The scad mackerel

The scad mackerel

The scad, or horse mackerel as it is sometimes known, is a frequent visitor to the southern coasts of Britain and Ireland. Its colouring is rather dull and can’t be compared with the common mackerel’s metallic brilliance. The scad has a drab olive back with hints of blue or grey, and silver sides with greyish bars that span the entire length of the body.

It is also a much smaller fish than the common mackerel and has small dark spots marking the edge of its gill covers. Its first dorsal fin has eight spiny rays; the second fin runs halfway down the body. The curved lateral line is positioned high above the base of the long, sickle-shaped pectoral fins; at the second dorsal fin, it dips downwards, following the centre of the body. Most of the lateral line is unobstructed, increasing the fish’s ability to locate prey.

Mackerel or what?

From its name you might think that the scad is closely related to the common mackerel. Although both appear similar in overall body shape, the scad mackerel isn’t really a mackerel at all – but a member of the Caragidae family which includes the Mediterranean pompano and the heavyweight amberjack which can grow up to 2m (6/2ft)long.

Follow the feeding

Scad mackerel come inshore in early summer, following the shoals of sprats, herring, sandeels and other small fish. Look for scad off sandy beaches where they come in close to feed on sandeels.

Stanchion piers attract shoals of fry seeking cover. This is also a good place to look for scad. You can tempt scad by float fishing small slivers of sprat or herring. Light gear is by far the best because the scad come remarkably close to shore during the day -long casts aren’t needed. A 12ft (3.6m) float rod with a fixed-spool reel loaded with 5-6 lb (2.3-2.7kg) line is suitable gear.


The female lays 5,000-150,00 eggs just offshore in May and June. After a few days the eggs hatch. At this point, the hatchlings, only 2.5mm long, feed on plankton. Once the hatchlings are 13mm (’/An) long, they develop fin rays.

A peculiar trait of young scad (and whiting for that matter) is that many shelter under large jellyfish. You can find young fry, about 5cm (2in) long, close inshore where they tend to form mixed shoals with other small fish.

When winter comes, both adult and young scad move out into the English Channel and off the Republic of Ireland where the water is deeper and warmer. They may live in depths up to 300m (985ft). Only a few countries such as Spain, France and Portugal fish commercially for scad, making fish meal and various other products from them. Since the fishing pressure isn’t too great, there are substantial stocks of fish. pectoral fins which are held out stiffly from the body. There are five gill slits on each side, above the pectoral fin bases, and a conspicuous spiracle (breathing hole) close behind each eye.