High-speed spinning for Spanish mackerel is definitely one of the most exciting brands of sport fishing. With one glimpse of a Spaniard it’s obvious that evolution has perfectly crafted this fish for destroying lures at warped speeds. The classic strike from one of these tropical speedsters usually starts with a serious bone jarring jolt, followed by a series of aggressive head shakes before the fish powers off towards the open ocean leaving your reel screaming like a banshee.
Spaniards are also known as “narrow-barred mackerel” or “bar-ees” for short. The average sized fish encountered by rock fishermen is usually around 5-20kgs and any landbased capture over the 30kg mark is considered as a fish of a lifetime.
These toothy predators occupy the tropical and sub-tropical waters along the northern half of Australia. On the east coast consistent numbers of fish can be found north of South West Rocks. Some of the best spinfishing locations for targeting mackerel in northern NSW are Hat Head and The Iluka Breakwall. Further north in Queensland locations such as the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, the Catwalk at 1770 and Bustard Head are also well known hot spots for targeting Spanish mackerel.
In Western Australia good numbers of fish usually show up north of Kalbarri. The rugged cliffs of Steep Point and Quobba are famous for producing epic runs of mackerel and are both considered as world class land based gamefish destinations.
Spanish mackerel are a great target for rock fishermen as they commonly hunt for prey extremely close to the shore. Large rocky headlands that are surrounded with deep water and inshore reef systems usually hold excellent numbers of mackerel. Manmade structures which hold large aggregations of baitfish such as large jetties and breakwalls will also produce good numbers of fish.
Due to their aggressive feeding habits these pelagic speedsters will attack a wide variety of lures ranging from metals, swimming lures and even surface lures. In this following piece I’m going to detail some of my favourite lures, look at the appropriate tackle for high-speed spinning and discuss the best techniques for spinning up Spaniards from the shore.
High-speed spinning from the rock was discovered on the Australian coast in the late 60’s. Throughout this era throwing metal lures with long rods and cranking them through the water with a high-speed overhead reel became extremely popular amongst land based anglers. Although the majority of chrome plated lures on the market today are a lot more refined, high-speed spinning from the stones is still a productive method for catching Spanish mackerel.
Metal lures are excellent for land based anglers as they are relatively cheap, durable and cast well against strong winds. My favourite metal for spinning up XOS oceanic bar-ees is the 85gm Surecatch Knight. These lures are made from chrome plated brass and are perfect for imitating popular baitfish such as slimy mackerel, yellowtail scads, mullet and fusiliers. To increase my hook-up rate I retrofit my trebles to a 4/0 Mustad 7794DS treble hook. These triple strength hooks have a much larger gape than the original trebles that these lures come with.
When using metals, I cast the lure as far as possible and let it sink to the bottom. As soon as I feel the lure hit the bottom I crank it to the surface as fast as possible. Once the lure hits the surface I usually slow down my retrieve to a medium pace which keeps the lure skipping across the surface like a fleeing baitfish. This is an extremely simple yet effective technique and draws plenty of strikes. Spaniards commonly feed throughout the entire water column and can strike your lure at any time. Some fish will grab your lure after two cranks of the handle while others will lunge at it only metres from the rocks. These cunning fish are also known to inhale metal lures as they are fluttering down so make sure you stay alert while your lure is sinking.
When I’m spinning for mackerel from long tropical jetties like the Mandorah Wharf in Darwin Harbour or the Urangan Pier in Queensland I always use smaller metals such as Surecatch Bishops. The 50gm and 60gm Bishop are the perfect profile size for mimicking baitfish such as hardy heads and herring which commonly congregate under large jetties. I usually let the lures sink next to the pylons and then jig them up using an erratic retrieve. The technique works well on smaller sized Spaniards between 6-12kg and other mackerel species such as school, shark and broad bar mackerel.
In my opinion I don’t think the colour of the sticker really matters when it comes to chrome lures as I have caught plenty of mackerel on every single colour available. When the lure is flying through the water at breakneck speeds the fish will only see a silver flash in the water and will simply attack on instinct.
When it comes to purchasing chrome lures it’s important to stay away from cheap imitations. I’ve witnessed some inferior products rust in less than 24 hours and I have also seen the holographic stickers peel off lures in less than three casts in some very poorly manufactured metals.
Swimming lures such as deep divers and bibless minnows also work well on mackerel when they are retrieved at medium to high speeds. I have found that these lures can often out fish metals when the water is discoloured and murky. Swimming lures are designed with in-built action and constantly vibrate through the water. Predatory fish like mackerel can use their lateral line and other senses to hunt down swimming lures without relying on their eyesight.
The Rapala X-rap SRX-14 in the “glass ghost” colour and the 5 inch Lively Lures Mack Bait in the “blue mack” colour are two of my favourite swimming lures for targeting Spaniards. Another popular swimming lure which is commonly used for mackerel at Steep Point in WA is the Nilsmaster Invincible deep runner 15cm in the yellow belly colour.
The downside to using swimming lures is that they don’t cast anywhere near as well as metals. A handy trick to casting these lighter lures is to retrofit all the trebles and split rings to heavy duty ones. The additional weight of the heavy duty trebles and split rings can add approximately 10-20 metres to your cast. These valuable metres can often be the difference between reaching the strike zone and or simply dragging plastic through bare water.
