How to

Get Wired


Mackerel look great, fight hard and taste fantastic. What’s the downside? Those razor sharp teeth! DAVID GREEN outlines some wire wisdom to help keep you connected to these great sportfish.  

MACKEREL species are found in all tropical and subtropical oceans of the world, and migrate throughout nearly all of the ocean’s warmer currents. Wahoo, Spanish and spotted mackerel are the main species  of interest to anglers in this country. In Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia mackerel are a major commercial species, but in the southern states are largely confined to the north coast of NSW and occasionally  to southern WA. The odd big wahoo turns up at times further south, sometimes being caught as far south as Bermagui. This geographical range means that the biggest population centres where half of Australia live don’t get to catch mackerel on their home base very often, and with this in mind it’s worth going through a brief overview of these great fish so southern anglers can prepare for their trips north. And with the reality of global warming, we may one day see the mackerel venturing further and further south each season.

Where I live, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, the mackerel season attracts hundreds of boats each summer and autumn. Spanish and spotted mackerel move on to the close inshore reefs in late December, increasing in numbers through February and March and are often caught up until late June. When the mackerel are on, it’s not uncommon to see over a hundred boats anchored up or trolling on popular spots such as Palm Beach Reef. On a good day hundreds of mackerel are caught, and in peak seasons the fish arrive in massive schools. Some seasons have very few fish, and other years are bonanzas. It is a hard pattern to predict. At the time of writing we are enjoying a sudden rush of Spanish mackerel. Catching the bag limit of three Spaniards per person only takes an hour or two on most days at present.

The attraction of these fish is that they are fast, run hard and are great eating. They can be finicky and pedantic one day and seemingly suicidal the next. I love my mackerel fishing, regardless of whether I’m chasing wahoo, Spaniards or spotties. They are all great looking fish. 

In order to catch mackerel on a reliable basis, you need to learn about wire. Mackerel have the best and most efficient sets of choppers of any oceanic fish. The razor sharp teeth slice through a small tuna effortlessly, and they cut nylon with just the faintest touch. I’ve watched some of my prettiest marlin lures  end their days without even a click of  the ratchet as a wahoo slices through 100-kilo leader like a bluewater assassin. One second a lure is bubbling along nicely, the next a length of leader is flapping in the breeze. Chances are if you go game fishing off Sydney or anywhere in the south and don’t target sharks, you won’t need to know much about wire. But when you come to the land of mackerel, you’ll need to know a few tricks. 

Using Wire

The general idea is to use as much and as strong as you need but as little as possible. The further north you go, the less wire shy the fish become, and at  the top of Australia commercial anglers often use light fencing wire to target XOS macks. To the south, some days even a short length of fine 10-kilo single strand will put the fish off the bite.

There are four general types of wire, and all have a place in mackerel fishing. The types are single strand, seven strand, 49 strand and nylon coated wire. The problem with all types of wire is that sharp-eyed mackerel see the stuff, and it can put them off the bite. It also generates an electro-magnetic field when moved through water, which some boffins think the fish are quite tuned in to and generally shy away from.

Single strand wire is cheap, pretty easy to use, doesn’t require crimps and works well in many situations. The down side of single strand is that it is quite stiff, decreasing the action of some lures,  and is prone to kinking and breakage. Some of the newer titanium wires  are far less kink prone, and while expensive, do solve a number of the wire problems of single strand.

Single strand is great for fishing baits such as pilchards when targeting Spanish and spotted mackerel, and can also be used for live baiting. Twenty seven and 44-pound single strand cover most of these options. When the fishing is going thick and fast there is often a lot of re-rigging, and in these situations single strand is quick to use. Once you master the Haywire twist you can rerig in a very short time.

Seven strand wire is a lot more flexible than single strand but is thicker for a given breaking strain. A short length of seven strand connected to a small black swivel is a good way to rig most trolled minnow style lures, but it does require the use of crimps so is a bit more fiddly to rig. For trolling, I make up a batch of leaders each season for minnow trolling. These consist of about 1.5m of 30 to 40 kilo mono connected to a 30cm length of seven strand via a small brass ring or swivel. A snap clip at the end of the  wire makes lure changes easily. I usually use 60 to 90 pound seven strand. Prior preparation of these trolling leaders saves a lot of time on the water.

Forty nine strand cable is extremely flexible and is great for rigging the second hook on the skirted trolling lures we usually use for marlin. This has been  the undoing of plenty of big wahoo over the years, and often even a couple of centimetres of wire can protect the nylon from sharp teeth. We also use 49-strand cable for trolling larger live baits such as tuna when targeting big Spaniards and wahoo. Eighty pound 49 strand wire is extremely useful stuff to have in your rigging box. I like to use dual channel crimps as made by High Seas for working with this wire.

