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    Spearfishing Spanish Mackerel

    April 03, 2023 8 min read

    Spearfishing Spanish Mackerel

    Spanish Mackerel have to be one of the most enjoyable species to spearfish. These fish are one of the fastest species in the ocean, with a swim speed of 5.5 metres per second, and have been known to grow anywhere from 10kg to more than 50kg over their +20 year lifespan. With the record of 190cm and 54kg, caught off Fraser Island in QLD, there's no wonder this epic pelagic fish is on every spearo's bucket list!

    You don't have to be a deep diver or have a long breath-hold to take these fish; you only need to apply basic pelagic spearfishing techniques and spend enough time in the water. One of the things spearos love most about catching a Spanish Mackerel is the good fight that they give during the hunt -- oh, and they also taste delicious!

    Step 1. What Gear do I need for Spearfishing Spanish Mackerel?

    Having the right gear for your Spanish Mackerel Spearfishing journey is important to securing your catch. Below is a detailed list of the important gear you'll need when Spearfishing for Spanish Mackerel. 

      • 1. Flashers: The use of flashers, either towed or thrown, can help to catch the fish's attention or to hold their focus. Spanish Mackerels are more inclined to hone in on thinner, elongated, reflective objects, as their normal prey are baitfish like anchovies, pilchards or squid. Additions of artificial eyes placed on the flasher or lure relative to its size can also help to draw the Spanish Mackerel in closer. Spanish, being sight hunters, often use the eye of the prey to close in on their target before striking, so having one there certainly helps to extend the effectiveness of the illusion.

      • 2. Spearguns: Longer-range spear guns are useful. Due to the fact that Spanish Mackerels are pelagic and mostly hover out off the edges or midwater above the reef, it means you can't utilise the reef for cover to hide yourself from your prey, so getting within range can be tricky at times. Having a standard spear gun of 1.2m or longer with twin 16mm rubbers or thicker rubbers or a roller gun 1.1m or longer can help to give you the range required to take a longer shot at a wary fish.

      • 3. Shaft choice: Because Spanish Mackerels are a soft-fleshed fish with soft skin and very tiny scales, particular spear shafts can increase the chances of landing the fish after the shot is made. Standard Hawaiian floppered shafts (ones with a single fixed flopper) can work well for Spanish, but sharpness and shot placement are key. The blunter they are, the more they damage the flesh on the way through, increasing the chance of tearing. Shafts with slip tips can help to land the fish by increasing the surface area on the fish, decreasing the amount it can tear away. In saying this, if you intend to use a slip tip for Spanish Mackerel, Dyneema is a preferable attachment method over stainless cable as stainless cable can act more like a garrot cutting through the fish as it swims away. Due to the larger size of slip tips, they are not particularly effective on Spanish Mackerels under 15kg as they place too large a hole through the fish, and there is not enough meat to sink into. Other options similar to slip tips that can work well are drop barb shafts due to the thinner nature of these shafts and Dyneema connection. They work well on smaller Spanish Mackerel while still giving you the surface area to reduce the chance of tearing out the fish.

      • 4. Floats: Utilizing floats and float lines can make landing a Spanish Mackerel much easier as the float keeps pressure on the fish as it runs, even if the fish accelerates faster than you can control. You can let go of the float line without putting excessive pressure on the fish.

        Step 2. When and where do you find Spanish Mackerel

        Spanish Mackerel are primarily pelagic in nature, so finding them is more related to the time of year and conditions than many other things. The times of year vary between locations and years, but for the most part, schools of Spanish Mackerel are more prominent during the summer months, while large solo individual Spanish Mackerel can be found during winter. The wet and dry cycles are also important for finding Spanish Mackerel. They are primarily pelagic hunters and are affected by the amount of nutrients entering the food chain. This usually means that during a coastal area suffering from a drought, you will see fewer Spanish Mackerels inshore during that season. However, during and after a season with heavy rain, particularly a winter season of heavy rain, the number of Spanish Mackerel inshore will drastically increase. This has a similar effect on offshore reefs, but it is dependent on currents and tides as to how long those nutrients take to get out to the reefs.

        Let's start by saying that Spanish Mackerel can appear anywhere on a reef. However, there are particular areas where they can be found more frequently. The first of these is on the pressure edge of a reef. This is anywhere on the reef where the current hits a large structure, causing the water pushing against it to be directed upwards. Due to colder water having more nutrients where it is pushed up from depth into the water being warmed by the sun, it increases the amount of food in that area for baitfish to eat. This, in turn, increases the number of baitfish in this area, which increases the chances of Spanish Mackerel spearfishing here.

        The second area is during outgoing tides in places where current comes out of bays, rivers, bars, lagoons, or between reefs. Spanish Mackerel can often be found here hunting for small fish and bait that become caught in the current and are dragged out from their cover.

        The third and more common place to find Spanish Mackerel is where clean warm water meets dirty cold water. Spanish Mackerel like to sit in the blurry, murky edges where these waters meet, ambushing prey that unwittingly comes out from the dirty water into the clean.

        Spanish Mackerel are mostly actively hunting during the earlier hours of the morning and the later hours of the afternoon. They utilize the sun's rays reflecting off particulates in the water as cover to get closer to their prey. They are usually less active during the hours of the day when the sun is higher in the sky.

