How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (2023)

How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (1)

Learning how to catch mackerel is a worthwhile investment of your time because there is little that beats freshly–caught mackerel for fishing bait – it's many expert's number one choice.

This is because any fish with even the vaguest predatory instincts that swims in any ocean will eat mackerel in some form, plus it's free if you catch it yourself. It's a win–win situation for any angler.

The good news is that with the right bait and tackle, and some of our expert's mackerel fishing tips around the best tackle, baits, rigs, locations, times and seasons, you will find this plentiful fish is just waiting to be reeled in wherever the species is distributed. Bring the barbecue, too, as they're delicious grilled or fried!

Plus, mackerel fishing is the perfect way to get anyone interested in angling. For kids and those with short attention spans, it's an easy and exciting fish to catch, putting up a surprisingly good fight on light fishing tackle.

As highlighted, there are also few better baits than fresh mackerel so it's worth looking at our guide on how to catch your own bait and make the most of this fabulous fish.

With international travel opportunities currently looking restricted due to Covid-19 rules, anglers are sure to be ‘staycationing’ in bigger numbers than ever before. A day out to the coast, or a longer fishing trip offers the chance to try your luck in saltwater. But see the Angling Trust’s latest sea fishing guidelines (opens in new tab) for current, up-to-date advice on angling with coronavirus restrictions in the UK.

How to catch mackerel: The best seasons and times for mackerel fishing

If you go at the best fishing times for mackerel in the summer, when water temperatures are highest and there's an abundance of food items that mackerel eat, you will find they're common around many coastlines.

For some of the year, they lurk too far for even the longest casters, which can make learning how to catch mackerel tricky unless you have access to a boat or kayak, in which case they're accessible for most of the year.

(Video) How to catch Mackerel | TAFishing

But it’s in the warmer months when they can be found in colossal shoals, pursuing bait fish such as sandeels near to shore, making peak summer, autumn and anytime the water temperatures are highest the best time to catch lots of mackerel.

Regarding the time of day, as with many species, mackerel feed best at dawn or dusk. Their prey – small fish, sandeels, launce, shrimps, squid and so on – are also most active around these times. If you can fish when the light changes around dawn or dusk, with a tidal change just before or after this time so the water is moving in or out a fair amount, then you'll be most likely to have a busy session.

You can also try night fishing by using a light stick or glow stick on the line to attract the mackerel to the rig. This can work a treat off a pier or jetty. Use the glowstick like a big float or bobber and fish near pier lights or where baitfish congregate with small strips of fresh mackerel belly with the white flesh on a size 8 to 1 hook a few feet under the float, or use a baited sabiki rig.

How to catch mackerel: The best lures, feathers and baits for mackerel fishing

Being a true shoal fish, individuals have little time to be fussy over a potential meal, which makes catching mackerel very easy to catch on relatively simple tackle. A small shiny lure such as a spoon, spinner or baitfish imitation, and float fishing with small strips of bait, are successful mackerel tactics. But a string of feathers or small lures beats all methods.

A string of mackerel feathers consists of around six hooks, each dressed with an artificial enticement to make it look like a small fish or food item moving in the water. The larger, rainbow–coloured feathers mounted on large, crude hooks that were popular years ago are a little old–fashioned now, with smaller more modern versions more effective at getting bites.

A hook size of between four and 1/0 is recommended with a small amount of bright or dark dressing (yellow, silver, red, black and dark green are really effective) the best option for imitating tiny sandeels that mackerel often snack on. The modern version of the mackerel feather is sometimes known as a sabiki rig, and consists of several hooks dressed with a tiny sliver of bait–imitating material, like a bit of fish skin or some shiny threads like tinsel. These will catch lots of mackerel.

Just make sure the rig itself is strong enough to cast the weight of the lead or rig in total, if you're mackerel fishing from beach or pier, remembering that you need about 10lb of breaking strain in the line for every ounce you're likely to cast. So a rig made with 20lb line would work well with a 2oz weight, 30lb for a 3oz weight, and so on.

