Spanish Mack-ay
  |  First Published: May 2009

The cooler weather has arrived and we are slowly drying out after a long wet summer. The cooler change has bought a shift in species for the angler to chase, and this is clear in our saltwater fisheries.

Spanish mackerel have arrived early this season and I have also heard of school mackerel being caught just to the north of the Whitsundays. So if the southeasterly winds disappear, we should be in for a bumper season.

Spaniards are readily available to local anglers even from a small tinny. In fact they are often caught by live baiting the Mackay harbour break wall, and the odd one is sometimes caught while luring off the wall. But to have a consistent chance of tangling with these great sport fish, a boat is really the way to put the odds in the anglers favour.

Small tinnies around 4m are probably the most popular size boat in this area, and fitted with a 15-40hp outboard, they open up plenty of prime Spanish mackerel country. A boat this size allows access to close inshore islands off Seaforth, Mackay, and Sarina, all of which have local hotspots for Spanish mackerel.

Spots off Mackay are probably the most popular and Spaniards can be expected around Slade, Round Top and Flat Top islands as well as the rock formations off Lamberts Beach and around Danger Reef. These places are well shown on charts and are easy to locate, with one fail-safe method being to look for other boats.

If fishing Slade Island, the most productive spots seem to be on the northern side, and at the run through to the eastern side of the island. The run through can be fished on both north and south side, depending on whether the tide is running in or out, with both phases producing fish. The run through over the shallow reefs is probably the more reliable spot as bait seems to concentrate in this area. Both live and dead baits will score fish. Trolling with lures or baits is also productive, but there are usually a fair few boats at anchor here, which makes it difficult to set up a trolling run without tangling other anglers lines, so my suggestion is to anchor and bait fish.

Live bait can be anything from a small herring caught in the harbour, to any small reef fish or gar. Just remember if using a stripey or similar to watch the minimum sizes. My pick for a live bait would be a good size garfish set a couple of metres under a float and drifted along in the run. Garfish are common around the island and sometimes Spaniards can be seen hurtling into the air as they charge up from the depths to the surface at high speed to chase them.

If no live baits are available then I recommend a large wolf herring rigged on a string of 7/0s with swivels joining the gang rig together. Don’t be put off by the size of the bait as it doesn’t seem to worry the large macks. Wolf herring can be caught on small shinies and at times can be a real nuisance when chasing school mackerel. Alternatively they are available from the local tackle shops, but supplies go pretty quickly at this time of year.

Wolf herring are best used wafting down current and will sink slowly just from the weight of the bait. The flashing chrome silver sides of the bait reflect plenty of light and are a great attraction for Spanish macks. They are also scoffed by cobia and unfortunately large sharks seem to take a particular liking to them, too.

While these types of baits are the optimum in my opinion, plenty of Spanish macks are caught every year on the humble pilchard. Rigged on a four gang hook rig, a pilchard has wide appeal to the smaller macks, trevally and longtail tuna. The pillies can be with a larger deeper bait such as a wolf herring or weighted gar, to cover all the bases.

If chasing macks around Flat and Round Top islands, the best spot is on the southeastern point of Round Top. This area has deep water, strong current flow and is a locally renowned hot spot. I have seen macks over 25kg caught at this spot. A float on the anchor line is a good idea, so it can be tossed overboard quickly and the fish followed if necessary. This makes it easier to fight the fish this way, particularly if there are a number of boats in the immediate area. Also if you see another angler hooked up, pull in your lines to give them plenty of room to fight and land their fish. One of the most frustrating ways to lose a good fish is to have it foul someone else’s line and bust off.

When you are targeting macks don’t forget to have a good solid gaff as well as some type of donger to subdue the fish. Gaffing can be either up through the jaws or through the back of the fish. Be very careful handling large mackerel as they have teeth like razors and can slash a foot or leg open in an instant.

It’s important to bleed your fish well straight away and when properly bled, wash any slime or blood from the fish. Get it on ice as soon as possible so that the eating qualities of this top class fish will be enhanced. Large macks are easy to fillet and skin and are a fine eating fish, provided they are treated properly. Remember though to limit your catch to help preserve the stocks for the future generations.

Large macks can also be caught trolling either baits such as gar, or large lures like the Rapala CD18 series and similar sized and shaped lures. They can also be caught jigging with either high speed type lures or slower, fluttering jigs. Some of the large jigs offering from Japan are amazing and very effective on macks. One area that is a local jigging hot spot is The Shoals to the north east of Mackay harbour. These shoals are also shown clearly on charts and a slow troll around will soon pinpoint bait schools on the depth sounder. Where you find plenty of bait, the macks won’t be far away.

In the creeks and estuaries, the whiting are biting, and good catches are being reported from all areas around the district. For more specific information, visit our local tackle shops, buy some gear and have a yarn to the staff, who will assist with up-to-date info.

Fish the run-in tide for whiting and keep moving along with the tide front to stay in touch with the schools. The most popular bait locally is the humble yabbie, which can be pumped at most of our beaches and in the creeks. Worms are sometimes available from the local tackle stores, but freshly pumped yabbies are the go for me.

Yabbies also appeal to a wide range of fish as by-catch. Anglers chasing whiting on light gear with yabbies have hooked plenty of salmon, barra, bream, flatties and trevally. But these hook-ups often end in disaster because of the fine light lines being used. But there is always a change you could get lucky and land a large salmon or barra.

All of these fish can be caught right through the cooler months in our creeks and estuaries, but barra are more an incidental catch than a targeted species. Our winter time is a great time to be on the flats chasing flathead, and while we don’t get the metre plus specimens found further south, we do get some pretty solid fish here.

Silver and pikey bream are also on the menu during the cooler months. Pikeys in particular can often be seen under overhanging mangroves and swimming in and around the mangrove roots. Pikeys will take a variety of baits and can also be caught on small shallow diving lures and small flies. Just watch the legal length on these fish and again limit your catch to a few fish for your immediate needs.

The freshwater scene as reported last month will continue to quieten off with barra starting to go off into semi hibernation in the dams. A recent late afternoon trip with Tim Galletly resulted in one small barely legal fish for me on a popper, but Teemburra was very quiet with very few fish working the edges. Still it was very pleasant just being there, but a few more barra would not have gone astray.

Barra are still there and can be coerced into smacking a lure, but there will be a lot of casts in between hits. A surer bet is to target sooties with small lures in the heavy stuff and enjoy these great sport fish, either in the dams or in the Pioneer River system.

Overall the cooler months mean changes of tactics and species, but there is still plenty of good fishing on offer. See you at the ramp.

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