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Mackerel / Herring

Mackerel / Herring article by John Staten

Both are good oily baits for use on their own or as a good 'tipping' bait.
Mackerel or herring are an easy bait to get hold of, most tackle shops and certainly any fishmonger will have a good supply of both.  Spinning, float or bottom fishing for them is relatively easy in the summer months when the big shoals are about.  That is a big bonus with the likes of mackerel, they do shoal together mainly to protect themselves because they are a much sort after food by most other speices of fish, plus the likes of seals who will readily gorge on them all day.
One place I frequent in the summer, seals will grab your line, feed on the mackerel and then realease your line so you can catch them some more.  When you reel in you are left with head of the mackerel still attached to your hook!  It is a sight to behold, I kid you not.
Problem is though, some lads don't release the clutch of the reel so the seal can take the fish, you aren't going to win if the seal has hold of the mackerel, of course the obvious happens and your line gets snapped.  Some of the guys do get a bit annoyed after a few of their mackerel get taken but after all it is the natural domain of the seal and not man.

I do want to take a video this summer of the seals chasing a rod caught mackerel if possible and post it up here, probably some time in late August so do check back.

The mackerel will last longer on a hook because of it's tougher skin rather than the much softer skin of the herring.  I don't think there is much difference in the amount of oil in either, they are both good baits in their own right, but personally I do prefer herring.
I have used it since I started fishing back in the early 60's and as they say 'old habits die hard'.

Both are very effective on their own catching flatfish of all varieties, eels, coalfish, mackerel etc.  They do come into their own though when used as a tipping bait for whiting in the winter, I have often had better results using worm tipped off with either herring or mackerel in the winter than with most other baits.  Use the same combination for catching flatfish in the summer or in the winter.

A great variety of other fish will readily take mackerel and herring as a bait such as dogfish, conger, ling, tope, rays, and other preditory species such as, bass, pollack, and porbeagles.  A bit less obvious perhaps is cod, particularly from the shore, are often caught on mackerel or herring.  I have a friend who will only fish with mackerel because it is so cheap compared to worms etc.  He can normally catch enough for his winter use by spinning in the summer for them.  Now I'm not saying he out fishes anybody else but he does catch bass, cod, whiting and flatfish on it, so unless he runs out of his own stock, his winter fishing costs him nothing for bait.
How many of us would wish for that?

Mackerel or Herring strip on a 1/0 hook is the norm if 'float fishing' for Mackerel in the summer months.  Mackerel strip is also a good bait if fished on the bottom for catching mackerel depending how deep they are.  Sometimes when the sea is too choppy to 'float fish', then a strip fished on the bottom of a normal long flowing, one hook rig can do the business.  A tip we always use if bottom fishing for mackerel is to place a cork from a wine bottle just above the hook, this helps to float the bait above the bottom helping to keep it away from those mad hungry crabs.  Besides that, it is also a good excuse to the 'better half', for finishing a bottle or two off when planning a little trip out.

The best times to catch mackerel are sunrise and sunset.  They always tend to feed hard at both ends of the day, you will often see the sea 'boiling' with sprats near the surface of the water and sea birds diving to feed on them as the mackerel herd the sprats into a tight ball to feed on.  A personal preference but I tend to fish at sunrise for mackerel, the crowds aren't normally about then and you can usually get a pleasant couple of hours in before piers and jetties get over-crowded, which they tend to do in the summer months.  Another benefit of fishing at day break is that it is great to get home and have a grilled mackerel with grated cheese on top for breakfast.  If you have never grilled mackerel and then finished it off by putting grated cheese on top and grilling for a little while longer until the cheese starts to bubble and turn brown, you have never lived!  I really do recommend you try it.  A lot of people think that the cheese will make the mackerel even more oily but it doesn't, the cheese soaks up the oil out of the mackerel and both compliment each other, it is a breakfast to die for, believe me.

You can use a fish bait either in strips, in chunks or as a full side fillet for a lot of species.  The head and guts of a Mackerel are a particular popular bait for conger fishing as is the whole fish with it's backbone removed, split stright down the centre to the back of the head and used as a 'flapper'.

It is a great bait to use if out on a charter boat, (or any kind of boat to be honest), to use for conger, ling, good sized pollack, bass, rays, cod, etc.  Of course it depends where you are fishing and with who, but most skippers will keep you on the fish and advise to which method to use for catching.

Happy fishing.

Author's Resource: Article by John Staten on Mackerel.
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