Before cranking these swimming lures towards the rocks it’s important to let them sink for approximately five seconds. This gives the lure enough time to sink below the surface and allows the bib of the lure to grab the water and swim properly.
Surface lures such as poppers and plugs are great for attracting mackerel and can lead to some spectacular aerial strikes. Large Spaniards will often charge from the depths and launch at surface lures with tremendous force. On many occasions the fish will often smash the lure and miss the hooks. This can be a little frustrating at times but it’s still an awesome sight to see.
Mackerel are not fussy when it comes to poppers and I have seen plenty of fish landed on small pencil poppers as well as big dumbbells the size of a coke bottle that were intended for big GT’s. The River to Sea Dumbbell and the Black Jack Cubera are well weighted poppers that are perfect for shore based casting.
Another innovative surface lure that seems to be deadly on Spaniards is the Bluefin Productions Swimbaits. These handcrafted lures are made by experienced land based angler Mark Vaughan. I saw these new swimbaits used for first time on a recent trip to the Catwalk at1770 and they slide across the surface mimicking a wounded baitfish. Mark landed a 10kg Spaniard with a green Mafia 100g swimbait and hooked an even bigger fish on the same lure only minutes later. This Spaniard looked like a 15-20kg specimen and polarised out of the water and grabbed the lure with a classic aerial strike. Unfortunately the large mackerel scissored Mark’s leader above the wire with its razor sharp teeth and stole the lure earning itself some impressive mouth jewellery.
GEAR AND TACKLE
A good quality threadline reel is recommended when it comes to spinning for Spaniards. A 6000 size reel with 6.2:1 gear ratio is capable of retrieving over 1m of line with a turn of the handle which enables you to retrieve ta high speed with less effort on you. I usually use 50lb braid when targeting mackerel. Where there is good numbers of mackerel present the dreaded sharks are usually not far behind. The key to landing these fish instead of feeding the local wildlife is to get them out of the water as soon as possible.
One of the toughest assignments for a land based spinman is setting the hooks on big mackerel. If you’ve seen the oral anatomy of a big bar-ee they have an extremely hard and bony jaw which is stacked with razor sharp teeth. Fishing 50lb braid allows you to set your reel with approximately 8kgs of drag pressure. Once a fish has grabbed your lure make sure that you strike with power, I strike multiple times to make sure that I have penetrated the barb of my hook through the fish’s mouth. A good solid hook set is important when fighting a mackerel from the stones as these fish will often dart around erratically and change direction numerous times throughout a fight.
When it comes to selecting a suitable rod any good quality 8-9 foot lure casting stick with silicon guides will do the job. I use the Wilson Live Fibre Venom PE 8 popping rod which is perfect for casting all the lures mentioned above.
When I’m targeting mackerel I always use a wire trace. I use a short 30cm length of 69lb single strand wire with a swivel at one end and a small solid brass ring on the other. The single strand wire can easily be attached to the terminals via a haywire twist. The solid brass ring is attached to the split ring of your lure while the swivel end is tied to a 2m length of 60lb mono shock leader.
To secure your catch from the stones a good quality two-piece aluminium rock gaff is highly recommend and should cover you on most ledges. If you’re targeting mackerel on the wild west coast a classic three pronged rope gaff is perfect for extracting fish from these remote cliffs.
FINDING THE FISH
High-speed spinning from the rocks can be extremely demanding on your arms and very taxing on your entire body. Instead of mindlessly casting big heavy lures around all day and completely draining myself for hours on end, I always concentrate my efforts around the peak bight times.
It is often said that “the early bird catches the worm”, this saying certainly applies to mackerel fisherman. The best time to spin for Spaniards is definitely during first light and over the years I’ve caught 80 percent of my fish between 6-9am. Mackerel are also known as “wolves of the sea” and always feed with more intensity during low light periods. Spaniards also have excellent eyesight and will utilise the low light conditions to ambush and seek prey.
Mackerel prefer water temperatures between 22-26 degrees and will often migrate down the coastline following the warm currents at the start of each summer and head back up the coast during the autumn months. Along the top end of Australia in areas like Darwin where water temps rarely drop past 24 degrees good numbers of fish can be found almost all year round.
I have found that the best moon phase for mackerel is around the new moon. The dark skies make it extremely difficult for the fish to hunt throughout the night which makes them feed a lot more aggressively during daylight hours.
Picking the most suitable tides for chasing Spaniards can vary heavily on the location you are fishing from. For example rock platforms which are adjacent to large rivers such as Iluka, fish well on the outgoing tide as the mackerel seem to come in and hunt the baitfish that are being flushed out of the river. While on shallow sandy bottomed ledges like the Catwalk at 1770 the bigger mackerel seem to come closer to the shore on the high tide. In areas with massive 7m tidal variations like Darwin Harbour the Spaniards are a lot more prolific during neap tides as the water gets extremely silty during the massive spring tides.
When it comes to spinning for Spaniards I’ve certainly gone right on with it. Over the past decade I’ve spent a wasted youth chasing big bar-ees from the stones. Jamming a hook into one of these line burning fish is an experience that I will never get sick of and in my opinion landing a monster mackerel on a lure is what high-speed spinning is all about.