Sunday, 17 February 2013

Cornish Winter Mackerel 16-02-13

I have always enjoyed eating fish and the humble Mackerel is one of my favourites.  Although not considered a top restaurant dish for me, it is one of the finest.  Not only is it good to eat it is also one of the hardest fighting fish for the rod and line angler to catch.  Pound for pound, it will outfight most of the species found in the UK.

It is mainly a spring and summer fish however, in Cornwall it can be caught in the winter.  I like to target Mackerel in the summer and the winter months.  The average winter fish tends to be a little bit larger than the summer fish and from an eating point of view, they are richer in tasty omega 3 oils.

To stand a chance of a decent catch in the winter I need to access deeper water than I would normally do in the summer months.  I am fortunate to live near the Fal Estuary, which is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world.

Fal Estuary.

The main channel that runs through the river the river is up to 100ft deep.  To the sides there are shallow ledges.  It is a former river valley drowned when the glaciers melted during the last ice age.

Deep channel winding through the river.

A satellite view also shows the deep channel and the shallow ledges.

My plan was for a slow drift along part of the channel jigging down the bottom.  The tackle would be a light 7' 10g-35g spinning rod and a 4000 size spinning-reel loaded with 20lb braid.  The thinness of the braid will mean a lighter weight can be used to get me to the bottom and the rod and reel would give some sport against the hard fighting Mackerel.

Light spinning rod and reel loaded with 20lb braid.

At the business end, I use a Herring Rig rather than conventional Mackerel feathers.  I find the hooks on normal Mackerel feathers are unnecessarily large and the feathers too long.  Yes, of course, they catch Mackerel but I have found the Herring Rig to be far more productive.  The lure or feather is only about 1" (2.5cm) and the hook size is only size 4 or 6 compared to the 2/0 of conventional Mackerel feathers.  Hook size 4 to 6 is more than big enough for the small mouth of the Mackerel.  Another bonus of using a Herring Rig is that if they are there it will catch Herring and it will catch Sandeels and Launce, which can be used later as bait for Sea Bass.

Herring Rig.

Rather than using a lead weight, I use a 50g metal jig with an assist hook.  A lead weight will not hook anything but the jig may hook a larger fish whilst fishing for the Mackerel.

50g jig used instead of a lead weight.

The jig also acts as an added attractor.

After paddling out into part of the main channel, I used the anchor trolley to deploy the drift chute at the bow to slow down the drift.  Deploying the drift chute at the bow or stern will turn the kayak into the wind and slow down the drift more than, if it is deployed on the side.  I recently completed an anchor trolley refit to reposition the pulleys closer to the bow and stern and today was the first time I tested it.  It is now working well pulling straight from the bow.

Drift chute deployed.

The first drop of the lures produced fish, which was an encouraging sign that the fish were here.

Subsequent drops produced more fish.

I landed more Mackerel then something different turned up a Whiting.

Unexpected Whiting.

I decided to bait a couple of the Herring Rig hooks with small stripes of fresh Mackerel.  Baited feathers can be an effective way of catching Whiting and a few more were landed although none were very big.

The session produced a decent bag of fish and the majority of the Mackerel were a good size compared to the babies you seem to catch in the summer months.

None of the Mackerel will be wasted and all will be eaten.  Mackerel are definitely better eaten very fresh however; I have found that provided they are caught, kept on ice, and frozen the same day they are still great to eat.  These should keep me supplied until the main run of Mackerel in the summer.


  1. Hi
    Great post. Do you think there will be any mackerel over at Dover pier at this time of the year? Was thinking of going tomorrow to try my luck��

    1. Thank you for your comment. Having never fished that area I cannot say therefore, I would say try as an experiment to see.


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