Category: Mackerel Fishing Tips

Mackerel Fishing Techniques

Fishing for mackerel

On days where mackerel are scarce, the main issue is finding them. Nevertheless, with the right gear and terminal tackle, once you’re into them you should be laughing all the way to the BBQ. So here are a few tips on how to avoid a compulsory visit to the chippy on the way home.

In short, cover as much ground as possible. As far it’s possible to do so without pissing off other anglers, make the most of your swim. Repeatedly sweep from one side of your arc to the other and back again. Although mackerel will move with the baitfish etc, you may discover a little holding patch – possibly an underwater pinnacle or gully that proves fruitful.


Try different depths. Some days the mackerel will be shallow, other days they will be deeper. To ‘search’ different depths, one successful technique is to cast out and subsequently count how long it takes from your lead hitting the water for it to reach the seabed. If it takes, say, 20 seconds, then cast a second time in the same area and start your retrieve (at the same rate) after 18 seconds. Continuing this routine almost all the way to the surface will ensure that you’re exploring all depths.

TIP: Take up slack line on impact. Being able to ‘feel’ your trace as it sinks means that if you’re lucky enough to pass through a shoal of mackerel on the drop then you will instantly know their depth – so long as you are counting! Naturally, this works particularly well if you’re loaded with braid.


Regularly change your traces until you find the one that works on the day. If other people are catching, see what they are using and continue to explore with that style of trace – it helps take at least one variable out of the equation.


Retrieve at different speeds. Sometimes cranking your gear back in like a man possessed works wonders, yet other times a snail’s pace hits the spot.


Retrieve using different styles. Everyone has their favourite, be it a steady retrieve, or using the rod tip to help jig it back to the shore, or a combination of the two. Try alternating between them to see which works best. Again, if there are other anglers nearby, keep an eye out to your left and right to see if one method appears to be more successful than another.


As with most sea fishing, external conditions can play a major role in the success of your session, and adapting to these can make all the difference.


Weather/sea conditions – As far as weather is concerned, ambient light and wind strength and direction will all affect you when lure fishing for mackerel. As mentioned in part 1 of this guide, changing your traces to compensate for these can make all the difference.

With regard to sea conditions, since you are solely relying on visual stimulant to catch fish when feathering, clear water/good visibility is preferred – although it could be argued that if it’s too clear then the mackerel will know your gear isn’t real food. I’ll take a chance on that though, since if they can’t see the trace in the first place then they ain’t going to chase it!

Since viz normally plummets right after a storm, a few calm days before your session should ensure decent conditions…unless there’s a bloom in the water.

If you get to the mark only to find crappy viz, fear not. Putting a very thin sliver mackerel on each hook may be enough to provide a little scent trail, tip the balance and land you a few fish.


Tides – Try to plan a session where you will be fishing through different states of tide, not just up or down. Hedge your bets by fishing both a running tide and slack water. Also, you may find mackerel moving closer in as the tide continues to rise, possibly bringing them further into your casting range as water depths increase.


Final note: This article is well worth reading for those previously considering a day of catch and release on feathers.

Traces for Shore Mackerel Fishing

Which are the best traces for feathering up mackerel?

It’s the million dollar question, but with so many different types of trace on the market, and with so many different places to fish, it’s impossible to say which is best. However, here are a few things to consider when buying new mackerel traces.


How many hooks do I need?


You can get traces with up to about ten hooks on – but that’s just insane. Just think about it, you could end up with more than enough fish for tea, for your next few sessions AND for your neighbour’s cat after just one cast. Where’s the fun in that? 3 hooks are ample. More hooks just mean more chance of snagging on stuff, more time spent untangling them and stowing them, and more chance of a session turning into a slaughter.

TIP: If for some reason you want a certain type of trace but it has loads of hooks on, or you can only get hold of a trace with loads of hooks on, it is always possible to cut it in half or into 3 and make several traces out of one.


What size hook should I use?

