Mackerel

The Mackerel is an important fish for UK anglers as it can be treated as both a sport fish and as a bait fish used when fishing for other species. They are commonly found around the entire coastline of the United Kingdom and can be caught using a variety of methods including spinning and ledgering.

Mackerel Fish

NAMES
Mackerel, Atlantic Mackerel, Scomber scombrus

LOCATION
Found around the entire coastline of the United Kingdom, but most commonly in the South and South-west during British summer months.
FISHING TECHNIQUES:
Mackerel are most commonly caught when spinning using feathers or a lure lure. This fish commonly feeds on Sandeels in the wild so can be caught on this bait also.
RECORD UK SHORE CAUGHT SIZE:
5lb 11oz
WEIGHT:
The average mackerel is around 1lbs in weight. Specimen mackerel typically reach a weight of 4 – 5lb.
LENGTH:
Can reach a length of up to around 18 inches long.
BEST BAIT:
Mackerel commonly feed on small fish and Sandeels.

How to catch mackerel?

Fishing for mackerel is probably the easiest type of sea angling that you can possibly do.

Fishing for mackerel with feathers

A popular method of catching mackerel is to ‘spin’ for them. Spinning for fish involves attaching a lure or series of attractors to your line, casting them out in to the water and retrieving them. If a fish is in the vicinity and you catch them in the right mood using the right type of lure or attractor, then you’ll more often than not catch yourself a mackerel.

Sea anglers hoping to catch mackerel will typically fish in to water with a reasonable depth (e.g. fishing from a pier or from rocks in to deep water).

A pack of mackerel feathers costs between £1.50 and £4 depending on the quantity and quality of the feathers you’re using. The feathers are attached directly to your line and then a weight is added to the other end via a loop – and you’re set to fish for mackerel! Cast out in to the water and allow your feathers to drop through the water for a few seconds. The time you let your feathers sink depends on the depth that you are fishing, you want to get them pretty close to the bottom and then bring them up through the levels of water as they get closer to you when you are reeling in.

Begin the retrieval of your feathers by bring the rod forward at a waist height in one continuous sweeping movement. You then return the rod to its original position directly in front of you, reeling in the slack line as you do so.

Mackerel tend to move in a shoal of fish, and you will often reel in multiple mackerel at the same time when you come across a shoal. When this happens, the line will go tight and you will feel the line go a little bit crazy, with the mackerel trying to swim off in different directs as you reel them in.

What type of mackerel feathers should I buy?

The brand Shakespeare is a well-known fishing manufacturer of items for both sea fishing and freshwater fishing and they produce mackerel feathers that are popular for fishing in the UK.

What weight to use when feathering for mackerel?

For a weight to use when using feathers to target mackerel, we would not go heaver than a 4oz weight, although we typically only use a 2oz weight.

You want a weight that is streamlined for casting a reasonable distance, and a torpedo style sea fishing weight is ideal for this job.

How to tie mackerel feathers

It is possible to make your very own mackerel feathers using a few cheap items including the following:

Take a look at the following video from ‘The Handmade Fisherman’ on YouTube who walks you through the simple steps to make your very own mackerel feathers.

Float fishing for mackerel

Float fishing for mackerel is another popular method that can be used to catch this fish species.

A float with a presented with a small bait below it such as a Sandeel, sprat, a strip of mackerel belly or lugworm) on a size 1/0 hook.

Present this bait in a mid-level water will commonly attract a bite from a mackerel, but adjust the depth that you are fishing the bait until you find the level that the fish is currently feeding at.

Spinning for mackerel

There are a huge number of lures on the market now for the angler to choose from, it can often become confusing on which type of lure is best to purchase in order to catch mackerel. On the other hand, once you’ve found a lure then it’s an extremely straightforward setup – a ‘snap swivel’ is attached directly on to your mainline and then a lure is snapped on to the swivel. Probably the most common type of lure that is mentioned when talking about fishing for mackerel is the classic ‘Decter Wedge’, as shown below:

As you will be targeting mackerel that are generally around 1lb in weight, the lure size does not have to be massive, but the weight of the Dexter Wedge that you choose will mostly be down to the following:

  • The strength of the wind (e.g. if your fishing directly in to an oncoming onshore wind)
  • The amount of tide moving. If you want to descen through the water levels quickly when there is a large tide running or a lot of current, then you will want to use a lure with a bit of weight to get you down through the levels quickly.