A good expert tip for anyone who wants to catch mackerel is to use a bright metal jig or baitfish–imitating lure at the bottom of the rig, in place of a usual weight. This adds an extra attractant to the rig and will lure mackerel in as it flutters through the water when it's being retrieved, or dropped off a boat.

Another good tip for mackerel fishing is to bait the sabiki or feather rigs with tiny strips of fish or squid – just enough to enhance the taste and smell of the bait in the water. On hard days, this can really make a difference. Mackerel seem more eager to bite and hang on to something that tastes real.

  • How to plan a fishing trip: all you need to know before you go
  • Best fishing spots: how to find the perfect place to go fishing
  • How to choose a fishing reel: our expert guide to this angling essential

How to catch mackerel: The best tackle, rods, poles and reels for mackerel fishing

How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (3)

Regarding the best fishing tackle for catching mackerel, megabucks rods aren’t usually essential; a 10–13ft (3-05–3.65m) rod such as a medium–power saltwater beach or surf rod capable of casting 3–6oz is perfect. Match this with a 6000 to 8000–size spinning reel or equivalent multiplier and you have a solid mackerel fishing set–up that even beginners will find easy to use.

A freshwater rod can also be used with carp, pike and catfish–orientated models suitable. Something around 12ft (3.6m) with a test–curve of 3–4lb that's comfortable casting a 3oz weight is advisable. Big pit–style reels and large fixed–spool reels are also suitable tackle for mackerel fishing but, if using gear made for freshwater, make sure it gets all gets an extremely thorough wash in warm soapy water afterwards to avoid rust and seizing issues.

(Video) How To Catch Spanish Mackerel (The Easy Way)

So, for general mackerel fishing tackle from a beach or pier, we like the 12ft–plus rod option coupled it with a large reel loaded with about 12lb (5.44kg) monofilament, or 20lb (9kg) braided main line, with some stronger monofilament line (30–60lb) to act as a casting leader. Check out our guide to the best fishing line to inform your selection. A string of good quality mackerel feathers, or a sabiki rig, and suitable weight completes the set-up.

A 3 oz (85 gm) distance lead is usually more than adequate for reaching mackerel shoals, but if your rod and tackle can handle it, don't be afraid to go much heavier to reach a more distant shoal. But they can sometimes swim within a few yards of the shore as they wreak havoc on their prey, so a long cast and big weight isn't always needed.

A finger stool protects your index finger from repeated casting. A priest quickly dispatches mackerel destined for the table or for winter pike baits. Kill those fish firmly but quickly to prevent prolonged suffering and put them on ice immediately to preserve the freshness. Be aware: they will go bad quickly in the sun or at room temperature due to the high oil content, so cooling them quickly is essential.

From a boat, your tackle options are a lot wider as you just have to reel up and down the water column when you drop the rig over the side – no casting involved. A short 6–8ft (1.8–2.45m) rod rated for 10-20lb line combined with small multiplier loaded with 10–20lb mono or 20–30lb braid is going to be the best boat fishing tackle for mackerel.

How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (4)

The best locations for mackerel fishing: what makes a great mackerel spot?

First, let's set out some rules for mackerel fishing locations. Being a highly mobile migratory fish, mackerel like deeper water and any beach, jetty, pier or breakwater that gives you access to deep water is a great choice, particularly if it's in open ocean.

You wouldn't, for example, be advised to target mackerel inside a harbour or inland estuary, but a pier or rocky point jutting out into the wide blue yonder is a perfect spot. Clear blue water is also preferred over anything muddy or sandy.

Proximity to bait fish is also important. You'll often get a clue that mackerel are on the hunt by seeing scores of small fish scatter on the surface as they're chased to the surface by hungry shoals. Observing things like this and looking to find deeper water with some current are also good ways of increasing your chances of success.

