Winter Mackerel Tactics

Growing up in the deep south of our fantastic country, winter was never a time Ben Knaggs’ looked forward to. Aside from bone chilling temperatures and day upon day of drab, gloomy conditions, the fishing scene was pretty limited. Actually that’s putting it mildly – often in the guts of winter it was dead! Forgetting about fish and spending weekends at the footy regularly seemed a better option.

Year Round Summer

In northern parts though, the story is an almost polar opposite. Winter fishing options are almost a full as those of high summer, to the point where it’s tough to keep track of what’s going on in the footy…

A particular highlight of winter fishing in the north WA (and much of the rest of northern Australia for that matter) is the mid year run of Spanish mackerel. While spannies are available year round in north WA, winter is the time to find packs of big macks marauding the reef edges and shoals. So thick can they be at this time of year that you can almost always count on nailing a few with an absolute minimum of time and fuss, and the smoke box gets a fair workout!

WM 1

Dawn is just breaking and there’s a big winter mack in the boat. First light is without doubt prime time for these fish.

Best Approach For Consistent Results

The standard method for chasing Spanish most anywhere they are found is to troll. Natural baits such as garfish, mullet, Watson’s leaping bonito and wolf herring rigged to swim are deadly on big spannies, although the convenience of bibbed minnow lures usually outweighs the extra effectiveness of natural baits, especially when the macks are stacked up hard.

The best mackie lures are those that swim strong and track straight at quite fast trolling speeds. Spannies posses unbelievable speed and their favourite hunting tactic is to use that blistering burst pace to run down fleeing prey. So a troll speed of 5 knots should be a minimum, with 7 knots closer to ‘perfect’ pace.

Watch Those Choppers

With a mouth lined with bandsaw-like teeth, spannies will scissor straight through even the heaviest, toughest nylon or fluorocarbon leader line, so wire leaders are a necessity. However, a lot of fisho’s go way over the top with wire leaders for spannies.

Spanish macks also have astounding eyesight, which means they may shy away from lures or baits attached to long lengths of heavy wire. So your bite leader should be a short (30cms max) length of quite light single strand wire. No.5 (44lb) wire is as heavy as you will ever need to go, and dropping down another couple of sizes if the fish are really fussy isn’t too much of a risk.

Those bandsaw-like teeth mean wire bite leaders are a must for these fish. A short length of light single strand wire is all that’s needed to combat this razor sharp dentistry.

Those bandsaw-like teeth mean wire bite leaders are a must for these fish. A short length of light single strand wire is all that’s needed to combat this razor sharp dentistry.

Practice Makes Perfect

Although it can be a fiddly job, it’s advisable to learn how to tie a good Haywire twist/barrel roll connection and make your own single strand bite leaders. Most store bought wire leaders are of very poor construction and highly likely to fail.

Unfortunately, whenever and wherever you find big mack packs in north WA, you can put money on also finding a heap of sharks shadowing them. Whaler and reef sharks of all description just love a feed of spannie, and when they’re in the plague proportions that they are in most places along this coastline there’s just no escaping regular ‘sharkings’ when chasing macks.

The Right Tackle

Ordinarily you could handle even the biggest Spanish on a 6-8kg outfit with a large line capacity, but when the noahs are on the hunt it’s virtually impossible to fish anything but quite heavy gear of at least 15kg. Without the pulling power to horse a hooked mack as it runs out of steam you’ll just have fish after fish monstered. It’s a pity to miss out on the sporting aspect of these most perfectly formed sportfish, but fresh mackie fillets on the BBQ make this ethical loss much more palatable.

 A typical ‘school’ sized Spanish mack. Fish like this and much bigger are often thick along the north-west coast in winter.

A typical ‘school’ sized Spanish mack. Fish like this and much bigger are often thick along the north-west coast in winter.

Spanish aren’t the only mackerel species to be caught along this coast. Shark mackerel like this are common, as are school and spotted mackerel.

Spanish aren’t the only mackerel species to be caught along this coast. Shark mackerel like this are common, as are school and spotted mackerel.

Tactics for Tough Times

If there’s one tactical move you could make above all others to catch more and bigger macks it would be to get out of bed. Dawn is absolute prime time for these fish, so being on the water and on the troll as the sun peeps over the horizon is key.

As the day gets older, the mackies will typically school down lower in the water column and become far less frenzied in their feeding. This doesn’t mean they can’t be caught; rather that some fresh tactics will be needed to tempt them.

The obvious move when the sun is high is to choose lures that run deeper. This will certainly help the cause, but keep in mind you’ll still need to troll at a fast speed to get the attention of these speed-freak fish. So be discerning in your deep diver purchases. Only a very few makes and models of deep divers can swim above 5 knots.

 Wahoo are a common by-catch when chasing Spanish mackerel, particularly along the Ningaloo coast.

Wahoo are a common by-catch when chasing Spanish mackerel, particularly along the Ningaloo coast.

Downrigging Options

An even better option through the middle parts of the day is to use a downrigger to get lures down to where the fish are holding. You don’t see too many downriggers on boats up this way, which is a bit strange as downrigging is a fearfully effective tactic, not just Spannies but also a whole range of pelagic and even demersal predators on the bluewater.

Live baits work a treat on shutdown or shy Spannies too, but again, that issue with the sharks can make this a pointless practice. If the sharks aren’t too bad though, a livie drifted out behind the boat can be deadly, as can a drifting pilchard (mulie in these parts) or garfish.

 Deeper diving lures can help score more mackie bites once the sun is up. Be sure to choose deep divers that can cope with faster than normal trolling speeds for these fish.

Deeper diving lures can help score more mackie bites once the sun is up. Be sure to choose deep divers that can cope with faster than normal trolling speeds for these fish.

Blitzkrieg Bites

The signature of a Spanish mackerel bite is a scorching hit and first run. There’s not too many things in the ocean that scream off faster than Spanish mack. In fact about the only thing that can outdo a Spanish in a match race sprint is a wahoo, which by happy coincidence are a fairly common by-catch along this coast when trolling for mackies.

Winter in the north-west means cooler water yes, but still plenty of red hot fishing options. Those big spannies certainly top the list.

The winter Spanish mack run is not solely a boat based fishing opportunity. Spinning from rock ledges that drop into deep, current swept ledges will also score plenty of macks through the cooler months.

The winter Spanish mack run is not solely a boat based fishing opportunity. Spinning from rock ledges that drop into deep, current swept ledges will also score plenty of macks through the cooler months.

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1 Comment

  1. fishinggod43
    July 23, 11:04 Reply
    Love catching a few macks through winter but nothing beats a big kingie

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