Going Haywire (Noosa Mackerel) – Grant Budd March 2016

Living in S.E QLD has its year round advantages as an angler with rivers, dams, lakes and the ocean all within easy reach. Like a lot of other anglers I spend the winter months enjoying the cooler days, wearing the odd jumper and jeans while targeting our winter species.

Deep down though I spend the winter looking forward to the summer fishing and all it has to offer. Besides the hot and horribly humid days where humidity regularly gets beyond 90% we get longer daylight hours, warmer clearer water and the most important of all, our brief but heavily anticipated pelagic season starts to fire up.

The Sunshine Coasts season usually starts around December and finishes around June.  Along the way I have learnt a few things and if the weather plays ball I enjoy nothing more than putting them into practice. If like me when you started out you purchased a boat and got what you believed to be the right equipment only to find out later on it wasn’t so right, read on. This mistake left me thinking where to start and as such I started to read about how to land bigger fish, namely the Mackerel species. I noticed a few people in the local area were having great success when I had little to none. So where was I going wrong?

One thing people will ask time and time again when seeing photos of quality Mackerel “Where did you catch it”, “What time”, “What gear did you use” and lastly “What bait” basically everything short of wanting GPS coordinates! With all baits, lures, jigs, flies, plastics etc, presentation is the most important facture to catching any fish so I eagerly listened with open ears and an open wallet! I found there to be a plethora of conflicting advice when it came to targeting the bigger Mackerel and other toothy pelagics.

From rods and reels loaded with this type of line and that type of leader with a multitude of lure options and hook configurations the options were endless and at times over whelming. Of course there is not one magic answer but I have a box load of expensive stuff that I purchased along the way, now sitting redundant.

One question on many new anglers lips when targeting Mackerel is “Do I need to use wire” This is not a silly question as even the toughest leader offers little resistance to the sharpest of teeth and lures don’t come cheap. It is however an age old debate that is easily found among the multitudes of pages inside any online fishing forum. You will to this day find mixed responses often with a clear 50/50 split both for and against its use.

It is only through experience obtained through many hours of fishing do you find what works for you and it can be hard going. During the end of the 2014/15 pelagic season I lost more gear to Mackerel than I care to think about. The turning point being when we went through a dozen or so lures and rigs in one hot bite.

This got me thinking about wire in a different light and not the 30cm lengths I had previously thought necessary or multi strand wires. One comment against using wire often mentioned is the fish see it and become line shy. They have amazing sight and will even bite at leader knots leaving you with nothing. I have come across Mackerel with a case of lockjaw and its more than just the line they are shy of so don’t be afraid.

With this in mind I started to watch how Mackerel feed and how fast and greedy they are, especially when in a big pack is in town and surface feeding. The action is nothing short of explosive and casting into a big school is nothing short of exhilarating! This lead me to start using a short three inch top shot of wire hoping it would go unnoticed.

Mackerel like things that shine and are attracted to bubble trails as this usually leads them to a fleeing baitfish in the real world. I have even caught them on bare hooks cast out and wound back in at speed. This required me to create a small refined rig for medium/ high speed retrieval of metal slugs and plastics.

 I only use dark single strand 38lb stainless wire and the smallest black swivel of the same rating. This is tied using the simple haywire twist ensuring the wires are evenly crossed and wrapped around each other about four times with the same number of wraps to finish it off. (pictured)

As soon as I tested my theory out my question was very quickly answered by a solid 90cm Spottie Mackerel (pictured). It inhaling my offering and promptly shot off on a howling first run something of which they are famous for! After its second big run when seeing the boat the fish was landed with the wire, my only saving grace. My next refining move was to switch the treble for a stronger jigging style hook leaving me with a rig that quite simply works. By using a 2/0 single jigging hook I can easily perform a quick in water release without even touching my catch should I already have enough fish in the esky. The single hook does not destroy the mouth of the fish like a treble does especially on Tuna. Another advantage of a single hook is it’s greater strength and with only a single tow point it is less likely to work itself free during a prolonged fight.

