Narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel Scomberomorus commerson has a worldwide distribution and is highly prized sportfish targeted renowned for its blistering first “run” and excellent eating qualities.
Mackerel are a subtropical to tropical species and in WA they are occasionally found as far south Augusta. Their distribution on any given year is dictated by the Leeuwin current, however they tend to appear off the Perth coast around February and stay until June. North of Geraldton they are a year round proposition.
Spanish are an excellent table fish with firm white flesh, as with all pelagic fish, a quick spike to the brain followed by bleeding and gutting before placing in a seawater / ice slurry will dramatically improve its eating qualities.
Mackerel fillets freeze well for long periods and are suited to most cooking styles whether it be smoking, deep or shallow frying, barbecuing or for use in casseroles and curries as the flesh will hold together well.
The minimum size limit for Narrow Barred Spanish Mackerel is 90cm in WA waters and 75cm for broad barred (grey) mackerel. These species are part of the "Large Pelagic Finfish " group so remember you may only take a combination of 3 fish from the entire Large Pelagic Finfish list per day and this applies statewide.
For current information please refer to:
Read Barry Paxman's thoughts on capturing WA Spanish mackerel
Characteristics and habitat
Narrow barred mackerel are a sleek silver torpedo with narrow grey to blue wavy bars on their flanks when viewed from the side. From above they appear almost black with distinctive keels at the base of the tail. The tail is noticeably crescent shaped. Really large fish (over 25kg) develop very large teeth and a “boof” head, a characteristic that can sometimes be used to pick out extra large fish in a school.
Spanish are a large pelagic fish growing up to 80kg in weight and a length of 2.4m. The current WA and World spearfishing record weighed 46kg and was speared in WA by Greg Pickering off Carnarvon in 2004. In WA mackerel are generally between 12 and 23kg with anything over 30kg regarded as a prized trophy.
Spanish mackerel prefer deeper edges adjacent to headlands or reef, channels between reefs and current lines. Places that congregate baitfish will attract mackerel. Occasionally encountered in large schools of 30 or more fish it is more common to see individuals or small groups. It is worth noting that if one fish is seen in the area it is likely that others will be close by.
Interestingly several fish tagged in NSW have recently been speared in WA.
Most divers that target mackerel like to hunt them in the morning on a rising tide.
The basic strategy involves locating a good reef edge or sand channel and chopping up some burley or setting up a flasher. Divers then take turns to hover midwater waiting for the fish to appear. Hopefully the mackerel will pass within range of the diver, if they do not, the diver should stay still and the fish will often return for a second, closer, look. Sometimes swimming away from a fish that is just out of range will encourage it to pass closer for a better look, paying them little attention on the first pass also seems to result in a much more curious fish on the second pass. Chasing a mackerel rarely works as they will normally “bolt”.
A shot 1 inch about the pectoral fin will general strike the spine, disabling the fish however this is often not possible and a mid body shot (close to the lateral line) will generally be the best option.
Watch this technique!
Once a mackerel is shot it will run hard for up to 50m but they are generally clean fighters (unlike kingfish). The key is to keep even pressure on the fish, just enough to hold the flopper open. This initial run will be followed by several smaller runs (depending on the fish size), and if the diver is patient, applies steady pressure and lets the fish tire itself ,mackerel are a pretty straight forward fish to land.
Once the fish is undercontrol the fish should be pulled in close and grabbed firmly in the gills. The fish should then be killed with a stab to the brain and the gills cut to improve flesh quality.
Sometimes mackerel will appear after another fish has been speared, at this time they are often so interested in “the action” they will allow a diver to swim right up to them for an easy “stone” shot. For this reason and the fact that mackerel are a powerful fish in pays for divers to work in pairs.
Mackerel tend to become wary in very clear water and are difficult to see in poor visibility, therefore the best fishing is often had in 10 to 15m visibility.
Mackerel require a powerful speargun, general a stock length of 1.2 to 1.5m with a single point spear. This gun can be attached to either a float/rig combo or have a reel mounted to the stock. Many divers are seeing the advantages of a reel as mackerel tend to be wary of float lines in the water, also reel guns are easier to swim with in areas of current which mackerel favour.
Heavy 3/8 spears will “hurt” the fish a lot more than 7mm railgun spears, however these heavy spears can easily tear a large spear hole in the fish resulting in its escape. Most BFWA divers are now using 7mm shafts for mackerel and find the spear will flex with the fish and they rarely rip out. The down side of 7mm spears is that they don’t have the impact to break a thick spine at long range, several mackerel have been lost when the spear has stuck the spine but failed to break it.