The smaller, the better. Big hooks don’t mean bigger or more fish. Small hooks make it a bit more fiddly to remove the mackerel from, and you have to watch your pinkies a little more, but your catch rate will definitely improve – and possibly land you a rogue launce, garfish, or sand eel in the process! The only problem here is that usually the smaller the hooks get the lighter the trace gets – therefore easier you have to go with your casting.


Which is the best style/colour of lure for catching mackerel?

Mackerel feathers

On mackerel traces, each hook will have some kind of attractor/lure whipped to it. These attractors can be anything from a kind of plasticized tin foil, to rubber/jelly shrimps or eels or fish, to strips of ‘tinsel’ – all in every colour you can care to think of and even glow-in-the-dark. When it comes to choosing trace styles and colours, the best tip is to hedge your bets:  Don’t bother with anything too fancy (read: expensive) unless you KNOW it works in your area and, if you buy a few traces, always buy a variety of styles/colours. Then if you notice a certain type of attractor is really doing the business, you may just have one of them in your bag. As well as the normal feather, foil and tinsel traces, others such as Sabikis (uber-small hooks on these babies), Shrimp Rigs and Hokeyes are quite popular.

As a general rule, light coloured sparkly ones are more productive on bright sunny days and darker verions work better on dull or overcast days. Also, through trial and error I know that (from South Devon marks, at least) the little shrimpy ones are shit hot come rain or shine.The other beauty of these is are the hook size, nice and small size 4’s, attached a heavier rig body.


How much lead will I need?

It may sound obvious, but match the lead to the conditions. With an onshore wind, for example, you’ll need more weight to cut through it when casting. With less wind, drop the weight to something more suitable. On most days, somewhere between 3oz to 6oz should be ample. Its also said that creating small nicks in your lead can help improve your catch rate – the nicks apparently create turbulence and tiny bubbles which help to excite and attract the mackerel.

TIP: Using an American snap swivel or Gemini link clip at the bottom of each mackerel trace will make it much easier (and quicker) to chop and change weights as required.


As mentioned above, also consider the strength of the trace itself. If you only have traces with a pansy-ass breaking strain, unless you want to start airmailing leads toward fellow anglers, you’ll have to go easy on the lead, whatever the conditions.

Successful feathering hinges on three things: Gear, technique, and (like all fishing) a spot of luck. We can’t help you with the luck, but hopefully these articles shed some light on gear and tackle considerations and offer a few pointers on technique to improve your catch rate.

Mackerel Fishing Gear

So, what fishing gear do I need to catch mackerel on feathers?

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that if the mackerel are close in and in significant numbers it doesn’t really matter what you use. With a broomshank, some bent nails and last year’s Christmas decorations you’d still probably be able to pull in some fish, but for those days when the mackerel are scarce (such as at the beginning or end of the season) using the right gear may mean the difference between catching or not. So here’s the nitty gritty on gear:-


Which is the best type of fishing rod for feathering?

It has to be a beachcaster or surfcaster every time. It may mean the difference between putting you among the fish and dropping your tackle short of the fish. Sometimes the extra distance is needed to get you into a decent depth of water or, if you are fishing straight into deep water from marks such as Berry Head or Hopes Nose, it may simply to put you among mackerel if they happen to be a long way out.


Which type of fishing reel should I use?

Again, if a little extra distance if needed then a multiplier is the way ahead. Simply put, you can cover more ground with it. Now, some asshat will always argue that you can get the same distance from a fixed spool reel, but then they’ve probably just been sniffing too much bait enhancer (take tournament casting championships, for example – although fixed spools are still seen in this event where distance means everything, the preferred reel is definitely a multiplier.) Sure, when it goes wrong during a multiplier cast then it often goes horribly wrong. The resulting bird’s nest will probably relegate your favourite reel to the bottom of your tackle bag until you find a chainsaw big enough to cut all the crap away and buy another spool of line to replace it,  but once you get the hang of a multiplier you’ll never look back. I guarantee it. When it comes to distance casting, they’re the dogs doo-dahs.

