To stock up with enough mackerel for a good day’s sea fishing, the usual technique in summer is to drop a weighted trace carrying six hooks – each whipped with coloured feathers – over the side of a boat. If you manage to locate the shoals then you’re soon hauling in strings of fish – a ready supply of bait full of flavour. Feathering from harbours and shore can also be fruitful.
Fresh fish is definitely best but if you can’t get it, mackerel frozen soon after catching can make reasonable bait. Shop-bought or frozen mackerel generally lacks a firm texture and has less juicy fish appeal.
Mackerel on board
Once you have your mackerel there are several effective ways of presenting it. Flappers Boat anglers after conger rely heavily on a ‘flapper’ bait to get into contact. Push the point of a knife through the mackerel’s body just behind the top of the head. Then, using the backbone as a guide, slice the blade along each side until it emerges at the tail. Cut through and remove the backbone as near to the head as you can. This leaves you with a soft bait consisting of two succulent flaps of flesh, naturally attached to the mackerel’s head.
Push the point of a size 9/0 or 10/0 hook through the mouth and upwards through the head, so that you get a secure hold in the toughest part of the bait. Inverted flapper Alternatively, sever the baitfish’s head and tail and remove the backbone, leaving two flapping sides connected by the tail section. Hook it first through the tail and a second time further down the body.
Fillet o’ fish A side of mackerel cleanly removed is an excellent bait for specimen pollack and coalfish at wreck sites. Hook through the pointed end of the fillet for a natural swimming action. Back-to-back baits are particularly successful when you’re after turbot, blonde and thornback rays and brill.
Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the inside flesh down the entire length of a side of mackerel. Then fold the fillet shiny side inwards, leaving the fleshy side outwards. A back-to-back bait is very effective when predators are reluctant to feed.
Shore anglers also make great use of mackerel bait. Flapper style is best for conger as it stays securely on the hook during the rigours of casting.
Long, thin strips can be legered singly or in association with marine worms, squid or crab to make an attractive cocktail. Or fish them on a sliding float rig for bass, pollack, coalfish, garfish, mullet and even other mackerel.
Mullet method Fish for mullet with a flake of mackerel flesh on a small hook, presented in a cloud of pulped mackereh groundbait.