Nylon coated wire has a problem in that it tends to corrode under the nylon coating, so it isn’t ideal for lures you rig and store away. The main use I have with nylon coated wire is spinning with metal lures, as it ties quite good Albright knots when used with a length of nylon leader, giving quite a seamless connection. I do about eight to 10 turns on the Albright and make sure I pull it up tight with pliers. Leave about 3mm as a tag end and add a drop of super glue on the finished knot. 

Mackerel Tactics

There are quite a few different approaches to catching all the mackerel species. The commonest methods are anchoring and berleying, fishing pilchards and other baits under a float, spinning metal lures, live baiting, trolled dead baits, trolling minnows and high speed trolling. All methods have their moments, but it pays to have plenty of strings to your mackerel fishing bow so you can adapt to the bite on a given day.

The humble WA pilchard probably catches more spotted mackerel than any other method, and can be fished slow trolled, down a berley trail or under a small float. Whole pilchards  are best fished on gangs of three hooks. The Gamakatsu Gangsters are extremely sharp and are great hooks for spotties and small Spaniards. Rigged on a 20 to 30cm trace of mono wire connected to a black swivel they make a very durable rig. If you want to troll for mackerel with pilchards add a bit of sheet lead to the front hook. A small pink squid skirt slid over the top of the pilchard gives you one of the most popular troll baits in Queensland that is deadly when trolled at about two knots. Slightly bigger gangs can similarly be used for both garfish and slimy mackerel. Slow trolling small baits such as these works very well on the inshore reefs, with the added advantage that pilchards are readily obtainable.

Spaniards, particularly decent sized ones, love bigger baits. Tailer, bonito, frigates and small tuna are ideal, and pike are great. The principle is the same; you just need sets of bigger gangs. Most of the bigger baits are best trolled from a bridle rig through the eye socket of the bait fish, and with a bit of practice you will soon have them swimming beautifully. Don’t worry about the fact that the hooks are not exposed, the teeth of the mackerel will find them on the first chomp.

Minnow trolling is a very convenient way to fish as it is quick and easy, but it is often not nearly as effective as baits. The past few years have seen some  great mackerel lures hit the market,  but probably the most popular are Halco 190 Laser Pros. We often rig these with single hooks on double split rings. This season the new Halco 160 deep diver has been the gun lure in our trolling spread. To troll minnows we generally fish a spread of five lures and mix up the colours and the depth range. Troll a fair way back for mackerel as they can be quite boat shy. Our minnow troll speed is generally about 6-7 knots. Bibless minnows are a better lure if you want  to go faster, but getting above six knots seems to be the key. A lot of commercial lures tend to blow out of the water at this speed, particularly if it is rough.  I’ve found the Halcos and Rapala X Raps easy to troll and pretty reliable at staying in the water and tracking straight.

High speed trolling using weighted skirts such as Hex Heads is another very effective method, especially for wahoo. We generally do this as a searching method as it covers a lot of water quickly, and a troll speed of 10 to 12 knots is about right. A lot of boats go up to 18 knots and still get bites, but I haven’t found  the extra speed above 12 increases my bite rate. This method is a bit savage on fuel, but gets the loudest ratchet noises you will ever hear on the troll. For wahoo, stick to bigger skirts about 20cm in length with a heavy lead head. Spotties also respond well to high speed trolling using small Hex Heads and Jet Heads. Troll the lures back about 80m. This method is at its best early in the morning when the ocean surface is fairly calm. Rig your lures on seven or 49 strand wire. Forty nine strand is best as it doesn’t kink. The pre-rigged Hex Heads are excellent.

What to look for

If you are targeting mackerel on the inshore grounds your local fishing grapevine will generally have a few reports on it. These fish tend to move around a lot, so it pays to be tuned in  on the local conditions and reports. Warm clean water and a bit of current seem to be the key. Both Spanish and spotted mackerel tend to stay close inshore, never venturing more than  a few miles out. Wahoo can be found well past the continental shelf. I’ve never caught a Spaniard or a spotted mackerel in a water depth of more  than 50m.

While blue oceanic current often produces the best fishing, Spanish and spotted mackerel will stay in green water if it is clean and warm and holds bait. If the water is a bit dirty, baits generally outfish lures by a wide margin. If there has been a recent fresh, the deeper water is often cleaner, and deeply fished baits trolled off a downrigger can be very effective. Current seems to be the key  to good mackerel fishing. You’ll catch 10 times more mackerel if you keep your boat over reef rather than sand, and spotted mackerel in particular tend to  be caught in the same spots season after season. Mackerel love reefs with high pinnacles, and wahoo love areas  where heavy current pushes over a rocky ledge, such as the Tweed Heads Nine Mile Reef, which produces hundreds of wahoo every season.

The mackerel species are a definite highlight on our fishing calendar, and for keen southern sport fishermen, they should definitely be on your bucket list. They fight well, go really fast and at the end of the day provide plenty of great fish meals for the whole family.     

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.