A Guide to Mackerel Fishing

You’re going mackerel fishing. It’s the summertime, the water is warm and there’s no better time to do it. But your timing could be improved further. You could check the tide times to make sure you’re at your chosen spot in the couple of hours either side of high water. Even better if you’re fishing a big spring tide. This is because the mackerel follow the bait fish in as they are pushed in by the tide. If you fish at low tide, you’re already at a disadvantage.

Then, once you get to the spot, you’ll be needing some reliable fishing tackle. You don’t want to arrive at your chosen harbour, jetty, deep water beach mark or rock mark to see balls of fish boiling on the surface, only to be let down by crap, overpriced gear that doesn’t cast well and is prone to random tangles. We’ll solve this problem further down the page.

Read on, and when you find that glimmering, shapeshifting ball of mackerel – you will be ready – either with a set of mackerel feathers, or with a light weight spinning rod for maximum sport.

The most popular way to catch mackerel is with mackerel feathers. which are designed to look like a shoal of small fish. The feathers linked above are the best. They used to be made from chicken feathers, but now they are usually tinsel. This method is used by commercial anglers to catch line caught mackerel, only they use hundreds of hooks. The string of feathers you might use has multiple hooks so you can catch several fish at once. It is tied directly to your mainline. A lead weight is attached to the end of the feathers, which allows you to cast them out. This is the simplest and easiest way to catch mackerel.

A good trick for catching more mackerel while feathering is to use ‘Sabiki’ feathers, which have smaller, sharper hooks, which will catch more of these striped black n’ blue torpedos.

The basic kit you need for casting mackerel feathers

You only need simple equipment for catching mackerel. However, I’ve used crap lines and equipment in the past, and I know first hand that it can cause a series of troubles – tangles, snap offs and limited casting distance – while others catch plenty! Sadly, the main victims of cheap tackle are holiday makers that can be sold tack which is not fit for purpose and ends in landfill after one or two uses. Some inexpensive, excellent options are linked below.

You don’t need anything fancy to catch fish this way, it’s just important that your line is about 20lb to get a decent casting distance and have plenty of strength for tolerating strain while casting 3oz leads and hauling fish. If you buy line separately to a reel, you will have better quality line than if you use what comes on a reel, almost always.

The secret to catching more with mackerel feathers

1. Get hold of a set of feathers with a range of hook sizes so you always have some smaller hooked Sabiki’s with you. The smaller sharper hooks will result in more hook ups. Most experienced anglers do not use standard size 1/0 mackerel feathers.

2. Whatever feathers you choose, tie them to a decent mainline with a strong knot, such as the blood knot.

3. Tie a torpedo bomb weight to the end of the feather rig for the best casting distance. Ensure the weight is within the weight range your rod can cast effectively.

4. Cast this rig into deep water around high tide between April and October.

The key really is location and timing for mackerel fishing. However, you can gain a significant advantage by being able to cast further, as sometimes the fish will be feeding 20m offshore and if you can only cast 25m you’re only fishing where they are for the first few turns of your reel handle. Using lighter line, a longer rod and braid will help you cast further. You can control your retrieval speed to determine the depth your feathers are at in the water, so that you can work out where in the water column fish are feeding. The key is to then stick to that depth! Two big mistakes most anglers make is only fishing at one depth (usually too shallow because they’re retrieving too quickly) or not being able to cast far enough because their line is too thick.

Another mistake is using standard mackerel feathers from tackle shops when fish are more tentative, when Sabiki’s would give you an advantage. The reason I recommend Sabiki’s is because most mackerel feathers come with size 1/0 hooks, which is going to result in a lot of missed bites. If you’ve ever felt the mackerel biting and not getting hooked this may be why. Note that using Sabiki’s does mean you need to use lighter weights too, because the lines are much lighter. The loud ‘crack’ of line snapping on the harbour is not an uncommon sound. The way to avoid it is to use a shock leader, or else use lighter weights in the 2-3oz range.

