Mackerel are one of the most popular fish for UK anglers to target and for good reason. They’re relatively easy to catch, put up a great fight once hooked, and taste great.
Mackerel fishing doesn’t require a great deal of equipment or complicated fishing tackle so it’s an ideal way to get children interested or for holiday-makers who want to try their hand at sea fishing. Here, Chris Middleton shares his top tips to give you the best chance of success.
Understand your quarry
Mackerel visit UK waters in the summer after spending the colder winter months in deeper offshore waters. They generally arrive around the British coastline in May and stay until late-September, although this can be later around southern England.
Mackerel are a relatively small fish – the UK shore caught record is 5lb 11oz but the average size for mackerel in the UK is only around 1lb or so. Despite this they are fast, active hunters which feed on smaller fish such as sprats and sandeels. For this reason the main method for catching mackerel is with artificial lures such as spinners, feathers and daylights.
Where to find mackerel
Mackerel hunt for their prey in mid-water so fishing from places like piers, breakwaters, jetties and other artificial structures which extend out into the sea is the best way to access this deeper water. It’s also possible to catch mackerel from steeply sloping beaches. Indeed, Chesil beach in Dorset is one of the UK’s top mackerel fishing marks. However, shallow, sandy beaches are unlikely to offer water deep enough for mackerel to be present and are therefore best avoided.
Visual hunters, mackerel can be caught at any time of the day, but it’s worth noting that rough seas and choppy water can send them out of range into deeper water. Your best chance of success is usually during a steady spell of good weather and calm seas.
Best tackle for mackerel fishing
Mackerel fishing doesn’t need to be complicated. Most anglers use a spinning rod of 8 – 10ft in length which can cast lures of 1 – 2oz coupled with a simple fixed spool reel. You can often buy rod, reel and line combination deals that give you the full setup for a reasonable price.
The main types of lures used in mackerel fishing are:
Spinners: These are solid metal imitation fish fitted with hooks. There’s a seemingly infinite number of spinners on the market but simple, traditional silver spinners seem to work best for mackerel. Alternatively, try this set of four of the most deadly coloured lures.
Feathers: These are hooks which have been fitted with brightly coloured feathers to make them resemble a small fish. They’re bought ready-made on rigs usually containing three to six feathers. Using feathers is an effective way to catch mackerel, and there’s always the chance of catching multiple mackerel if a shoal attacks the feathers.
Daylights: Similar to feathers, these lures are made with synthetic plastic material instead of feather. You’ll need to remember to buy weights if you’re casting feathers or daylights.
The best method for catching mackerel
The great thing about fishing for mackerel is that the same method is used for spinners, feathers or daylights. Cast your lure out as far as you can and then reel it in through the water to tempt the fish to attack it and get hooked.
As mackerel are a shoaling species they can descend on an area very quickly. A spot which has produced nothing for a number of casts can suddenly become alive with mackerel, producing a fish every cast.
If you’re not having any luck, try varying the speed that you reel your lure in. Reeling in quickly will bring your lure back high in the water, while reeling slowly will retrieve it much deeper. Try various depths to give yourself the best chance of locating the feeding mackerel.
Another tip is to watch for sea birds diving into the sea (a sure sign that small fish are present and mackerel will be nearby) or bubbles appearing on the surface of the sea. This happens when mackerel chase small fish upwards through the water, causing them to panic at the surface and the sea to look as if it is bubbling. This is a clear sign that mackerel are present and a productive fishing session will follow.
Eating your catch
Mackerel is a tasty fish which is full of healthy omega-3. Once gutted, it can be very simply barbecued, grilled or fried, although take care to avoid small bones which can be difficult to completely remove. There’s not much that tastes better than a fresh mackerel thrown on the barbecue on the beach within hours of being caught.
For more ambitious chefs mackerel makes excellent pate and can even be substituted for sausage meat in scotch eggs. If you have a bumper haul, gut, fillet and freeze your catch for another time. Try some of these recipes from Great British Chefs for inspiration.
More about the author…
Chris Middleton writes for British Sea Fishing where you can find find information and advice on all aspects of shore fishing around the UK with information on techniques, bait, tactics and fishing marks across the country. As well as this there are features and articles on wider issues such as commercial fishing, conservation and the sea fish species and other sea creatures found around the British Isles.