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How to catch mackerel: the best time, bait and tackle tips for summer mackerel fishing

Man holding fishing rod and mackerels
Learn how to catch mackerel this summer with our expert mackerel fishing tips (Image credit: Getty)

Want to learn how to catch mackerel? There's no better time. It’s coming up to peak mackerel fishing season on many coastlines. Lots of beaches have already produced them in decent numbers during recent settled hot spells. So with the right bait and tackle, and some of our mackerel fishing tips, you will find this plentiful, delicious fish is just waiting to be reeled in. Bring the barbecue!

Summer mackerel fishing is the perfect way to get anyone interested in angling. For kids and those with short attention spans, it's an easy and exciting fish to catch, putting up a surprisingly good fight on light fishing tackle. There are also few better baits than fresh mackerel so it's worth looking at our guide on how to catch your own bait and make the most of this fabulous fish.

With international travel opportunities currently looking restricted due to Covid-19 rules, anglers are sure to be ‘staycationing’ in bigger numbers than ever before. A day out to the coast, or a longer fishing trip offers the chance to try your luck in saltwater. But see the Angling Trust’s latest sea fishing guidelines for current, up-to-date advice on angling with coronavirus restrictions.

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Despite below-par catches from beaches in recent years, if you go at the best time to fish for mackerel in the summer you will find they can still be abundant around many coastlines.

Normally they lurk too far for even the longest casters, which can make learning how to catch mackerel tricky. But it’s now, in these warmer months, when they can be found in colossal shoals, pursuing bait fish such as sandeels, which is the best time to catch mackerel. 

Being a true shoal fish, individuals have zero time to be fussy over a potential meal, which makes mackerel very easy to catch. Spinning and float fishing are successful mackerel tactics, but a string of feathers beats all methods.

The best time of day to catch mackerel is at dawn or dusk and at high tide. But you can catch them all day.  

It's exciting stuff, mackerel fishing, especially with a full set of six lively fish on the line at once – it’ll certainly put a pleasing bend in your rod.

Powerhouse beachcasting rods aren’t essential for the odd feathering session; a stepped-up 12 ft (3.65 m) carp rod is perfect. We use a 3.25 lb (1.47 kg) test curve model and couple it with a pit reel loaded with 12 lb (5.44 kg) monofilament with some stronger line to act as a shock absorber.

A 3 oz (85 gm) distance carp lead is more than adequate for reaching mackerel shoals. They can sometimes swim within a few yards of the shore as they wreak havoc on their prey.

If you’re not sure what kit will be up to the job, or you just don’t have it, we're going to take a look at a mackerel rod and reel set you might like to consider, the best bait for mackerel plus loads of other mackerel fishing tips.

Man holding three mackerel in his hands

How to catch mackerel, the UK’s most prolific and recognisable fish, is something every angler needs to know (Image credit: Getty)

What are the best locations for mackerel fishing?

One of the prime mackerel locations in the UK is Chesil Beach, in Dorset. This linear shingle storm beach stretches from Portland to West Bay. It’s a hugely popular fishing spot, but with over 18 miles (29 km) of beach available, you’ll always find an area from which to fish.

Matt Sparkes went there to give you this great advice:

"Mackerel are found along the whole coastline of the UK, where colossal shoals mean bumper hauls are a possibility. There is the chance of a full string of fish on nearly every cast – especially on a rising tide.

"The most effective way of catching mackerel is to use a string of feathers. These basic lures are retrieved through the water, mimicking small baitfish, such as sand eels, which is the staple diet of mackerel. Any colour seems to work, from plain white through to vivid day-glo orange. Fancier brands score well, too, with strips of glittery tinsel and silver reflector strips designed to glint and flash through the water."

Three men fishing from the sea shore

Go mackerel fishing at dusk or dawn as this is the best time of day to catch mackerel (Image credit: Getty)

How to catch mackerel: know your enemy

Chesil Beach stretches from Portland to West Bay, making it around 18 miles  (29 km) long. It is probably THE most prolific mackerel fishing venue in the UK.