Spinning for mackerel

1. The most fun way to fish for mackerel is with a good light spinning set up and a single lure or spinner.

2. Simply tie on your favourite lure or spinner, cast out and retrieve at various depths. Simple casting jigs or small dexter wedges are my favourite. Choose a lure with a weight that’s appropriate for your rod.

3. Use the lightest line possible and test your line strength by having a friend pull the lure to see if the drag on your reel is set right.

4. Opt. Fish with decent braid and a lighter fluorocarbon leader for extra casting distance and sensitivity.

On the mackerels back are vivid black and blue stripes. It’s a nifty design produced by time and the deaths of many drably patterned mackerel. It allows the fish to imitate the movement of light on the surface of the water when viewed from above, while from below appearing as the sky.

Best mackerel lures

One advantage of single lures is that they provide their own weight. This means attaching them to your line is very easy. This does mean that you need to use a light rod and line to be able to cast them effectively, since there is no extra weight. Single lures fished without a weight have a better presentation which makes a huge difference if you hope to catch more cautious species in addition to mackerel.

The best mackerel spinner is the classic dexter wedge

This is a classic lure and probably the most popular mackerel spinner. The dexter wedge is cheap, simple and does the job. However, watch out as they do snag very easily over rough ground. Also note that most wedges come with large treble hooks which are designed for species like bass and pollack, which engulf lures by opening a vacuum in their large mouths. You want smaller hooks for mackerel, because they snap at lures with their smaller mouths. I recommend the wedges linked above for this reason. You can also attach a wedge to the end of a feather rig to increase your odds of catching bass.

But mackerel jigs have their advantages

I only fish with casting jigs for mackerel nowadays. I have fished with every style of lure for mackerel and find these to be the best. They cast much further than other lures, as they have the most aerodynamic shape possible. The good one’s are designed to flutter down the water column as slowly and visibly as possible. Cheaper one’s work great for standard sink and draw fishing and are what I use most of the time.

Casting jigs were originally designed by the Japanese. They are designed for jigging from boats, which is a method whereby you fish directly down the side of the boat, lift up the rod sharply and then allow the lure to flutter down towards the seabed again. The method is effective because it allows your lure to spend a higher percentage of its time falling downwards, rather than being pulled at an angle. Fish are more likely to strike when the lure is falling.

Casting jigs are perfectly suited to spinning from harbours and rocks for mackerel, and they come in every size for whatever casting weight you like to fish with. If you want to catch bass too, then fish with a larger one like these or check out FishMag’s guide to bass lures.

Mackerel fishing with soft plastic paddle tails

The art of presenting soft plastics just right on a perfectly weighted jig head holds a lot of appeal. It gives you the freedom to try different colours, sizes, weights and lure movements until you crack the puzzle and hit into the fish. It also allows you to target a far broader range of species. A lot of less impulsive species won’t go anywhere near standard mackerel feathers. They can also be more visible than casting jigs. As mentioned, mackerel will snap at lures which means it usually takes multiple attacks until you get a hook up with soft plastics. This effect is more pronounced as lures increase in size. So, it’s a trade off, do you want to target a larger range of species but reduce somewhat the number of mackerel you hook? Sometimes you’re happy to catch mackerel but would like to increase your odds of something more bigger or more interesting, and soft plastics offer that.

Spinning retrieval styles

The way you retrieve the lure while spinning is very important. Retrieval speed is going to determine the depth your lure is swimming at and the way that it is moving through the water. Personally, I have found that a steady retrieve with perhaps the odd twitch to be most effective. The main thing with your retrieval is that you create a mental image of where your lure is in the water. In your first cast, it’s a good idea to cast out, let your lure sink, keep a tight line, and count how long it takes to go slack. With experience, you intuitively know how long it will take for your lure to reach the bottom, and you can change the depth you fish at based on your awareness of how long it needs to sink for to reach the seabed. You should also drop your lure in the water in front of you and watch it fall and see what it does when you twitch it. This also helps you to have more control over how you present your lure.

Aim to keep your line tight when retrieving to avoid poor line lay and tangles. Leaving your line slack as your lure sinks is fine, because this allows for a more natural presentation. When your line is slack, your lure falls directly down, rather than at an angle, as it arcs around the pivot of your rod when your line is tight. Don’t worry about missing fish with a slack line, you won’t with mackerel, bass or pollack.

