Mackerel as Bait

Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) are a small, fast predatory fish which is common around almost all of the British Isles in the summer months. Easy to catch on lures and floatfished baits, mackerel provide excellent sport for anglers in the summer months. However, as it is an oily fish it also makes a great bait for shore angling all year round, with almost all species around the British Isles being caught on mackerel baits at one time or another. For more information on catching mackerel read our full article on this species by clicking here.

Buying and Catching Mackerel

Mackerel are widely available from fishmongers and supermarkets. They are usually sold by weight and anglers can expect to pay around 80p to £1.20 depending on the size of the fish. Mackerel can also be purchased pre-frozen from many fishing tackle shops. Of course many anglers will catch their own mackerel.

 Mackerel Caught on Daylights

A mackerel caught on a set of daylights.

The most sporting way to catch mackerel is to use a light spinning rod and a single spinner. Catching mackerel this way provides an entertaining days fishing in the summer months and the mackerel can be frozen to provide bait for the rest of the year. However, some anglers prefer to use strings of up to six feathers or daylights and a heavier bass rod or beachcaster and simply catch as many mackerel as they need in as short an amount of time as possible. Many anglers go fishing for mackerel throughout the summer and freeze a supply for winter bait. Click here to read more about the methods and techniques to catch mackerel.

Storing Mackerel

Mackerel for Sale

Mackerel on sale at a fishmongers.

As mackerel are an oily fish they do not keep particularly well, especially in warm summer weather. If mackerel have been bought from a supermarket or from the wet fish counter of a fishmongers they should be taken home immediately and put into the fridge, where they will keep for for several days hours. Anglers catching mackerel should store them in the shade during a fishing session, although it is much better to keep them in a cool box. However they are stored it is best to get them home and into refrigeration within a few hours. Mackerel can also be frozen. Some anglers simply freeze whole mackerel, whereas others prefer to gut the fish first and then freeze the fillets. Some anglers salt mackerel and wrap it in clingfilm before freezing it as this toughens the mackerel up and makes it withstand casting better than unsalted mackerel.

Bait Presentation

Mackerel is one of the most versatile sea fishing baits with all of the fish (apart from the tail) being useful as bait. Mackerel can be used to catch everything from mini species to the largest species caught in British waters.

Mackerel Bait Presentation

A small mackerel strip bait.

Small Mackerel Baits: Very small strips of mackerel around 1cm (? inch) long can be used to catch mini species, while larger strips of ranging from 3 – 6cm (1 – 2 inches) can be used for general sea fishing for species such as pouting, whiting, school bass, dogfish and flatfish species. This size of mackerel strip is also a good size to use for floatfishing where it will catch pollock, coalfish, wrasse and also more mackerel. Generally small mackerel strips of this size will stay on the hook without the addition of bait elastic. Many anglers have success by using the silver underside of the mackerels belly when fishing in shallow or clear water, as the reflective colour of this part of the mackerel acts as an additional attractant.

Medium Mackerel Baits: Larger strips of 9 – 12cm (3 – 4½ inches) can used if larger species are being targeted. Strips of this size can catch species such as rays, bull huss and larger bass, and is an under-rated bait for big winter cod. Larger mackerel strips may come off the hook – especially if powerful casting styles are used – unless they are secured with bait elastic. Many anglers using a brand such as Ghost Cocoon (available from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here) to ensure that bigger mackerel strip baits remain on the hook and reach the seabed in good condition. Mackerel which has been defrosted can also be softer than fresh mackerel, although, as stated above, salting mackerel before freezing it can toughen it up for casting.

Mackerel Flapper

A mackerel flapper ready to to put on the hook.

Large Mackerel Baits: Mackerel is a top bait for some of the largest species UK anglers target such as tope, conger eels, skate and shark species. Small mackerel can be fished whole with the hook passed through the mackerel’s mouth and out of the top of the head. This provides a solid hook hold, although some anglers prefer to hook mackerel through the eyes. If fishing a whole mackerel in this manner it is a good idea to slash the sides of the mackerel with a knife to release extra scent. Larger mackerel may be too big to use whole. In this case three baits for large species can be gained from a single mackerel: the sides of the fish can be cut away and the full fillets used as baits, while the head and entrails can be hooked through the mouth or eyes and fished as an additional bait. A mackerel flapper is another great bait for larger species and consists of cutting away the backbone section of the mackerel and leaving the flanks to move and flutter in the tide.

Cocktail Baits: Mackerel are a popular choice to use in cocktail baits. One of the most common uses is to use a small section of ragworm to tip off a ragworm or lugworm bait. The combination of wriggling worm and the extra scent from the oily mackerel can often prove more effective than using a worm bait alone. However, as mentioned on our page on cocktail baits there is no restrictions on how mackerel can be used in a cocktail bait, and many anglers have success combining mackerel with peeler crab, mussel, razorfish and other baits. As previously stated a silver strip of mackerel belly can be a good choice for cocktail baits a this provides a visual attraction for many fish.

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