With my surface fishing rig now complete I then started to look at my float lining rig, and yes I use braid with no problems. Toward the middle of our season when the rains have come and the water temps start to drop so does the surface action. No longer do the birds give away the fishes location and we have to go on the hunt or bring the fish to us. This can prove hard given the distances these fish travel on a daily basis.

One thing I have found out is that they usually come in close with an incoming tide on sunrise/sunset, so find their known areas and sound around. Once you find your chosen patch of ground it can be a case of burley up and wait for them to find you while hoping they don’t clean you up in the process! Of course those of you with the latest sounders and GPS spot lock are at an instant advantage.

During the tail end of last season (June 2015) I had a firm plan in place to test a new idea with my rigs. This is by no means rocket science but it is hard work. Once anchored up in 50m of clear water on a patch of proven ground I started a heavy burley trail with two float line rigs ready to go. These consisted of 20-30lb braid with two meters of 30-40lb leader attached to 2 ganged 5/0 Tru-Turn hooks and a 3 inch shot of wire above the hook to an end swivel.

The reason for using Tru-Turns is they are very quick and easy to use especially if you are not proficient in ganging baits or in low light conditions. When combined with swivels they keep the bait lose especially if it is not fully thawed when rigging. Rigging the pillie in a head down position gives it the best possible presentation and allows it to sink easily. To top it off I use a bit of bait elastic or floss around the bait to hold it together which helps with repeated casting or if smaller fish are present.

Casting my first bait up into the air ensuring it makes a big splash upon landing let it free fall to the bottom with the bail arm open. Owners of baitrunners will still find it hard to let the bait free fall as the baitrunner drag is still too firm for free spooling. During the first baits decent cast up and out the second bait. By the time you put down the second rod the first bait should be close or have made its way to the bottom. It is now that you start a steady slow retrieval of the first bait. By now the second bait should be near the bottom and you the reader may be scratching your head?

Mackerel feed through all depths of the water column and will turn up out of the blue and can be gone as quick as they appear. Keeping one bait descending and one ascending through a constant burley trail allowed me to locate the fish on several occasions and keep them hanging around with my burley while I caught them. This highlights the importance of attending to your burley duties.

Within minutes I was able to locate their depth and set my hooks into several bigger fish, often with double hook-ups. I even had them alongside the boat where I was virtually hand feeding them! At no stage did I lose a rig and through careful planning I went home very happy yet somewhat exhausted.

I had found a method that other people may not agree with that uses wire, but it works for me and has done so on many other occasions and species of fish including Snapper, Tuna, Cobia, Coral Trout and even a juvenile Black Marlin

The one time I have found it didn’t work so well was when I left baits un-attended on the bottom for extended periods of time. These were simply picked at by reef fish or inhaled and instantly snipped off. I have even wound in slack line with my entire two meter leader missing, still line shy?

Another bonus I found with fishing this float lining style is I didn’t have my baits constantly taken by smaller reef fish or catch them. I do not enjoy raising small reef fish from the depths as barotrauma kills them. I was there to target Mackerel only and it worked a treat. I also adopt the same 38lb wire and double gang rig on my livies.

I first tested this with a live Yakka during another late season session. After an hour of free swimming with my bail arm open it got chomped by my very first Spanish Mackerel (pictured) which measured 140cm and 24kg! Had I not been using a small shot of wire I never would have landed it.

Some of you may have wondered why I cast my baits up into the air before letting them sink. The splash a big pillie makes can be detected by any fish in a wide area and this will bring them in to investigate. This can lead to more fish caught vs simply dropping your bait over the side. Sometimes a school can remain undetected if they are just below the surface and out of sight.

Of course all the above only works on those days when you have lighter winds and currents. I know I’ll be using this method this 2016 season while looking for that next trophy fish.