        Step 3. Hunting & Spearfishing Spanish Mackerel

        Like spearfishing any pelagic species, it’s good to have a game plan with your dive buddy and even your boat before you jump in. Oftentimes, you’ll ask your boat to help lay the burley trail. Enter the water up-current of the targeted hotspot with enough time to load your guns and set the teasers. When spearfishing in a current, you can support the teaser with a small float designed for this purpose. The float bobs up and down with the movement of the surface water, causing the silver plates to spin and flash. Choose the depth to drop these teasers and tie the line on the flasher float at that level. It should be far enough away so that the Spanish Mackerel are not intimidated by the diver's proximity.

        The diving is done one up, one down, with the diver on the surface watching their buddy to ensure they return safely. Although the diver on the surface may pull on the teaser line to excite more action, their main job is to be the safety diver for their buddy. If there are mackerel in the area, you can almost guarantee they will come and have a look. What you do with that can make the difference between taking a Spanish Mackerel or not. Spanish Mackerel can be brazen and surround you as a school, making it very easy to take a shot. But this is not always the case. Sometimes they are a bit wary and will disappear as an inexperienced spearfisher dives hard at them, eyes wide as saucers, gun extended. Everyone will, in time, work out their own way of disguising their eagerness, but disguise it you must. No hard and hungry looks at the Spanish Mackerel. Looking away often brings them in, as does calm movement in the water, not obviously towards them.

        There are a few different methods of getting close enough to shoot the Spanish Mackerel. If you see them swimming when you are on the surface, make a careful duck dive down to the level the Spanish Mackerel are swimming at, ensuring you are angled away from them. If you give off predatory movements, you’ll spook them, so approach as if you are interested in something completely different, being conscious of your body language. When you approach their depth, if you are lucky, you will close the gap pretty quickly and get close enough to take your shot. If the Spanish Mackerel start swimming away, you can swim slightly off on an angle or directly behind the them (if your breath hold is good), and they will most likely become curious enough to turn back and check you out, normally presenting a "broadside" shot opportunity.

        Take the shot.


        Step 4. The Fight - How to take down a Spanish Mackerel 

        If possible, try to shoot Spanish Mackerel as they are angled away from you, so your shaft goes through them at around a 45-degree angle. By doing this, there is less water pressure pushing on the shaft when the Spanish Mackerel takes off, decreasing the chance it will tear off the spear. It also increases the amount of flesh the shaft has passed through, decreasing the chances of the spear becoming loose or tearing out.

        When playing Spanish Mackerel, holding constant firm tension on the line is paramount, as they often like to accelerate, then stop, then accelerate again. If you don't have enough tension on the line when they stop, the flopper can sometimes close, allowing the shaft to slip back through the Spanish Mackerel, resulting in losing your fish.

        When you get the Spanish Mackerel to the surface, pull it in, and then slide your hand into the gills (assuming you're wearing gloves), grabbing the Spanish Mackerel by the throat and lodging your hand into the rakers. For very large Spanish Mackerels, occasionally a horse-riding position may be required. After getting your hand in the gills, you are then required to straddle them to tire it out further before being able to get your knife into its brain.

        Step 5. Caring for your catch / How to Cook Spanish Mackerel

        When dispatching a Spanish Mackerel it’s best to brain and bleed them well in order to maximise the potential of your fillets. The easiest way to do this is to either cut or rip out the second gill where it attaches to the bottom of the head.

        As soon as the Spanish Mackerel is on the boat, it’s best to gut and clean it before then placing it into an ice slurry. Sashimi is a great way to enjoy your fresh Spanish Mackerel, so getting the flesh as cold as possible will ensure you have an enjoyable dish of fresh seafood before you even get back to shore.

        Another spearo favourite is Ceviche, which is at its best with some fresh Spanish Mackerel fillets. Check out the recipe here from spearo and professional chef, Mark Labrooy.


        Rules and Regulation Resources

        Spearfishing for Spanish Mackerel provides a great weekend challenge, but if you get the rules and regulations wrong its can turn your trip into a costly nightmare, not to mention the environmental impact you could cause. Staying up to date with the constantly changing laws can be tricky so we recommend always checking with your local fisheries before heading out. Below are the resources for Australian States and Territories:

        NSW regs get the Fishsmart NSW App: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/recreational/resources/fishsmart-app

        VIC regs get the recrational fishing app: https://vfa.vic.gov.au/recreational-fishing/recreational-fishing-guide/recreational-fishing-application-for-smartphones

        QLD regs get QLD Fishing 2.0: https://www.qld.gov.au/recreation/activities/boating-fishing/rec-fishing/rules/limits-tidal

        SA regs get the PIRSA App: https://pir.sa.gov.au/recreational_fishing/recfishingapp

        WA regs get the recfishwest App: https://recfishwest.org.au/news/wa-fishers-now-going-digital-recfishwest-app-version-2/

        NT regs get the Fishing Mate App: https://nt.gov.au/marine/recreational-fishing/get-the-app/get-the-free-fishing-mate-app

        TAS regs get the Tasmanian Sea Fishing Guide App: https://fishing.tas.gov.au/recreational-fishing/fishing-guides/tasmanian-sea-fishing-guide-app


        Spearos: Tim Neilsen, @samuel_cox @taylorsagirlzname @markthreeblueducks

        Photographer: @beyond_amy