Now, to put the theory into practice, let's look at an example of a great mackerel fishing location in the UK: Chesil Beach in Dorset. It is probably the most prolific mackerel fishing venue in the UK, and examining why will help you identify any of your local hot spots.

Made entirely of pebbles (18 billion apparently!) and stretching from Portland to West Bay, Chesil is a steeply shelving venue with deep water close in. This scenario is perfect for finding dense shoals of bait fish and mackerel near to shore – and ideal for pleasure anglers who can still catch fish regularly without the need for extreme casting.

Our expert Matt Sparkes gives this advice: "Mackerel are found along the whole coastline of the UK, where colossal shoals mean bumper hauls are a possibility. There is the chance of a full string of fish on nearly every cast – especially on a rising tide.

"The most effective way of catching mackerel here is to use a string of lures or feathers. These basic lures are retrieved erratically through the water, mimicking small baitfish such as sand eels, which are the staple diet of mackerel. Plain white through to vivid day-glo orange colors work best here. Fancier brands score well, too, with strips of glittery tinsel and silver reflector strips designed to glint and flash through the water."

How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (5)

(Video) Mackerel Fishing - Shore & Boat | Rigs, Tips & Tactics to CATCH MORE FISH!

The best mackerel fishing tactics: how to work feathers and find fish like a pro

Here’s how you use mackerel feathers or a sabiki rig once they’re attached to your leader, along with a lead or metal jig for a casting weight.

Cast out as far as you can and tighten up a second or two after the lead hits the water. Then begin the retrieve immediately by simply pulling the rod back in one continuous sweeping motion whilst keeping the butt at waist height, like a big lever.

You then bring the rod forward and down again while reeling in the slack line quickly, and repeat. This is known as pumping and winding. You’ll know when you’ve hit a shoal of mackerel – everything suddenly goes solid and then it’s simply a question of slowly winding them in.

If you're using a small single lure, cast as far as you can and let it sink for a few seconds before starting a fast, erratic retrieve without moving the rod too much. The lure will have it's own built-in action.

Try letting the lure or feathers sink a little longer before retrieving if you're not getting bites – you'll find mackerel feeding both near the surface and near the bottom, so working out where they're hanging out is key to getting a good haul. Work the water column until you find them.

It's exciting stuff, mackerel fishing, especially with a full set of six lively fish on the line at once – it’ll certainly put a pleasing bend in your rod!

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How to catch mackerel: the best times, season, rig, bait and expert tackle tips for mackerel fishing (6)

(Video) Spanish mackerel rig tips & catch,best bait.

Angler's Mail

Running from 1964 until 2020, Angler's Mail was the UK's leading weekly magazine devoted to coarse fishing, telling readers everything they needed to know about which fish to catch, where to catch them, and what kit they needed to do it. Now, loads of the magazine's expert advice can be found on, as a helpful resource for angling newcomers and experts alike.

(Video) Live-Baiting for Mackerel | The Fishing Show


What is the best setup for mackerel fishing? ›

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.

What is the best bait for mackerel fishing? ›

The most common bait used to catch mackerel is mackerel themselves. Mackerel strips are excellent baits. You may also want to see my "Setting up a mackerel for bait" guide in the Beginner's guide section. Other baits used include garfish, scad, sand eels and squid.

What time of day is best for mackerel fishing? ›

The Best Times To Catch Mackerel

The best time to fish for mackerel are dusk and dawn, and make sure it's high tide. This will give you the highest chance of catching them. We recommend fishing for these smaller fish in the spring high tides, as mackerel will follow bait fish into the shore.

What depth do mackerel swim at? ›

Mackerel will swim at pretty much every depth in the water column. I have caught them just under the surface and I have caught them at 300 ft down on the bottom! They could be anywhere and it is very much trial and error when it comes to locating them.

