In the 1800’s the Californians had the great Rush in shades of Gold, this week in the South West we’ve had our own in shades of blue, silver and black… Yes, the Mackerel are here, and they are here in huge numbers. With the combined help of social media, word of mouth and good ol’ fashioned seeing it for myself, I have witnessed the full extent of the draw power these fish have. Watching crowds of people casting frantically into a sea that is literally churning with fish, seeing the wide eyed kid’s faces as they catch these beautiful fish for the first time, but also the less poetic and ugly side of fishing – wastefulness and greed. I was inspired to write about all aspects of this journeyman fish and both positive and negative aspects that arrive with it.
Mackerel are easily one of our most beautiful fish species, with iridescent shades of blue, silver and even subtle pinks, cut through with tiger-like patterns across the back. They are truly pelagic and never stop swimming in their brief, frantic lives. Always on the move, following their shoals of prey fish whilst also being constantly hunted themselves. Their oily flesh is desired both as a very healthy food source for us humans, and probably as the finest bait available to catch every other fish in the sea. In recent years, with sustainable fishing more in the minds of regular consumers, Mackerel has seen a sales boom as it becomes the go-to species for healthy and guilt free dinners. Combine this with them being quite likely the easiest fish to catch on rod and line, and its easy to see their appeal. When the Mackerel finally arrive within casting distance in large numbers, the effect is extraordinary. Piers everywhere become packed with people of all ages trying to catch their slice of the action. Sales of pre-tied feathers fly off the shelves, rods are purchased and tackle shops receive a great bonus in revenue. Charter Boats fill with holiday makers and local economies boom. Children who may never have been fishing before, are inspired by the prolific and easy fishing, perhaps even going on to make Angling a full time hobby in the future. This fish has such far reaching appeal. Mount Batten Pier in Plymouth on Saturday was testament to this, the place more resembling a festival than a fishing mark, with a fantastic atmosphere and friendly fishermen of all ages.
For the more discerning Angler, who perhaps wants to get a bit more from the fish than just dragging them in 8 at a time, Mackerel make excellent sport on light gear, hooking a pound plus Mackerel on LRF tackle is like fighting a mini Tuna, they boast incredible speed and agility. Even on a light spinning set-up they can pull like very little else in British waters for their size. Their veracious nature and boldness to the point of stupidity leads to ferocious takes too. And if you are still preferring multiple feathers than a group of angry hooked Mackerel can put a bend in the most solid of rods. It’s also very true that the fish bring an abundance of other species with them, Sharks follow the shoals, Specimen Bass are also proud Mackerel munchers, even bottom dwelling fish like Rays, Dogfish and Flatties all follow the ‘Mackie Rush’ to hoover up any dead prey fish the Mackerel have missed. To the Angler this, combined with the warmer ocean temperatures, leads to a smorgasbord of fishing opportunities. Ocean dwelling mammals such as Minke Whales, Grey Seals and Bottlenose Dolphins also get in on the action, using these rich feeding times to fatten up for the often tough winter ahead. It’s a benefit for almost everyone except the vast numbers of baitfish such as Sandeel and Whitebait that the Mackerel have arrived to eat! Watching the Mackerel smash into the shoals of their prey in clear water is a joy to see, sometimes nature brings documentary quality images right to your door.
Unfortunately we know it’s not all positive. During the brief time the fish are in-shore, the nastier side of fishing can raise it ugly head, giving us all a bad name. I can give many examples of fishermen becoming greedy and killing more fish than they need. This often leads to either binned fish or, probably even worse, dumped fish left for non anglers to see. I have seen dead mackerel dumped into streams from a main road, fish and their guts left all over popular dog walking areas and promenades. This is where fishing can turn into a bloodsport that doesn’t benefit anyone, killing for fun doesn’t belong anywhere near Angling and I believe we should always call out the perpetrators when we see it. The majority are good honest fishermen who just want to catch their supper or bait, but these days, when social media is king and negative stories spread like wildfire, just a few idiots can tar the rest of us with the same brush. It’s a case of the responsible Anglers leading by example and providing education for people who might not realise the consequences of their actions.
So get out there and enjoy the incredible sport and free healthy food on offer, but fish with care and responsibility, knowing that any one of our actions can have lasting negative or (hopefully) positive impacts, leading to a strong Angling future for the next generation and a respect from Non-Angler’s too.
And I’ll see you on the Pier!
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