Mackerel feeding behaviour

Mackerel hunt all throughout the water column, depending on where the food is. A good place to start looking for them with your bait or lures is the middle of the water column. You may find that they are feeding close to the surface, or in winter they are often closer to the bottom as there are far fewer bait fish around. When I arrive at a fishing mark, if others are catching mackerel the first thing I will ask is ‘how deep are you fishing’. Knowledge of this sort all matters a lot less when mackerel are feeding in larger shoals, as they become reckless and will sometimes hit your lure as soon as it splashes in the water.

Trolling for mackerel by boat

Boat fishing for mackerel is the by far the most effective way to target the fish, since you can cover more ground and aren’t limited to one area. Boat fishing for mackerel is whole different ball game, and requires far heavier lead weights if you’re fishing in deep water or trolling. Lighter lead weights under 4oz aren’t going to sink fast enough to stay low in the water while being pulled along by a boat. Feathers are best for maximising catches. If you use single lures, use jigs as they’re designed to sink fast.

Mackerel fishing rigs

1. Float fishing for mackerel is the most relaxing way to fish, so grab a a good light spinning set up float rig and attach it to your mainline.

2. The best bait for mackerel is… mackerel! Oily baits spread a slick which fish can see and smell. Rag, lug, squid or sandeel also work.

3. Use a strong, razor sharp hook size 2-3 for optimal hook ups. 1/0 is too large. Size 1 is fine. If you’d like to catch garfish too, just think how small and hard those beaky mouths are.

4. Use braid if possible, as it floats on the surface which will give you much more direct contact with your float.

The appeal with float fishing for mackerel is that you get to watch the tantalising dipping and bobbling of your float as a fish takes the bait, just before watching the float disappear beneath the water. Because it’s such a relaxing way to fish, sometimes you start day dreaming and then realise your float is nowhere to be seen, and it’s now 6m under being pulled along by a monster mackerel or garfish.

Float fishing also allows you to catch a wider variety of species than you are likely to catch on feathers or hard metal lures. One of the most important things is to experiment with fishing at different depths, because if the fish are all feeding lower in the water and you’re only fishing 4m under, you might not catch a thing. Nearer the surface you will catch garfish and mackerel. Further towards the bottom you’ll catch more wrasse and pollack, too.

Best mackerel bait

1. Strip of white mackerel for visibility & the oil slick

2. Sandeel rigged with no hook shank visible

3. Medium length squid strips

4. Worm baits during winter when fish are feeding low in the water

5. Anything that smells of fish and is visible!

Mackerel fishing rods

The rod you want for mackerel fishing depends on whether you will be primarily float fishing, spinning with casting jigs or using mackerel feathers.

  • If you want to catch loads of mackerel and aren’t fussed about playing in fish on light gear, get a set up like this, use 3-4oz lead weights, 20lb line and mackerel feathers. 
  • For a more sporting approach, use a bass rod or an even lighter LRF rod. This is another great option.
  • For float fishing, a light carp rod around 10ft is great.

Any rod will work if you use weights and lines that are appropriate for the rod you’re using and any rod will suck if it’s paired with the wrong reel, line or weight. For instance, if you use a light spinning rod, you must use much lighter lines for the set up to work nicely. 10lb mono is ideal, and braid is even better if you can. If you don’t do this, you will be left like most anglers on harbours all across the country that have line that’s so thick it coils around their spools and stops them from being able to fish with light spinners, meaning they have to use clunky weights and poorly presented rigs.

So, whatever rod you choose to buy, make sure the line and lures all fit together. If you want to avoid working this out, you could buy a rod and reel set up and just buy some feathers and 2-3oz leads.

I would recommend to anyone that wants to have a lot of fun mackerel fishing to buy a very light spinning rod and reel, fish with braid, a flourocarbon leader and casting jigs. A lot of people find this to be a fun way to catch mackerel.

