Mackerel fishing is a ton of fun especially for kids. Macks are one of the most plentiful and abundant fishes in the northeast. Macks are a staple part of most predatory fish’s diet. They make awesome bait for bluefish, striped bass, and bluefin tuna.
Here on Cape Cod mackerel are typically caught during the spring and the fall. May and November are particularly good months for mackerel fishing. During the summer most of these colorful speedsters head north to cooler water. During the depths of the winter areas south of the Cape see an influx of mackerel.
When mackerel invade an area, the striped bass fishing can go from nonexistent to through the roof. Mackerel are not easy prey to catch, therefore stripers must expend a lot of energy to hunt them down. Surface frenzies and blitzes the size of football fields are common when bass hone in on mackerel.
Certain areas off Cape Cod host these mackerel and striped bass feeding frenzies each May and June. If you are looking to get in on this incredible bite, then head down to the Cape for May and June.
Finding the Mackerel
On occasion mackerel will venture into Buzzards Bay and the warmer waters of Vineyard and Nantucket Sound. However the greatest concentration of mackerel will almost always be found from Cape Cod Bay northward-all the way up to Maine and Canada.
Mackerel can often times be found throughout the entire expanses of water. Finding mackerel when fishing from a boat requires a knowledge of local hot spots, birds, and sonar.
To start, head to well known mackerel haunts. Typically macks can be found in 40-70 feet of water. Of course historically certain areas produce better than others, however don’t get hung up on jigging in one area if the macks aren’t showing. Entire mile long stretches of water can contain mackerel so moving around is sometimes key.
When cruising, mackerel will show up as green or turquoise/blueish marks on most color sonar units. Make sure to adjust your unit’s sensitivity level so it reads well at high speeds. Keep in mind that mackerel are a lot smaller than the striped bass and tuna you may be accustomed to marking on your sonar. Increasing the sensitivity level may be necessary to avoid missing the fish.
During the fall large gannets will often give clues to the presence of mackerel. These birds dive bomb out of the sky and into the water, plucking hapless mackerel from the ocean. These birds hit the water at tremendous speeds. The splash can often be seen from great distances. If you happen upon an area that is getting pelted by gannets, odds are there are mackerel in the vicinity.
I’ve found when mackerel fishing that most mackerel seem to hang 15-30 feet beneath the surface. On occasion we’ll jig them off the bottom, or encounter them on the surface, but typically they stick around the mid-water level.
After locating an area holding macks, simply drift in neutral with the wind and current and slowly jig a sabiki rig. Sabiki rigs can be purchased at any tackle shop for $3-$5 a piece. They feature 3-6 hooks with feathers, beads and or shiny pieces of foil.
I like sabiki rigs that do not tangle easily and are made of at least 20 pound monofilament. Hyabusa sabiki rigs are in my opinion the strongest and least prone to tangle.
Be sure to use enough weight to keep the sabiki rig nearly vertical while jigging. This will make it easier to target specific depths with the sabiki.
When the mackerel fishing is hot, full strings of 3-6 mackerel are not uncommon. To make removing the hooks easier, and to lessen damage to these precious live baits, be sure to clip or press down the barbs on each sabiki hook. Barbless hooks help make life a lot easier during the height of a mackerel blitz.
Homemade sabiki rods make mackerel fishing much simpler. Sabiki rods prevent sabiki rig tangles and allow the sabiki rig to be stored and used multiple times.
To make your own sabiki rod, simply attach an old fishing reel to a five foot long, half inch wide PVC pipe. Drill a hole in the pipe a foot above the reel seat and run the main line through the length of PVC. Tie the end of the line to a sabiki rig, attach a weight and reel the entire rig into the pipe.
Upon locating schools of mackerel, release the sabiki rig from the sabiki rod and allow the rig to drop to the depth where macks have been marked on the sonar. A slow jigging motion usually works well, however it can pay to experiment with depth and jigging action.
As previously mentioned, mackerel make fantastic live baits for most predatory fish in the Cape Cod area. On top of that, fishing for mackerel can be a lot of fun. When the fishing is hot it’s not unusual to catch hundreds of mackerel in just a couple hours-which is great if you have young kids on board.
Best of luck mackerel fishing, and be sure to leave your comments below!