Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fishing baits. Mackerel. How to prepare a mackerel as a bait

The number one all round baits, the most popular and generally the most easily accessible of all is mackerel. Mackerel is one of the easiest fish to catch and most prolific around the coast during the summer months.These fish are the perfect target species when introducing novice anglers to the sport of sea angling. Anglers fishing with feathers  will catch mackerel three, four of five at time when the fish are in feeding mode. Spinning with a small red and silver  spinner an a light rod is excellent sport, as is fly fishing with a single bright fly shaped like a small sand eel.
The mackerel is streamlined and hydro-dynamically shaped for lightning bursts of speed a it attacks its prey and avoid becoming prey itself. Its body apart from its head, is covered with minute scales and tapes to a delicate but extremely powerful forked tail; it has a big mouth with numerous small sharp teeth.
The most striking thing that you will be noticed about the mackerel is its magnificent markings; its back is covered  with dark stripes  intermingled with iridescent blue and green ones, the coloured  flanks are also iridescent and the belly is a silvery white. This colouring provides the mackerel with exceptional camouflage which help  it avoid bigger predators such as dolphins and tunas.
Mackerels are a very oily bait that few fish will refuse and can be used in different forms as bait for almost every species of fish when fishing from both boat and shore; even freshwater anglers use mackerel for pike fishing.
Mackerel can be bought in most fish shops in season or vacuum packed and frozen from tackle shops all year round.
At the start of boat angling trips time is usually spent searching for fresh mackerel. This is important, especially if conger or sharks are your targets, as stale or even day-old mackerel are no use as bait for these species.
At sea, a good indicator of a shoal of mackerel is birds diving on the surface; these birds are usually snapping up the sand eels or baitfish  that the mackerel have chased to the surface, and the mackerel themselves are often chased to the surface by dolphins and sharks.
Mackerel usually snap at any type of lure that  you put down but traces with brightly coloured feathers, fluorescent beads and silver tinsel usually work the best.
These traces should have no more than three or four hooks, any more than this and you will waste a lot of time untangling your trace. As you catch your mackerel you should store them out of sunlight immediately, preferably in a cool box, as once  they have died the mackerel’s flesh starts to break down and decay very quickly. Mackerel should be stored on ice if they are to be taken home for the table or for freezing for another day’s fishing.
Day old mackerel, mackerel left out in the sun or even frozen mackerel work better than fresh mackerel when fishing for thornback ray and dogfish.

How to prepare a mackerel as a bait
To prepare a mackerel for a day’s fishing is easy enough. There are really only two ways of preparing it: filleting it or turning it into a flapper. The latter is the preferred method choice for tope, conger and shark fishing.
  1. Filleting mackerel needs to be done with a sharp knife; a blunt knife will only tear at the soft flesh
  2. Place a fish on a flat, even surface
  3. Cut into it just behind the small fin at the back of the gills
  4. Run the blade along the backbone until you reach the tail, keeping the blade flan along the backbone as you fillet. This procedure allows you to remove the fillet in one piece.
  5. Now turn the fish over and do exactly the same on the other side
  6. You should now have two nice fillets for bait
  7. Once you get used to filleting there will be very little flesh left on the carcass. The fillets can then be cut into whatever size pieces you want to use depending on the fish to be targeted, or the fillet can be used whole for bigger species.
Making a flapper out of a mackerel is slightly more difficult but with a bit of practice can be done quite quickly. Again on a flat even surface start to fillet at the tail and work the knife along the backbone up to the gills before turning the fish over and doing the same on the other side. But once you reach  the gill this time cut through the backbone and remove it. You now have one flapper prepared for conger, tope or shark fishing.

Four to six mackerel should be more than enough for a general day’s sea angling unless they are small joey mackerel, also a lot more bait is required for tope, conger and shark fishing.

Herring, sprat and scad are also good oily fish to use for bait, although they are not always available and are an unusual catch for the sea angler. The scad can be filleted and used in the same way as mackerel, the herring can be cut into steaks and the sprat can be used whole.

Good luck!


  1. Great article with good images. Just prepared some mackerel fillets for a trip to Chesil Beach tomorrow morning. I'm going to try half a head on a 3/0 hook as well so nothing goes to waste!

  2. You written lot of this good information!