Matrimonial Mackerel Mayhem

By Anthony Davies


I guess Chris was pleased to see me. I found myself enveloped in one of his trademark bear hugs, my feet almost lifted off the ground by the enthusiasm of his greeting. At six feet and 80kg I’m not exactly jockey-sized; but I felt positively puny in the substantial presence of my brother-in-law to be.

In a couple of days I was tying the knot with the gorgeous Miss Leanne, and her brother Chris and cousin Wayne had driven all the way up from Brissy for the wedding.

The choice between last minute wedding arrangements or a male bonding session on the water is no choice at all, really. With a bit of a break in the Wet coinciding with the boys’ visit – and with our outdoor ceremony, of course – an early season mackerel trip was swiftly planned. Leanne had organized a BBQ for the guests who had travelled a long way to join us. “Gotta get some fish for the barbie” is a fishing excuse that often works!

The boys are keen fishos; they had brought some gear with them as they fished their way up north. I was a bit concerned that their light threadline and baitcast outfits were more suited to yellowbelly and bream than doggy mackerel. I was even more concerned when I saw the coffee-coloured water at the boat ramp. You can catch inshore mackerel in dirty water; but bait is usually a better proposition than lures in those conditions. A couple of casts with my drawstring net scored us a dozen live mud herrings to supplement the usual pillies.

Then it was time to get going. With some load adjustment, we were finally up on the plane and trimmed to my satisfaction. My SeaJay Magnum 4.15 is the 4.5 metre model cut back, and being wide for its length makes a lovely stable platform. However, floor, covered gunnels, casting platform etc all add up to make a heavy 4m tinny at over 180kg. Add a boatload of “Anthony Essentials”, a couple of buckets full of herring and water and almost a quarter tonne of in-laws and it was a bit of a task for the 30 horse Honda.

Good news was the sharp colour change about half way out of the channel. Three crew meant we could run a spread of three lures, each of us taking care to avoid tangles on the turns. As we trolled through the transition between brown and blue water a ratchet squealed as my rod buckled over. As driver down the back, I generally watch the short corner rod; it’s easier to manage with less line out and it’s surprising how often a fish will hit a lure in the prop wash.

“Wind your lures in fast,” I told the boys. “You might get a hit on the retrieve.”

I seemed to have a lot of weight, but the fish wasn’t taking much line. I backed the drag off a little. I use lever drag Shimano Charter Specials for my “mini gamefishing” outfits. They have a lovely smooth drag that is perfect for small pelagics.

When I got colour I realised why the fight was unusual; the lure had snagged a good sized doggy mack in the side. One treble was holding by a mere pinch of skin this was going to be tricky. A bit of patience and the Shimano’s smooth drag did the job. Wayne made a textbook net shot and our first fish was in the boat.

Our luck took a turn after that; both Wayne and Chris lost lures. When mackerel are schooled up and biting well they will sometimes snap at a swivel or bubble trail and cut off your rig. That’s a 4m Halco Scorpion 125mm and a four inch Barra Spoon you owe me, boys!

Re-rigged, we trolled up a couple more fish all solid, average sized doggies around the 60cm mark. Wayne was a bit disappointed when we had to release a bigger fish after I pointed out the yellow tail and vertical stripes of a juvenile Spaniard. Lure-caught mackerel usually release in good condition if you unhook them in the water. See you next year Mr Spaniard!

Having found a patch of fish, I decided that we’d anchor on them and have a bit of fun with the live bait. Wayne was first to hook up, but the screaming run ended abruptly as his line snapped. Doggies pull hard for their size; his two kilo outfit really was too light. I handed him one of my four kilo trolling combos.

Chris was using a bigger rig, my 10kg “visitor’s spin stick”, and he was quickly into something substantial. It was a metre or so of black tip reef shark. We got him to the boat-side after he’d tangled with every other line in the water in typical shark fashion. Apparently sharks are almost extinct, hence a bag limit of one in Qld. They are certainly far from extinct where I fish; I’m even catching ‘em on lures now! Our Great Dane loves shark, so this one was humanely dispatched, processed and iced down. I don’t think that his loss made much of a dent in the population. My next mackerel was seriously sharked, although somehow I managed to get most of the meat on board.

We fished on until each of us had boated a couple of keeper mackerel, and we now had plenty of fish for the BBQ. Enough fish, in fact, that the boat wouldn’t plane. The extra weight was the last straw, apparently. Weight redistribution didn’t help and in the end I tried running with the wind. After a couple of minutes at full throttle the boat gradually eased up onto the plane. Now I know my maximum load!

Once home I processed the fish. Doggy mackerel are ideal for a BBQ. I cut each fillet into three pieces, leaving the skin on. That’s the tail half with the bloodline left in, and the meatier front half with the bloodline and pin bones cut out. A doggy fillet is just the right thickness to cook beautifully on medium heat. I salt the skin and cook skin side down on an oiled BBQ hotplate until the fillet is almost cooked through, about five or six minutes. At that point the skin is crispy, delicious and has released from the hotplate. Turn and cook for a minute or two on the other side and you have a perfect piece of fish that hasn’t fallen apart while cooking.

It certainly disappeared fast at the pre-wedding barbie!