by Lee Brake
The mackerel season has begun in North Queensland and this week Lee describes how by using vertical jigging techniques you can catch more mackerel and have more fun doing it!
Double hook-up inshore on mackerel. Most times if you hook one, dropping down a second jig will double your success in a short time.
We all love a feed of fresh mackerel but there's no doubt that they can be frustrating fish to catch at times. How often have you found yourself out on a calm day fishing your local mackerel patch with a flotilla of other boats and these toothy speedsters just won't play the game? Usually the reason behind this is the boat traffic and, in particular, the fact that it's sending the bait down deep.
You can try floating down a naturally presented bait, but if the fish are flighty and moving around a large area, which is often the case, this can be very hit and miss.
Alternatively, try going vertical with a range of jigging techniques. If done right, this will appeal to the predatory nature of mackerel, and a range of pelagics. These fish can't resist a fleeing baitfish separated from the safety of the school.
Never discount soft plastics and featherhead jigs for mackerel. They can be worked at speed and the erratic action and pulse of feathers/fibre makes them very enticing.
There are lots of different jig types you can use: metal blades, soft vibes, metal slices, knife jigs, soft plastic jerkshads or featherhead jigs. All these will work and rely on a range of factors to draw the attention of hungry mackerel: vibration, flash, speed and an erratic action.
All these lure types enable the angler a wide range of options depending on depth, gear available and concentration of fish. For example, in shallow inshore waters, ripping a big knife jig from bottom to top will likely achieve little, except maybe a broken rod tip, however, over deep shoals with a high-speed spin combo it's the ideal choice. In shallow waters try vibes, blades, featherhead jigs (like marabou jigs) and five to seven feet soft plastic jerkshads. All these can be worked on both baitcaster or spin and speed requirements can be offset by using fast rips and jerks of the rod tip.
Try using a short length of wire trace to begin with, but if you're struggling to get bites, take it off and risk it. In heavily pressured areas, wire can be a bigger turn-off than farting in bed. Remember, macks will often hit the lure on the drop, so avoid masses of slack line when freespooling. I actually like to use a baitcaster combo like a Calcutta 400 (with a graphite, fast action, 6'6', 10-12kg rod) so that I can put my thumb on the spool as I freespool. That way if I feel the slightest bump, I can engage the reel and have a chance of hooking up before the fish can bite me off!
Deep water vertical jigging is best done with big knife jigs and plenty of armour. This River 2 Sea knife jig is rigged with small wire trace and Decoy double wire assist rig.
Further offshore, going for heavy, fast action spin tackle with a high gear ratio will be more beneficial. This is the home of metal slices and knife jigs, especially if you can see those lines and arches on your depth sounder in mid-water that give away the presence of feeding Spanish mackerel. For these long battles in deep water you'll need some special equipment. A fast action rod that can cushion the initial hard strike and offset the lack of stretch in braid is important, as is at least 300m of braid to handle the first spool-emptying run of a XOS Spanish. Armour is more important than in the shallow inshore waters as well.
Lee Brake with a nice Spanish mackerel jigged up over the shoals off Mackay on a Halco Twisty knife jig.
Over a long fight the chances getting cut off go up every minute as the fish shakes its head and gnashes those razor sharp teeth. For this reason I always run a short length of wire on the front of my jigs when I'm jigging water over 30m. Twenty centimetres is normally enough especially when coupled with a wire assist rig on a knife jig. On that note, don't be tempted to use the little Dacron assist rigs most knife jigs come rigged with. They might be ok for southern kingfish or samson fish, but mackerel will wear through them faster than you'd think possible. Decoy sell a handy wire-rigged double assist rig which not only comes with decent size hooks, but by having two, doubles your chance of a hook-up.
Graham Brake working an inshore bait ball with a Threadybuster soft vibe. Mackerel love the quivering vibrations sent out by these lures.
When jigging you can choose to cover a wide area with what is often called a yoyo jig or focus on a bait ball in one area. If bait is holding on structure, like a pinnacle, you can hold the boat in place above, either with the outboard
or Spot Lock (if you're lucky enough to own a Minn Kota i-Pilot). Once above the fish, simply dropping the jig to the bottom and rapidly cranking it towards the surface will usually get results (ideal with metal slices or big featherhead jigs).
An example of yoyo jigging as seen by a depth sounder.
When yoyo jigging, you're usually drifting a wide area where various smaller broken bait schools are being harassed. Try to work out how high most of the fish are sitting in the water column and, as you drift, repeatedly crank and rip the jig up to approximately that height and then freespool to the bottom once more. This will allow you to cover the area and hopefully attract the attention of a mackerel.
Even if you prefer trolling, never discount the usefulness of having one rod rigged with a jig. Next time you're trolling and someone hooks-up to a mack, grab the jig and, if the lines aren't in danger of being tangled, drop it down for a few jigs while the other fish is hooked-up. It's amazing how often the school with follow the hooked fish right to the boat where you can then enjoy a double-hook-up.
Fish hard and stay safe!