Mack time in Moreton Bay
  |  First Published: December 2005

The word is out - spotty mackerel have moved into Moreton Bay! Around this time each year we expect to see the start of the spotties, and with big schools reported off the Sunshine Coast in early November we can expect things to hot up very shortly.

I was a bit disappointed with the Moreton Bay mackerel run last year, so let’s hope it is like the 2004 season which was a pearler. One thing’s for certain, the ban on ring netting these fish must be beneficial to anglers in the long term.

We might not know just how good the fishing will be this year but one thing’s for sure, if we don’t do it right the chances of taking mackerel on the fly are going to diminish greatly.


There are no second chances with mackerel on fly tackle. While spotties are not all that hard to approach, especially early in the season, when a mack takes the fly things begin to happen very fast. Their speed is legendary, especially on fly tackle when the reel’s spool will approach warp speed.

Most importantly, your rod needs to have enough power to deliver a fly some distance and then have reserves of power to match a fast moving fish. I opt for 10wt gear for mackerel and use G.Loomis rods to deliver the goods. I have used both the standard Cross Current and GLX Cross Current with equal success but it probably comes as no surprise that the GLX rod is my preferred tool. I love that light feel and infinite power.

Virtually any good quality fly reel with a powerful, yet smooth drag, plus the capacity to hold at least 250m of 50lb braid (this is a minimum, larger is better) as backing will be fine. The clue is to keep the drag setting light, especially for that initial screamer of a run.

Fly lines come down to virtually one style. It needs to be in clear weight forward configuration and in a weight that matches the rod. Intermediate sink rate is the best and that’s why for the past five years or more I have relied on Scientific Anglers Striper Bass Tropicore intermediate sink lines for my pelagic work. The beauty of the system is that the same line works equally well on the eagle-eyed tuna that I’ll be hunting after Christmas. I’ve tried sink tip lines, fast sink lines and floating lines but they all have drawbacks of one kind or another. Mackerel are not stupid fish and they can see a fly line’s shadow just as easy as a tuna will, hence the clear colour as first preference.


Mackerel leaders don’t need to be fancy. I often simply bind a Gudebrod sleeve onto the tip of the fly line and then connect a 2m length of 40lb Jinkai or Penn 10X line as a butt. To this I join 1m of 20lb Siglon. A tiny swivel is connected to a hand span length of Tyger or Seahorse braided wire and the fly is connected with a figure of eight knot.

I don’t believe there is one single fly best for mackerel as I have caught them on virtually any fly that looks like a small baitfish. A fair amount of flash is a definite asset as it will entice a mackerel to desert the school of fish it is terrorising and have a chop at the fly. Recently I have gone to smaller flies, such as the ones in the photo on this page.

The clue to getting a hook-up is the retrieve. It must be as fast as possible or the mackerel will simply follow the fly without taking it. No matter what style of retrieve is used the fly line must be able to get moving smoothly and rapidly once a fish grabs hold of the fly. Tangled or caught up fly line is a disaster and I have seen some very amusing incidents, luckily without rod breakage and some that I have been personally involved in.

Last year a mackerel grabbed a fly I was about to lift from the water and scorched off while I had my right foot planted on a couple of coils of fly line. I hopped about the front of the Gale Force, kicking coils of line off my ankle with great rapidity, while pointing the rod straight at the fish until I cleared the mess. That was indeed a close call but a source of great amusement to the other family members.


Finally, it is vital that you get close enough for a shot with the fly. The clue is to reduce speed well before the school of fish and then idle into range. The 90 E-Tec on my Gale Force is superb for this technique and about the only time a school of fish has been spooked was when someone else was trying to beat me to the fish. It never works: the sound of an engine approaching at high revs turns them right off.

On the other hand, I find that if another boat doesn’t enter the picture the fish won’t spook at all and I have had mackerel virtually feeding all around the boat at times.

I don’t turn the engine off once close. This change of harmonics seems to worry the fish and put them off so if the fish are playing the game I just leave the engine running until we have a couple taking line to the horizon.

However, if your engine is on that seems to spook the fish, from past experience and the only alternative is to try to drift in close with the engine turned off, for the shot.

It’s a grand game, mackerel on fly, and I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

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