You don’t need some big-ass multiplier capable of towing a trawler fleet back into harbour though, something like a Penn 525, Daiwa 7HT or any reel with a quickish retrieve will do the job admirably – but remember you do still have to match your line to the reel and/or vice versa. Which brings us nicely onto the next point. Line.


What line should I use?

15lb mono is manly enough. The lighter the line, the farther you’ll be able to pump it. If like me you’re a braid freak, you can up it to 20-25lb if you fancy (depending on what other types of fishing you regularly do) as, generally speaking, for the same breaking strain, braid will be roughly half the line diameter of your mono (and sadly twice the price – at least!) But either mono or braid, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not like you need to feel the bottom or sense every little nibble.

For the last word on line, remember that you’ll probably be wellying that lead out from time to time, so ALWAYS USE A SHOCK LEADER! As a rule of thumb, you should have 10lb of breaking strain for every ounce of lead.

Also, remember to check out the mono thickness of your mackerel trace since this comes after your shock-leader.  A few years back, I remember thinking I was safe with a 5oz lead and 60lb shockleader and tried to hit France on my first cast – only to find that the trace line was some faggoty Chinese shit more suited to mullet fishing. It cracked off half way down the trace. I’ve no idea where the 5 kajillion mph lead (still accompanied by a pair of foil covered hooks) ended up. Looking up and down the beach, though, I didn’t notice any other fishermen slumping to the ground so I counted myself exceedingly lucky – as would they if they’d realised what a chimp I’d been not to check the breaking strain of the mackerel trace first.


So, with rod, reel, line and shock leader covered, that just leaves 2 all important aspects of feathering for mackerel: the ‘feathers’ themselves and how to use them effectively.

How to Float Fish for Mackerel and Garfish

ImageWhen float fishing for Mackerel, a trace length of somewhere between 6 – 10 ft is usually about right. Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line is the ideal choice for the trace (10lb line is ample strength) since it’s virtually invisible underwater, but don’t worry about this too much since Mackerel are far from wary creatures. On a day where Mackerel and Garfish are few and far between, however, it’s definitely worth a try.

For Garfish, shorten the trace to 2 – 4 ft since Garfish patrol tighter to the surface.

The best bait to use when float fishing for Mackerel and Garfish are fish baits. Small, white, triangular slivers of fresh Mackerel cut from the belly section (no bigger than your little finger) hooked once through the wider end. Mount the bait on either a size 2 or 4 B940 pattern Aberdeen hook for good results. Smaller hooks work well, particularly when targeting Garfish.

If you don’t have Mackerel, though, similar sized strips of squid also work well. Fishy baits work best, but Mackerel will also take ragworm.

Another tip to increase your catch rate for Mackerel and Garfish when float fishing is to put a few brightly coloured beads and/or a small spoon just above the baited hook. Then, even if you missed the fish and the bait has been stripped from the hook, you will be in with a chance of a take whilst slowly retrieving your float rig. In this instance, Bling is good.

How to Feather for Mackerel

When it comes to summertime shore fishing, feathering and spinning for mackerel have to be the most commonly seen activities – and arguably the most exciting . However, I’m sure I’m not the only one to admit that in the past I’ve had those days where it seems like everyone is hoiking in the mackerel bar me. With a bit of practice and collective knowledge, though, that can soon change.

Below, we’ve put together a 3 part fishing guide that should improve your catch rate when feathering for mackerel. The first part deals with fishing gear, part 2 with terminal tackle – or your traces – and part 3 with a few general tips on how to catch mackerel on feathers.

But please remember, this is written with the true spirit of fishing in mind. Potentially, on a good day (and possibly with the help of this article!), you could fill a dustbin with mackerel. But please, for the sake of the fish and future anglers, only take what you need. When you have enough, put the feathers back in the tacklebag. Sadly, it’s still all too common to see some cocklobster in a fishing frenzy, truly mackerel bashing, pulling in line after line of mackerel that’ll probably just end up in the bin. It’s out and out slaughter, it’s unnecessary, and it’s ugly. However, if you fish sensibly, responsibly, and just catch what you need for the rest of your session or for tea, feathering for mackerel can be a whole lot of fun.