Mackerel Fishing Tactics: The Rods, Lures & Spinners

Mackerel are a fast moving oily fish that can be targeted with a variety of methods. While they are easy to catch, there are things you can do to dramatically increase your hook up rate and catch more fish. This article covers the different approaches and tackle to maximise your fun while fishing for mackerel. The content is based on my experience mackerel fishing in Cornwall, but the same tactics work throughout the Atlantic.

This page contains product recommendations with Amazon affiliate links so that I can make a small profit from any purchases you choose to make through this page. For instance, this is my best performing mackerel lure on Amazon. My goal is to help you catch more fish, if you want personalised advice contact me at mevagisseyinfo@gmail.com.

Contents

fisherman on mevagissey harbour wall

Mackerel Fishing: Beginners Instructions

“Go to your chosen harbour wall or rock mark in time for high tide. Avoid standard mackerel feathers from tackle shops and buy Japanese Sabiki feathers instead for a superior hookup rate. Cast these out with a 2oz weight like these one’s also on Amazon. Let these lures sink down for several seconds before retrieving gradually. Try fishing at different depths by letting it sink for more or less times. Once hooked, grip the fish firmly around the middle and either snap the neck or hit it on the head sharply. Do not release the fish, unlike other species oily fish do not survive release.”

Mackerel predominantly rely on sight for hunting and as you’d imagine they enjoy smashing into bait balls of sandeel and whitebait. For this reason, the main lure used for them is a string of mackerel feathers which are typically silver. At the end of the string of 4-5 feathers, a lead weight is attached. The weight you need depends on the rod you’re using. Typically feathers would be used on a moderately powerful spinning rod, so you might use weights in the 2-3oz range with mackerel feathers. This approach is probably the most reliable for catching mackerel because you can cast a very long way with this kind of weight and can quickly reach the depth that the fish are hunting at, whatever that might be. Of course, you also have the chance to catch several fish at once, which makes for a heavier haul and more of a chance of feeding your family! 

The issue with this approach is that it typically involves using really quite heavy spinning rods or even beach casters, which are totally overpowered for the species if you’re fishing for sport rather than purely for food. This means you get less of a fight from the fish and it’s much harder to feel the lighter bites and taps, making the whole experience less engaging and fun. With the heavy lead weight and fish swimming in all different directions, the mackerel sort of cancel out each other and they won’t run in one direction and strip out line as they would with a very light weight lure fishing set up. 

Using mackerel feathers also means you’re going to catch more snags and weed, which can be frustrating and you will lose more tackle this way. If you’re fishing for fun and a large shoal of fish appears, you will quickly find you have more fish than you need with this approach. Five casts could easily mean 25 fish with this rig, which could be just 10 minutes of fun instead of hours with a single lure.

This sounds like a good problem to have and it is so long as you have plenty of mouths to feed or a large freezer for bait. Any mackerel you return to the sea will die, due to the sensitivity of the membrane in their skin and the natural oils in our hands. Wetting your hands won’t help. There was research done on releasing mackerel and it was found that all released mackerel died. So, if lots of fish are around it can be better to stop fishing with mackerel feathers and switch to single lures once you’ve almost caught enough. 

The Secret to Catching More Mackerel

If you do choose to fish with mackerel feathers, you’ll want a fishing rod that casts 2-4oz, preferably about 9ft in length. I would specifically recommend fishing with Sabiki feathers rather than standard mackerel feathers, because the size 1O hooks that come on the standard hooks is too large for the mouths of mackerel. On quiet days fishing you will miss out on good fish. Sabiki’s do mean you will catch more smaller fish though, so if you want to filter those out then the standard one’s are better. You will want something like a 15-20lb monofilament line with this kind of set up. Line this thick can tolerate the shock of casting heavier lead weights that are typically used with this setup.

If you’re completely new to fishing and are looking to buy a mackerel fishing rod for use with mackerel feathers, I recommend the Xxtra Flex 9ft model. This is the rod that I used faithfully for years when I targeted mackerel with this method. 

Mackerel Spinners & Spinning Tips

Spinning for mackerel can sometimes refer to using mackerel feathers, but I take it to mean using single spinners rather than a string of hooks. 