Read FishMag’s full guide to choosing a spinning rod.

Mackerel Fishing Season

The mackerel season varies depending on where you are in the UK. In the south, the mackerel run usually begins in late Spring. In the far north, the season can begin later, mid to late summer.

In June and July, colossal spawning shoals of mackerel break up into smaller shoals which ascend the shallows around the British coast. They feast like teenagers on herring, sprats, sandeels and whatever they can find to snap at. After the mania of Spring is over, the mackerel stick around in the coast into Autumn and beyond.

Then in November, they disappear into the depths, where researchers believe they linger around the bottom near the continental shelf, in dense shoals. They swim as if half awake in offshore pits, feeding around the bottom and waiting for February, when they make their way back to the shallows and split off into somewhat smaller shoals again. Then the frenzy begins once more, feeding on plankton and krill and whatever lure you throw at them. Once the fish are one year old, they are big enough to eat.

Mackerel Q&A

What’s the difference between a mackerel and a scad or horse mackerel?

Scad don’t look much like mackerel at all. They have sharp spines, a silvery colour, huge eyes and bony scales. You won’t confuse the two, except in name. It’s a myth that it’s hard to eat scad, you just have to know how to fillet and debone fish.

Horse mackerel are also known as scad, jack mackerel or in Japan ‘Agi’. Why am I mentioning Japan? Well because unlike the UK where scad are generally regarded as a bony bicatch, in Japan they developed a highly advanced method of lure fishing specifically for catching these fish, that is now known as LRF (’Light Rock Fishing’) in the UK.

In Japan, Scad (or a closely related species to the Scad) are a delicacy that’s eaten raw as sashimi. They even have a whole day dedicated to celebrating the Scad, called Aji Himono Day. Scad actually make for great eating, they just require you to pick out the bones before cooking.

Scad are populous in the warmer months and often appear in shoals alongside mackerel. They are caught in much larger numbers at night and can be seen under lights that shine onto the water as silhouettes of slow moving shoals. Despite being associated with mackerel because they hang out together, they don’t actually look or behave in the same ways. The scad has huge great eyes for seeing in the dark. I don’t know this, but I imagine they feed in much deeper water than mackerel.

The best way to catch scad is without a doubt with Sabiki feathers, which are light regular mackerel feathers but with smaller hooks. Glow in the dark sabiki feathers would be the best for fishing at nighttime, but few anglers actively target Scad outside of Japan. WIth LRF gear, casting jigs are the best, indeed, many of our high end casting jigs in the UK are Japanese imports designed for catching Scad.

What is the best month to catch mackerel?

May-June is the best time to catch mackerel, although they are caught all summer in numbers and larger specimens are sometimes caught in winter.

Where do you find mackerel?

Mackerel are a pelagic species which means they constantly roam the open seas. They are found at a range of depths and can be caught from the shore and offshore in boats. 

What size hooks for mackerel?

The most common sized hook for mackerel is a size 1O, but these are considered too large by many. There is a Japanese alternative to traditionally sized mackerel feathers which is far superior, called Sabiki feathers. 

Are mackerel in yet?

Mackerel are usually in from late April onwards but this varies by year and location. 

Do mackerel die after being handled?

Yes, a study has shown that after being handled mackerel die due to the burning of their skin from the natural oils in human hands. Wetting your hands does not help. 

What lures to use for mackerel?

The best lure for catching lots of mackerel are mackerel feathers or Sabiki feathers. The most fun way is arguably with a single spinner or a float rod fishing rod. 

What is the best bait for mackerel?

The best bait for catching mackerel is either a sandeel or strip of mackerel, but lures are also highly effective. I recommend the spinners listed on this page alongside Japanese Sabiki feathers for more hook ups. Fishing with baited mackerel feathers allows you to catch mackerel as well as other species. 

What is the best time to catch mackerel?

The best time to catch mackerel is dusk or dawn and at high tide. Spring high tides are often the best as they push bait fish closer into shore and the mackerel follow them in. Mackerel can be caught anytime, however. 

What tide is best for mackerel fishing?

