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Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


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Friday 1 July 2011

Trolling for Spanish Mackerel (Part 1 of 4)

(part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)
Article by Nicko_Cairns


First of all I’d like to thank a couple of leading publications for not replying to my initial enquiry about publishing my first article. Subsequently I’m publishing this on my favourite fishing website: Fishing Townsville.

Secondly there are a lot of articles about trolling for pelagic fish such as Spanish Mackerel (Macks) that subscribe to just one technique on all occasions; I enjoy swearing at these articles as they really aren’t doing justice to you, the reader. Why? Because to be able to dismiss techniques you have to try them at different times and compare them to your favourite technique (when possible). If the technique works ask yourself why, i.e. if you are only fishing the top of the water column, don’t dismiss a deep reef as a Macks spot if you don’t get hits, try fishing the deeper parts of the water column too. If you swear by pink coloured lures is that due to you mainly fishing pink coloured lures? Have you thought about how colour changes through the water column before selecting the lure?

Dead baits are my preferred technique, however when in search mode (watching the sounder for Macks and bait) lures are often better as you cover more ground quickly. Especially bibless lures, so don’t be afraid to have several rods set up for different techniques, you might find that you prefer to swim lures and cover three times as much ground (or more), then swap to baits or a combination of baits/lures once you find the fish. Anyway end of rant, be flexible I guess I’m saying and don’t anticipate, fish to the conditions.

There is a lot of debate about techniques on trolling for Macks; understandably this can be confusing for people new to trolling for this prime sportfish. Should you troll dead baits or lures? What speeds? How many baits/lures? Where should you start trolling? Should you use wire or mono? What type of wire? What length of wire? What rigs? What colour lures? What depths should you troll? The aim of this article is to demystify trolling techniques and explain techniques that work.

Firstly, each person you ask about trolling for Macks will give you their preferred technique, usually this is the first technique that yielded results for them, and they’ve stuck with it since. Some people seem to shroud their Macks techniques in mystery making it appear to be much more difficult than it actually is.

I first started trolling for Macks exclusively on lures, then changed to dead baits (thanks to my good mate Shayne for showing me his excellent techniques) and now do a mixture. Here’s my opinion on the different techniques, why they work and what I think is ‘usually’ the best technique. Of note is that I do not discuss trolling live-baits within this article, I find it much easier to use dead garfish than to attempt to get live-baits pre-dawn prior to trolling. Also I don’t use a down-rigger so I’m unable to comment on down-riggers, however having a large range of lures and dead-bait rigs helps when you need to fish a certain part of the water column. Knowing roughly what depth your lures swim at also helps. I do use other techniques for increased depth such as a diving disc and ball/barrel sinkers for increased depth but that’s another article in itself. Also of note is that I’ve tried quite a few different techniques at the same time and have noted what techniques work better than others, so if you can’t be bothered reading this entire article in its entirety, here’s a very basic rule of what I think works the best on most occasions:
  • dead bait on wog-head rig (which come with a synthetic skirt), or chin-guard rig with coloured plastic octopus. Best colours: bright fluoro colours, white, or dark colours
  • maximum of one foot of single strand copper coloured wire
  • trolling speed 2-3 knots
  • troll structure, search for bait
  • fish two different depths when practical (this might entail using a dead bait alongside a bibbed minnow (yes you can do it as long as the bibbed minnow swims well at slow speeds)
  • don’t introduce slack line at any stage of the fight.
These are a quick and dirty on what I find works most of the time, for more in-depth information read on:

Before you swim any bait/lure, you need to find structure. Macks are no different to any other fish in that they inhabit structure (think bait and protection) such as pinnacles, wrecks and reefs. Although sometimes they may be swimming around the structure at a distance, they are still basically going to the supermarket and spending time looking for food. While spearfishing in North Queensland I regularly saw Macks swimming close to reef edges, with the frequency of sightings I believe that there was one main reason that the fish chose to swim along the edges… food. It must take a lot of energy for such a large fish to constantly swim, so eating must be high on their agenda. As we all know bait congregates around structure so the Macks are drawn to the same locations. In addition to reef edges, Macks also congregate around solo bommies and pinnacles, often a pinnacle located in a large area of flat seabed will be a Mack’s hotspot. Macks also congregate around inshore and offshore exposed rocks and islands. Islands are probably favoured by Macks as they are generally surrounded by reef and/or bommies (think structure) and bait fish like to frequent structure for protection, including shallow structure where they can attempt to hide from predators. Macks can also usually be found swimming under any large bait ball. The longer a bait ball has been harassed by Giant Trevally and Tuna at the surface and mid-water column, the more likely that Macks are swimming underneath picking off the scraps and occasionally rampage through the school (sometimes even launching from the water, meters into the air!).

