With all the hype about soft plastics versus hard-bodied lures, many anglers have forgotten about what is a very versatile and wide ranging lure type that is generally inexpensive, yet productive. In certain situations, metal slices or jigs can outfish their plastic cousins hands down.
As a charter operator, I get clients with XOS sized tackle boxes chock full of all the latest and greatest in the plastic range, but when it comes to fishing 20m of water around bait schools in a moderate wind or current, finding an appropriate lure from their kit is very difficult. When schools of tuna or mackerel start blowing up around the place, the extra casting distance provided by a metal lure may be the difference between hooking or not hooking fish, particularly when bait schools seem to sound as soon as the boat approaches.
In the last 6 or 7 years here at Weipa, I’ve been able to develop and refine techniques for metal and lead headed jigs. In readiness for this year’s season, we purchased over 1,000 between us in late March. It is a measure of the effectiveness of this type of lure that we had to buy more come the end of June!
I recommend carrying a range of metal and lead headed jigs from 35-90g in a couple of reputable styles. There’s mackerel and barracuda in northern waters, so don’t forget to include some wire trace – single strand stainless around 30-40kg breaking strain is best. Learn how to tie a Haywire Twist or invest in one of those tools designed to give you a hand, and Bob’s your uncle!
Some of the fish you may encounter will be very mean so have a look at the terminal tackle on the lures before you head out, and replace hooks or rings where necessary. We rig our lures with 4X strong chemically sharpened trebles or heavy assist hooks and replace any rings that are less than extra heavy.
If there is a split ring on the top of the lure, fit a heavy black swivel to attach your leader or wire trace. Tying the wire, in particular, straight to the split ring can sometimes result in the wire working its way through the ring and the lure coming loose.
When tuna or trevally are expected, try to avoid wire as it can upset the action of the lure and may cause the hooks to tangle in the line. However, not using wire is asking for trouble when macks turn up, leaving your leader looking like it’s been through a shredder.
Our favourite metals include Lazers, Raiders and Snipers, plus the more specialist jigs distributed by Sure Catch and River to Sea. As an all rounder, the Lazers in 50, 70 and 90g work well in both casting and jigging situations while in the Spanyid range, the Raiders from 60-120g are great for jigging while the 50 and 60g Snipers cast like a bullet.
Pelagics are not the only fish that can be taken on the metals. Fingermark, coral trout, tusk fish, nannygai, grunter and even black jewfish can all be taken on metal jigs fished close to the bottom. That is, of course, if the trevally don’t eat them first!
My advice is to always include a few metal lures amongst the plastics, no matter where you head. Be prepared to give them a go, particularly when the bait is shimmering or the arches show deeper than regular lures can reach.
Targeting Spanish mackerel on fly requires a fair bit of specialist preparation. While lucky anglers can sometimes fluke a big mack using slow sinking lines and mono shock tippets, those wanting to tip the scales more heavily in their favour will probably think about bombing a wire rigged fly in a likely location.
It is possible to get away with a tough 8- or 9-weight fly outfit but a 10- or 11-weight will make subduing those larger than average fish just a little easier. Make sure your reel holds plenty of backing, at least 300m of good quality 30-50 pound braid is recommended.
Fast or extra fast sinking fly lines are the go with the Type IV full lines or shooting head/running line combination covering the likely water most efficiently. Beware of using a fast sinking tip that has a floating running line offshore as this type does not allow the fly to get down deep enough in most situations.
Unless you’re chasing records, tippet strength should be at least 10kg and up to 15kg of abrasion resistant mono or fluorocarbon. A shock tippet of 15-20cm of 25-30kg single strand stainless steel wire should be attached to the fly and knotted to the tippet.
Recent successes here at Weipa indicate that flies tied in Clouser, Whistler or Deceiver patterns featuring large lead eyes, plenty of flash and a chartreuse or light green back are well received by our Gulf mackerel. These flies should be tied on ultra sharp, heavy gauge 3/0 to 6/0 stainless steel hooks and measure about 10-12cm in length. Using synthetic materials such as DNA or Slinky fibre help the flies sink better.
When a likely bait school or reef is located, move to the windward or upcurrent side of the structure before casting the fly line into the wind/current. Then, let the entire fly line sink below the boat by shaking the uncast line out of the rod tip – depending on the water depth, of course. Once the line straightens, strip the fly in long hauls as quickly as possible or, alternatively, put the rod under your arm and strip with both hands.
It is important to remember that when a fish strikes, your first priority is to set the hook. Mackerel have a fierce set of teeth mounted in a very bony jaw and unless you set that hook hard, the chances of keeping that fish attached are very slim.
Strike with the rod instead of the line and nine times out of ten, the hook will fall out! Once the mackerel is hooked and assumes Exocet mode, then concentrate on clearing the fly line and getting the fish onto the reel.
This is where a smooth, properly set drag comes into the equation – the tension should be pre-set before commencing fishing, not after a hook-up. Trying to fiddle with drag settings when a mackerel is powering off with afterburners alight is a recipe for a monumental bust-off!
Fighting the fish once that first run is over is generally the easy part although care must be taken as the fish approaches the boat. Provided sharks don’t spoil the party, it’s best to take your time and work the fish carefully until it can be gaffed, netted or tailed.
My big Environet will accommodate up to 15kg of mackerel with care, although it has suffered from the repeated application of those razor-sharp fangs. Tailing a big mackerel is a fairly simple affair and is usually the option I prefer once the duck has been broken.
Our best fly-caught Spanish mackerel for this season went 16kg and was landed on a 10-weight outfit after a huge initial run. Other species landed using the deep sinking fly technique include cobia, longtail tuna, four species of trevally, finny scad, barracuda and quite a number of large whaler sharks, all hooked in the jaw.
Here in the Gulf, the prime mackerel flyfishing times occur in May/June and September/October with water depths of 15-25m usually fishing best. The constant fast stripping can be very tiring so being reasonably fit certainly helps improve the experience.
It sometimes takes a lot of casts but they are all forgotten once that line comes tight and the reel starts singing. Big mackerel on fly are certainly worth the effort involved!Reads: 880