What size hook is best for mackerel? ›

The typical feather hook is sized a little too large for mackerel, mainly being about a size 1 or 1/0 equivalent upto a 3/0. Consider the size of a mackerels mouth and you'll agree that a smaller size 4 hook will catch more fish.

What size rod for mackerel? ›

Mackerel feathering rods

The key when looking for a mackerel feathering rod is to reach for something long – about 10-12ft. This will give you the maximum casting distance. This will also allow you to use 4oz leads, which will maximise your casting distance.

What are the best feathers 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.

What color lures mackerel? ›

Transparent, purple and blue lures had the smallest hooking rates and showed significant differences (least significant difference test) from the other colored lures.

How do you use a mackerel rig? ›

Cast your feathers out. Allow them to sink to the bottom and then by holding your rod high, wind in until the feathers are a few feet off the sea bed. Then by jigging the rod in an upward and downward motion while retrieving your feathers, will see your feathers flutter through the water columns like fleeing baitfish.

Does light attract mackerel? ›

In addition, scientists also found that sardines, horse mackerel, etc., particularly like red light. If they are exposed to cyan and green light, their swimming will be very active.

What temperature do mackerel like? ›

Distribution: Mackerel are found worldwide in temperate (not too hot, not too cold ~50-72 °F) waters, and throughout the eastern Pacific.

Do mackerel bite in the rain? ›

Many fish will feed right after the rain storms pass as long as they are not extreme low barometric pressure events. You can catch tarpon, snook, redfish, speckled trout, flounder, black drums, bluefish, mackerel and many more species after it rains.

Do you need a wire trace for mackerel? ›

Mackerel are toothy critters so it's wise to make and use a wire trace, especially when fishing for mackerel with trolled lures.

Can you catch mackerel when the tide is going out? ›

Shoal fish, such as mackerel, may come within range of anglers fishing from pier and rock marks when the weather is calm and the tide is weak, but stay further out at sea during strong spring tides, especially when they are combined with bad weather.

Do mackerel fight hard? ›

Mackerel. Mackerel fight hard and are great fun, especially when you have six on at the same time! They can be caught on almost any lures but a rig of three to six feathers is the most common method used. They taste great and are excellent bait for larger species as they have very oily flesh.

How far should my hook be from my weight? ›

Depending on the depth, the distance from the hook to the weight needs to be adjusted. For shallower water, it is recommended to place your hook three to six inches above the weight. For deeper water, the hook can be adjusted to nine inches from the weight to no more than a foot and a half because of the leverage.

Where do you hook mackerel? ›

How to Rig Pacific Mackerel
  • Pin a 4/0 to 6/0 Owner Gorilla hook through the roof of the mouth and out the top jaw for casting, slow-trolling and drifting.
  • A hook through the back in front of the dorsal works well for sight-casting for marlin and fly-lining for yellowtail.
Oct 9, 2019

What is the minimum size for mackerel? ›

Fish Species Table
Fish SpeciesMinimum Size
Herring (Clupea harengus)200 mm
Horse Mackerel (Trachurus trachurus)150 mm
Ling (Molva molva)630 mm
Mackerel (Scomber scombrus)200 mm
12 more rows

Do you gut mackerel straight away? ›

When you buy fish from a fishmonger they are usually already gutted. If you catch your own fish or buy fish that have not already been gutted it is important to do this to remove the guts. The demonstration we have shown here is gutting a mackerel but the method is the same for all round fish.

What is the easiest way to catch mackerel? ›

Using a beachcaster or bass rod and daylights or feathers is a very effective way to catch mackerel, and if a shoal is cast into it is possible to catch a mackerel on every lure. However, there is little sport in this method. Most anglers use lighter bass or spinning rods if they are fishing for mackerel for sport.

Where are the bones in mackerel? ›

Mackerel is a medium sized round fish and has a skeleton of one long backbone with bones along each side on which each fillet is attached.