Once you have cast the lure in to the water, there are a few different ways to fish the lure in order to maximise your chances of catching:

One Big Pull

Once you have cast your lure out in to the water and the line becomes tight, you simply pull the rod in one continuous movement at a waist-high level from directly in front of your to roughly a 90 degrees angle, to your right or level side.

Then once you have reached the 90 degree angle, return the rod to its original position and wind in the slack line as you do so. Repeat this process until your lure is either at your feet or you have a mackerel on the line.

Delayed Retrieval

Once you have cast your lure in to the water, allow to to descen through the water levels until you hit the seabed. Leave the lure for a few seconds and then complete a few turns of the reel, then allowing the lure to fall through the water levels again.

Continuous Retrieval

A third option for fishing a lure is the option to continuously reel in the lure at gentle slow pace. As you reel in the line, you want to give short sharp twitches of the rod to jerk the bait and give the impression of an injured bait fish.

Mackerel fishing rod setup

Probably the best combination between being able to cast a reasonable distance to target fish that may be swimming a little further out, and allowing you to continuously cast for a period of time without your arm aching a lot is to use a 10ft carp rod or a specialist spinning rod.

A suitable rod that will cover a variety of fishing for many years…

Total Fishing Gear produce some great fishing kit for anglers looking to pick up a good rod at a reasonable price that will last them a few years. This fishing rod is ideal for both carp fishing and for targeting mackerel during the calmer summer months in the UK.

At 10ft in length, it is ideal for casting a reasonable distance with either a dexter wedge lure or a string of mackerel feathers, and the option of a 2.75lb test curve will handle a full string of mackerel with ease.



Fishing tip: As with all fishing kit, make sure that you clean your items after every fishing session, especially when being used in salt water to maximise their lifespan and make sure that the items do not rust, and all mechanisms continue to work as they should.

Combined with a fixed spool reel loading with around 15lb monofilament line will be fine for targeting mackerel.

A string of mackerel on your line bouncing around and trying to pull in all directions isn’t the easiest catch to reel in, so you need a rod with a bit of power in order to control the fish once their on your hook.

Beachcasters are an extremely versatile rod but they are long and reasonably heavy, so you’ll regret using one after a while.

Where to catch mackerel from the shore?

Mackerel are a schooling fish, which means that they like to swim in big groups together, often in thousands of fish at once. If you manage to come across a school of mackerel then you can potentially catch tens or even hundreds of fish in one short session, but if they are not around then you may be lucky to catch a few.

This is due to the activity of the mackerel which involves staying on the move hunting for their prey which are also on the move continuously.

It is best to fish for mackerel in areas where there will be some sort of tidal disruption such as off a headland, a rocky outcrop, over a rocky reef or from a Pier. This is because the the disruption in the tidal flow caused by rocks and man made structures, will hold bait that the mackerel will be feeding on.

What depth to catch mackerel?

The mackerel is closely related to the Tuna species of fish, and both fish do not have a swim bladder which allows them to ascend or descend water levels extremely quickly. This fish can be caught at pretty much every level of the water column from the very top just under the surface to more than 350-400ft down near the seabed.

It is very much trial and error when trying to catch mackerel, as they could be found at any depth. A good method of trying to locate this fish when spinning is to start by fishing the water at a half depth (a rough estimate at what the half depth of the water is in your area – can be done by casting out a cheap weight and counting down until you hit the sea bed – similar to plumbing the depth in course fishing), then either reduce the depth that you are fishing or by increasing it on every cast.

Tips for mackerel fishing

  1. Dive Bombs! Sea gulls and other birds will over dive bomb in to the surface of feeding shoals of mackerel. This usually occurs where the predatory mackerel fish has cornered smaller bait fish in to a corner and are feeding upon them. Keep an eye out for this type of activity as this can be a tell-tale sign of mackerel activity in the area.
  2. Boiling seawater! Often mackerel will feed near to the surface and their activity will give the impression of the seawater bubbling away similar to a boiling kettle.
  3. Don’t forgot about rivers! Often mackerel and bass will chase smaller bait fish into estuaries and rivers and shoals of mackerel have been known to travel hundreds of meters up stream trying to feed on their prey.