Made entirely of pebbles (18 billion apparently!), Chesil is a steeply shelving beach. It’s one that continues below sea level, offering a decent depth of water just yards from the shore.

This scenario is perfect for dense shoals of bait fish and mackerel. It is ideal for pleasure anglers that can still catch fish regularly without the need for regular extreme casting.

In the summer, visiting anglers flock to Chesil but don’t fret. With so much beach there’s always plenty of room to join in with the action, even if it sometimes involves a trek along the shingle.

Bass love sandeels, and shoal up in their tens of thousands in pursuit of these little fish. With a decent depth yards from the shore, mackerel shoals can pursue sandeels within a 60-80 yard (55-73 metre) cast. This makes them catchable with carp gear. These sandeels actually beach themselves in their desperation to evade being engulfed by a myriad of hungry mouths.

Mackerel feathers mimic these prey fish, and all colours and designs work well. When mackerel are really in abundance you can even catch them on a bare hook!

Man fishing at sea

Simple but effective tackle is what you need for mackerel fishing from the shore (Image credit: Getty)

What tackle do I need for mackerel fishing from the shore?

Although extreme casting isn’t always essential at Chesil Beach, occasionally they’ll be just out of range of an easy lob with a medium-size reel. For this reason, we opt for a Big Pit reel, which is the ultimate casting tool favoured by carp anglers fishing large lakes.

For line, see our guide to the best fishing line to inform your selection but we reckon 12-14 lb (5.4-6.3 kg) mono is fine. However, a shockleader is essential to prevent it snapping on the cast. Distance-style carp leads of around 3 oz (85 gm) should reach the mackerel shoals easily, attached to the end of the string of feathers. 

A finger stool protects your index finger from repeated casting. A priest quickly dispatches mackerel destined for the table or for winter pike baits. Kill those fish firmly but quickly to prevent prolonged suffering.

A decent cast with a stepped-up carp rod is perfectly adequate for a spot of mackerel feathering. It’s especially useful when shoals are just that little bit too far out to be reached with regular spinning gear.

We prefer to use a 3.25 lb (1.47 kg) test curve model for my feathering, finding it thumps out 3 oz (85 gm) leads with ease. This rod also has the backbone to crank in a full set of six hard-scrapping mackerel!

Woman casting fishing rod into sea

In summer, the best time to fish for mackerel, you don't need to cast far to catch them (Image credit: Getty)

What are the best mackerel fishing tactics?

How easy is this? Attach a pre-tied string of feathers to your shockleader, add a lead at the end (see our best fishing weights guide to help you choose) and you’re set to go.

Feathers on a rig, ready to use, cost £2 to £4 (around $2.50-$5.50) – or buy a ‘value pack’ as you see in the best-selling deal above.

Here’s how you use mackerel feathers once they’re attached, along with a lead for casting weight:

Cast out and tighten up a second or two after the lead hits the water. Then begin the retrieve immediately. Do this retrieving by simply pulling the rod back in one continuous sweeping motion while keeping it at waist height.

You then bring the rod forward again while reeling in the slack line quickly and repeat. You’ll know when you’ve hit a shoal of mackerel – everything suddenly goes solid and then it’s simply a question of pumping them in.

A full string of mackerel will give you a scrap, especially when they near the shallows and all try swimming off in different directions!

Close-up of hand holding fishing rod over water

After mackerel fishing, you need to wash your gear to prevent corrosion from the saltwater  (Image credit: Getty)

How do you keep your gear safe when fishing in saltwater?

Salt left on your gear will quickly corrode any metal components and can ruin favourite reels in no time at all.

Give your reel a thorough rinse as soon as you get home. Pay particular attention to the bale arm and roller. Rods will need a rinse off, too, as rings will soon succumb to the damaging effects of sea salt.