This has to be the best way to catch mackerel and the best lures for mackerel fishing are single spinners with enough weight to be cast on their own. Here are some of your options. It probably doesn’t matter that much what colour the lure is, but it’s good to have multiple different colours so you can change them about and see what’s working on a given day. The main thing is that the lure sparkles. 

In my opinion, mackerel will hit smaller lures more often than larger ones, except when they’re in a feeding frenzy and start hitting anything. By smaller, I mean really small little spinners. This may be why the traditional, classic mackerel spinner was the mepps spinner. This small mackerel lure has proved itself over many decades and there is some intrinsic appeal in using such a classic and lure which seems to represent simplicity itself. It almost looks like you’re casting out an earring! However, unlike modern spinners such as casting jigs, which have been pioneered by the Japanese, these spinners do not have enough weight to be cast far without an additional weight. This means you end up with an awful rig in which the point of contact for your rod tip is the lead weight rather than the lure directly, making it harder to detect bites! The exception to this is when fishing with extraordinarily lightweight tackle and very light lines, but even then this lure doesn’t cast very far because it isn’t aerodynic. Still – it’s wonderful to watch a classic mepps spinner fluttering down slowly through the water and a delight to fish with for the nostalgic!

Casting Jigs

The best modern mackerel spinners are called casting jigs. They come in a variety of colours and weights and are easy to tie on because you don’t need any additional weight. They cast like a dream and then flutter down the water column. They can be fished on a slow or fast retrieve or with a sink and draw approach, whereby the lure is lifted up and then flutters down the water column to form a zigzag shaped retrieve. These lures are really beautiful and don’t get caught in as many snags as mackerel feathers. 

Small Plugs

Mackerel can be caught with small plugs and for those tackle tarts out there this will prove the most interesting approach. However, due to the way plugs tend to swim at a set depth, this allows you less control over the depth your lure swims at. This is a problem. Mackerel will often be feeding at a certain depth and you need to future out what that depth is and try to stick at it. Plugs don’t allow you to do this without retying on a new one! However, there’s something glorious about a well-made plug and mackerel certainly won’t refuse them. I’ve even known mackerel to take surface plugs, such as the patchinko. They can be a pain in the arse for bass angers when there are lots of mackerel around because it can be hard work to get through them all to the target species. 

Mackerel Spinners: Soft Plastics & Jig Heads

The art of presenting soft plastics just right on a perfectly weighted jig head holds a lot of appeal. It also allows you to target a far broader range of species. A lot of less impulsive species won’t go anywhere near standard mackerel feathers but soft plastics will allow you to target a wide range of predators at the same time as mackerel. 

The limitation of mackerel spinning with soft plastics is that the hook tends to come out of the top of the lure in a place that is better suited for species that hunt by inhaling or gulping down on lures, such as bass and pollack. Those species will go up behind their prey and open their large mouths, creating a suction effect that draws the prey in. Mackerel, with their pretty little mouths can’t quite do this, so they tend to take snappy bites rather than gulps. Mackerel will snap at lures which means it usually takes multiple attacks until you get a hook up with soft plastics. This effect is more pronounced as lures increase in size. So, it’s a trade off, do you want to target a larger range of species at once but reduce somewhat the number of mackerel you hook? 

The Best Mackerel Bait & Tackle 

If you’re targeting mackerel with bait, you may be amused or disturbed to learn that the mackerels favourite food is mackerel. Other baits, such as sandeel, ragworm and lugworm are also effective, in that order. Sandeel are convenient to hook because you can just follow the shape of the fish. These can be brought frozen from most tackle shops. The advantage of using mackerel as bait is that once you’ve caught one in theory you should never need to buy bait again, because you can use the fish to catch more. 

The best bait for mackerel is sandeel or mackerel, but the most important thing is not the bait but the presentation. 

Consider, am I fishing at a range of different depths? Is much hook size 1O or preferably smaller? Is the hook mostly concealed? Can the fish easily take the bait without taking the hook at the same time? If you’re asking what the best bait is to catch mackerel, you’re probably fishing with a float rig.