Note: sure some Macks travel very long distances in open water, but the best chance you have of finding them is by finding structure and bait together.

Importantly there’s a big difference between a school of Tuna etc rising to eat bait then moving and an established bait ball. An established ball will be hundreds or thousands of fish at the surface with a large amount of fish activity, don’t ever stop trolling structure to chase small amounts of surface activity unless you want to catch Tuna/Trevally. Frequently moving schools of feeding fish are more likely to be Tuna/Trevally herding bait, a tightly packed bait ball is the result of successful herding. Once the bait is at the surface and the water is erupting it’s time to consider trolling these areas for Macks, expect a lot of by-catch though (Tuna and Trevally).

I find that if you swim lures/baits slightly to the side of a well-established bait ball, and swim these fairly deep (6-10 meters) you will find Macks. Should you swim surface baits/lures in this same situation you are more likely to catch various species of Tuna and the ubiquitous GTs. Don’t get me wrong, GTs and Tuna are a lot of fun but when you are targeting Mackerel exclusively then catching by-product species can be frustrating and significantly impact on your dead baits. This can also waste valuable time, with a chance that the bait ball will consumed by these predators before you can target it again. Basically, the more trolling runs past bait balls the better, so go deep in this situation. Avoid driving through the bait ball but you can run your lures/baits back quite a long way and change direction of the boat so the lures/baits swim through the bait school. Be prepared to lose the occasional lure when fishing around bait balls as sometimes fish will swim into your line. Bait balls are one of the few times that I run a long length of line; I’ll talk about my usual setup shortly.

TIP: When you find an isolated piece of structure regardless of its type, circumnavigate the structure either in a circle pattern, or trolling each edge individually. Trolling individually means trolling an Eastern reef edge (for example) then continuing past the reef edge and performing a slow turn before trolling the entirety of the next reef edge. What’s the advantage of this? You troll the entire edge and have more control over your lure/bait course than doing large circles. Additionally the lures/baits will swim past the reef edge into deeper water where pelagics may be waiting. For smaller structure though (a sole small pinnacle etc) I prefer to circumnavigate first, then if I haven’t had a hit, I’ll troll directly past on each side. You don’t have to troll extremely close to the structure, Macks have good eyesight (and you should be trolling in relatively clean water but more on that later).

If a reef is deeper than your trolling spread depth you can troll directly over the reef, ensure your lures aren’t too close to the bottom as Trout love living under ledges on top of reefs (ask any spearfisherman) and you need some room to fight should a large Trout, GT or Cod decide to eat your offering. These same ledges, bommies and pinnacles on a reef are also fishing hotspots for other types of fishing such as lightly weighted bottom-bashing and lure casting, so once the prime trolling times have passed by you can target these same areas with different techniques. Pay attention to your sounder when trolling and you’ll find these little spots of gold every once in a while. Pay too much attention to the view and you might miss these spots. Ideally both you and a deckie should look at the sounder fairly often and discuss what you see, ensuring these spots get marked.

When you get a strike ensure you mark it as a waypoint and troll past the same point again, you may be close to structure that will yield multiple fish. Should you find an area that produces fish for no apparent reason, explore the area with your sounder outside of the prime trolling times to locate whats attracting the fish to the area. One reef I like to troll has only one major pinnacle of note, so I circumnavigate the reef first to cover the drop-off, and then cut across the reef to troll the pinnacle (paying attention to tide times and lure running depths). I troll past the pinnacle at least three times then continue to the next spot. Covering ground will find you more fish, be prepared to pull the troll lines in and move to another reef/bit of structure.

  • Trolling Times
  • Wire or Mono
  • Trolling Speed