Which is the tastiest mackerel? ›

Atlantic Mackerel

These guys may not be the biggest (averaging just a foot long) but they're certainly one of the tastiest. Atlantic Mackerel live all along the North Atlantic Coast, from Labrador to North Carolina.

What color attracts fish the most? ›

Overall, green light attracts the most fish. Green has a high lumen output of 130 per LED alongside a 520 nm wavelength. Shrimp and insects have both of these wavelengths in their color vision alongside green light receptors around 530 um.

What color attracts more fish? ›

Green Light and White Light are the most common colors used to attract fish to Boats, Docks and Piers because they are brighter and will attract fish from a greater distance.

Does mackerel need scaling? ›

Mackerel are an oily fish that lend well to smoking, salting, grilling and stewing. It has a medium to firm texture. Even though mackerel have very small scales, they do not need to be scaled. However, a thorough wash of the skin is recommended.

What size hook for mackerel feathers? ›

The vast majority of daylights and feathers come with size 2/0 hooks fitted, which is the ideal size for mackerel which are the main target of most anglers using this type of lure.

What time of year is mackerel season? ›

Mackerel are batch spawners, they spawn mainly in March to July; the eggs and larvae are pelagic. During this time spawning fish are not targetted as handlines only catch a small percentage of each shoal and only when they are feeding, not when they are spawning.

Can you overcook mackerel? ›

Mackerel is particularly unpleasant when overcooked, leaving dry, almost chewy flesh, so always err on the side of caution when cooking the fish.

What's the best bait for king mackerel? ›

Kingfish Baits and Lures

Silvery live baits such pilchards, threadfin herring, menhaden, mullet and blue runners are preferable to dead baits, according to virtually all top tournament anglers.

Is fishing better or worse after rain? ›

After a rainstorm, fish may become more active. They may leave their shelter and hunt for food. If the water is rough or if the rain has caused higher levels of turbidity (silt, mud, and sand) to cloud the water, the fish will have more difficulty finding food.

How long is the mackerel season? ›

Mackerel spawning season is in May through June, so it is best to catch them in the late spring and early summer. Mackerel can be caught all year long, but the best times are during the spring and summer.

Does rain help fishing? ›

Successful Rainy Lake Fishing

Often, during hot summer months, the amount of dissolved oxygen in a lake becomes low, making fish inactive. Rain will aerate the surface water and often has a cooling effect, both of which can activate fish.

What pound leader is mackerel? ›

Fluorocarbon leaders that range from 25 to 50 pound test line have become common for Spanish mackerel fishing. Because most Spanish mackerel will be in the 2 to 3 pound range, you will most likely only need 8 to 12 pound test line as your main line, which is why the leader is so important.

What weights for mackerel fishing? ›

The 10ft model with a 2-4oz casting weight is an ideal setup for a 3 mackerel feather setup and the 12ft 4-8oz set up is ideal for a 3 plus mackerel feather setup. This setup comes with a 60 size fixed spool reel that is already loaded with 20lb monofilament.

What is King Mackerel favorite bait? ›

Kingfish Baits and Lures

Silvery live baits such pilchards, threadfin herring, menhaden, mullet and blue runners are preferable to dead baits, according to virtually all top tournament anglers.

What is the best tasting mackerel? ›

Atlantic Mackerel

These guys may not be the biggest (averaging just a foot long) but they're certainly one of the tastiest.

Do you need to remove scales from mackerel? ›

Mackerel are an oily fish that lend well to smoking, salting, grilling and stewing. It has a medium to firm texture. Even though mackerel have very small scales, they do not need to be scaled. However, a thorough wash of the skin is recommended.

What is the legal size for mackerel? ›

The sizes apply both at sea and on the shoreline, for both commercial and recreational use. Any fish or shellfish below this size must be immediately returned to the sea.
Fish Species Table.
Fish SpeciesMinimum Size
Horse Mackerel (Trachurus trachurus)150 mm
Ling (Molva molva)630 mm
Mackerel (Scomber scombrus)200 mm
13 more rows


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