Mackerel are pelagic species, which means they move – a lot. They will hunt throughout the entire water column but float rigs of course give you the option to change the depth you fish at, which gives you a massive advantage over using bottom fishing rigs. 

Best Mackerel Fishing Rods

Best Mackerel Rods for Spinning With Feathers 

The rod you want for mackerel fishing depends on whether you will be primarily float fishing, spinning with casting jigs or using mackerel feathers. Basically, for catching loads of mackerel get a 9ft spinning rod, use 2oz lead weights, 20lb line, sabikki feathers and a reel like this one in the 4000 size. 

Best Mackerel Rods for Lure Fishing 

After catching a million mackerel with feathers, some people want to start using something lighter and targeting a wider range of species. A light weight spinning rod is the answer. These rods have been developed dramatically by Japanese manufacturers to cast lighter and lighter weights while still having surprising power. These really light spinning rods are sometimes referred to as LRF rods (max casting weight 5-15g) or HRF rods which cast around an ounce. These rods were originally developed for catching the horse mackerel, which is known as ‘AGI’ in Japan and is prized for eating. They make for excellent fishing in UK waters, unsurprisingly! Mackerel on kit this light will tear line out of your drag and fight HARD. 

Best Travel Rods for Mackerel Fishing 

If you want a rod that you can easily take on a plane in standard hold luggage or just have ready in the back of your car for all circumstances, you’ll want a travel rod. Travel rods are convenient and create more occasions on which you can fish. The problem with travel rods is that they tend to be weaker and have less power than standard rods. I know many people that have broken their travel rods and I myself snapped one first cast after arriving at a remote lake in New Zealand, which was frustrating!

The only solution to this is to set your drag generously and not make the rod take quite so much grunt as you might normally. Alternatively, you can buy a high end model and just take good care of it. 

What’s the best rod and reel for Mackerel fishing? 

The best mackerel rod and reel set up to allow you to fish with both mackerel feathers and soft plastics and casting jigs might just be this one from Amazon. 

Mackerel Fishing in Cornwall 

Although the advice I have given in this article applies wherever mackerel are caught, I can give more specific advice for anglers in Cornwall as this is where I have fished all my life. In short, if you want to go mackerel fishing in Cornwall and are new to fishing, consider going on a boat trip. These typically cost about £10 and you will fill your boots with mackerel as trawling mackerel feathers allows you to cover a very large area with your lure compared to fishing from a static spot on a harbour wall or rock mark. This also makes a great family day out. However, if you are interested in fishing with your own kit, I would just suggest finding marks where the water is deep.

Mackerel fishing in Mevagissey, Fowey, Falmouth, Padstow for instance is decent because you have that immediate access to deeper water. Mackerel will come in shallow but are pelagic and prefer the open seas. If you can fish for the two hours after a spring high tide at dusk from a place like Mevagissey with the methods I have outlined above you are basically guaranteed to catch mackerel. 

If you have any questions about mackerel fishing or fishing in Cornwall, get in touch at mevagisseyinfo@gmail.com

Are you fishing from a harbour wall or from a kayak? 

If you’re kayak fishing for mackerel, of course you will want a far shorter rod. I have taken longer rods out before and because they are clumsy it’s easy to drop them in. Watching the rod slowly drift down into the depths is not an experience I’d like to repeat. Despite being a self-confessed tackle-tart I prefer fishing with cheaper ice-pike fishing rods from the kayak if I’m trawling for mackerel since they can really take a heavy beating and it doesn’t matter too much if they get bullied a lot by the salt and waves etc. I would also recommend fishing with a weight of 2oz or under while kayak fishing for mackerel since this gives your feathers more time to sink to the bottom, reducing the number of snags you get, while still not preventing you from reaching the depths in good time.

The best way to kill a mackerel is to break its neck. This involves inserting your thumb into the fishes mouth so that the pad of your thumb is touching the roof of its mouth. Then, you simply bend the neck backwards until the top of the fishes head is touching the top of its back. This is visually brutal but very clean and is by far the fastest and most humane way to kill a mackerel. The neck of the fish snaps very easily and this instantly kills the fish. Often mackerel will continue to twitch once dead, with their energy too relentless to be stopped by mere death, as it would seem. However, with this approach, this happens less often. It’s just an instant game over once the neck is broken. 

