoon has a split ring you can just use a ball-bearing swivel instead of a snap-swivel, attaching the swivel directly to the lure (don’t skimp on the swivel by using a barrel or crane swivel because the lure won’t spin properly and the leader will twist up). Attach the other end of the leader material to the snap on the tail of the planing board.
Your main line needs to be attached to the swivel on the front of the planing board. The professionals use heavy handlines of 20kg or greater but you can use a rod and reel if you like. You’ll need at least 10kg line on your outfit, otherwise the drag of the planing board will pull line off the reel. If you increase the drag to compensate for this you’re highly likely to bust off when a fish strikes the lure.
When using a rod, the last few metres of line have to be hand-lined in once the planing board reaches the rod tip. If you use a hand-line you’ll need a lattice glove to avoid line burns and to make it easier to hold the line.
School mackerel (and spotted mackerel) often feed along drop-offs and current lines where baitfish can be found. Some places to try in Moreton Bay include the eastern end of the Rous Channel, the deeper drop-offs north of Amity and out the front of Cleveland, Middle Banks off Tangalooma, the Cowan Ledge, Naval Reserve Banks and the Pearl Channel. I regularly fish the top end of the Rous Channel between navigation buoys five and six. Troll the northern bank on the run-in tide (especially where the gutter comes in), the southern bank on the start of the run-out, and anywhere else for remainder of the tide. If the water is very clear or the current flow is slow in this area the action will also be slow. Mackerel like the fast water, which makes it hard for the baitfish to swim against. Areas where the water is turbulent or where two currents meet are worth investigating. Keep your eyes out for the pro boats (the registration numbers have a yellow background), as they only troll areas that are likely to be productive.
Trolling speeds can vary but I usually find that 4-6km/h is good. Altering the speed is a successful ploy, especially on the quieter days when it can make all the difference. If you see the professional fishermen, or anyone else, catching fish with spoons and trolling board rigs, check out what speed they’re doing. Remember, the faster you go the deeper the trolling board will go, but just like lures they’ll blow out of the water if you go too fast or if they’re fouled by weed. Two and even three rigs can be trolled out of one boat, especially if they’re staggered so that they don’t foul on the turns.
Trolling spoons accounts for a host of other species as well. Almost every species that eats baitfish will hit a spoon as it flashes past. In Moreton Bay you’re likely to catch giant trevally, spotted mackerel, tailor, yellowtail kingfish, tuna, grinners and maybe even cobia while trolling spoons. It other places you can also pick up wahoo, barracuda, golden trevally, shark mackerel, Spanish mackerel and many others.
Moreton Bay mackerel can be fickle at times, and trolling spoons can be a good way to get a feed of tasty fillets, especially when the mackerel are down deep and are refusing other offerings. Next time you’re out on the water chasing a feed, try spoon-feeding a schoolie.
Qld East Coast size and bag limits
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