The best tide for mackerel fishing is a spring high tide. These are tides when the difference between high water and low water is at its greatest, and the flow of water is strongest. Big tides push bait fish closer into shore and mackerel follow them in. 

What fish can you catch with a spinner?

Bass, mackerel, pollack and even wrasse will take spinners and other lures and can be effectively targeted in this way. Presentation and retrieval style is key and varies by species. 

What colour lure is best for mackerel?

Mackerels’ natural prey tend to be silvery white and therefore bright, shiny lures are often considered the best. These reflect light which increases their visibility to the fish. It’s often said that the colours of lures are there to catch the anglers rather than the fish!

What’s the best lure for mackerel fishing at night? 

The best lure for mackerel fishing at night is either a shiny lure to make the absolute most of whatever light is available, or a UV lure which glows in the dark. These lures are the best for fishing at night because they stand out so much more to the fish with their glow. In order for UV lures to work you must shine a light on them for a while first. 

What’s the best mackerel fishing gear? 

The best mackerel fishing gear is a simple spinning set up with an 8-9ft rod, 16lb monofilament line and mackerel feathers such as these Japanese sabiki feathers. The most fun way to catch mackerel however is with a light game set up. 

Best mackerel fishing lure length?

Mackerel do not have particularly large mouths relative to other species such as bass and pollack and a common mistake is to fish with lures which are too large. Avoid soft plastics with long paddle tails. 2 inches is perfect for mackerel fishing. 

Mackerel fishing off the beach?

You can fish for mackerel off the beach but this tends to work best at beaches where the water gets deep very quickly or when you know lots of bait fish are being pushed close into shore. 

Mackerel Fishing Pier Access in England (Wales & Scotland below)


Central pier, South pier, North pier. Mackerel fishing access: YES (check to confirm).

Bognor Regis

Bognor regis pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but check to confirm as the pier is privately owned.


Bournemouth pier or boscombe pier Mackerel fishing access: YES, year round


Palace pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, fishing is no longer allowed.


Burnham-on-sea pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, but you can fish off the jetty and the beach.


Clacton pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but you have to book here https://www.clactonpier.co.uk/rides-and-attractions/sea-fishing/


cleethorpes pier Mackerel fishing access: Unknown, but people do fish the beach


Clevedon Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, club members only


Cromer Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Chesil Beach

Not a pier but has deep water a good mackerel fishing. Mackerel numbers for 2022 are not in yet but it looks like fish won’t arrive in numbers until late April early May, which is about the same time as usual. Mackerel fishing access: YES


Deal Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but tickets required, tickets can be bought on site.


Eastbourne Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES you can fish from Eastbourne pier


Prince of Wales Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Felixstowe Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, fishing is banned from the pier.


Harbour Arm Mackerel fishing access: YES


Gravesend Town & Royal Terrace Mackerel fishing access: : YES

Great Yarmouth

Britannia Pier, Wellington Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO

Harwich Ha’penny

Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Hastings Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Herne Bay

Herne Bay Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Hythe Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Claremont Pier & South Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but check as privately owned

Lytham St Annes

St Annes Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES (be careful with tides)


Paignton Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but only when casting out to sea, not inside the harbour.


Ryde Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES, with a ticket you buy on site


Saltburn Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Culver Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES, pretty sure they build a harbour here just for fishing…


Skegness Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, fish from the beach instead for mackerel.


Royal Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Southend Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Southport Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


South Parade Pier & Clarence Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Southwold Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES, permit required


Swanage Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Grand Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO, pier sunk


Princess Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Totland Bay

Totland Pier Mackerel fishing access: NO.


Walton-on-the-Naze Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Grand Pier & Birnbeck Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Weymouth Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Worthing Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Yarmouth Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Mackerel Fishing Piers Scotland (check access)


Dunoon Pier Mackerel fishing access: Try Blairemore Pier.


Helensburgh Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Kilcreggan Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES but may not be that good


Rothesay Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Fort William

Fort William Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES

Mackerel fishing piers in Wales (check access)


Royal Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Garth Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES, ticket maybe required.


Beaumaris Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Llandudno Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Mumbles Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES


Penarth Pier Mackerel fishing access: YES