Common Queries

The best month to catch mackerel is May-June but mackerel are caught year round. The largest fish tend to be caught in winter and by the summer months mackerel are often smaller.
The best tide for mackerel fishing is a spring high tide. The two hours before and after high tide tend to be the best but this varies depending on the mark and water depth.

Where can I fish for mackerel in Cornwall?

You can fish for mackerel all along the coastline, but harbours and rock marks that give you immediate access to deeper water are the best for catching mackerel. Mevagissey, Looe, Newlyn and Falmouth, for instance. 

What is the best month to catch mackerel?

Where do you find mackerel?

Mackerel are a pelagic species which means they constantly roam the open seas. They are found at a range of depths and can be caught from the shore and offshore in boats. 

What size hooks for mackerel?

The most common sized hook for mackerel is a size 1O, but these are considered too large by many. There is a Japanese alternative to traditionally sized mackerel feathers which is far superior, called Sabiki feathers. 

Are mackerel in yet?

Mackerel are usually in from late April onwards but this varies by year and location. 

Do mackerel die after being handled?

Yes, a study has shown that after being handled mackerel die due to the burning of their skin from the natural oils in human hands. Wetting your hands does not help. 

What lures to use for mackerel?

The best lure for catching lots of mackerel are mackerel feathers or Sabiki feathers. The most fun way is arguably with a single spinner or a float rod fishing rod. 

What is the best bait for mackerel?

The best bait for catching mackerel is either a sandeel or strip of mackerel, but lures are also highly effective. I recommend the spinners listed on this page alongside Japanese Sabiki feathers for more hook ups. Fishing with baited mackerel feathers allows you to catch mackerel as well as other species. 

What is the best time to catch mackerel?

The best time to catch mackerel is dusk or dawn and at high tide. Spring high tides are often the best as they push bait fish closer into shore and the mackerel follow them in. Mackerel can be caught anytime, however. 

What tide is best for mackerel fishing?

The best tide for mackerel fishing is a spring high tide. These are tides when the difference between high water and low water is at its greatest, and the flow of water is strongest. Big tides push bait fish closer into shore and mackerel follow them in. 

What fish can you catch with a spinner?

Bass, mackerel, pollack and even wrasse will take spinners and other lures and can be effectively targeted in this way. Presentation and retrieval style is key and varies by species. 

What colour lure is best for mackerel?

Mackerels’ natural prey tend to be silvery white and therefore bright, shiny lures are often considered the best. These reflect light which increases their visibility to the fish. It’s often said that the colours of lures are there to catch the anglers rather than the fish!

What’s the best lure for mackerel fishing at night? 

The best lure for mackerel fishing at night is either a shiny lure to make the absolute most of whatever light is available, or a UV lure which glows in the dark. These lures are the best for fishing at night because they stand out so much more to the fish with their glow. In order for UV lures to work you must shine a light on them for a while first. 

What’s the best mackerel fishing gear? 

The best mackerel fishing gear is a simple spinning set up with an 8-9ft rod, 16lb monofilament line and mackerel feathers such as these Japanese sabiki feathers. The most fun way to catch mackerel however is with a light game set up. 

Mackerel fishing jig/kit set up / rigs / spoon / trolling / tips

Best mackerel fishing lure length?

Mackerel do not have particularly large mouths relative to other species such as bass and pollack and a common mistake is to fish with lures which are too large. Avoid soft plastics with long paddle tails. 2 inches is perfect for mackerel fishing. 

Mackerel fishing off the beach?

You can fish for mackerel off the beach but this tends to work best at beaches where the water gets deep very quickly or when you know lots of bait fish are being pushed close into shore. 

What’s the best mackerel lure? 

The best mackerel lure in my opinion is a casting jig, which is like a highly evolved spinner. I recommend the one’s inspired by Japanese designs as these are designed to catch ‘agi’ which is in the mackerel family and is superior to most traditional lures.