September is a great time of the year for Land Based Mackerel Fishing at Cape Hillsborough….
Conditions: Light wind and glassed out seas
Season: Early Spring
Strategy: Fishing off the rocks for passing pelagics
Technique: High speed spinning with metals
Gear Set Up: 3-7kg 9’ 3 piece travel rod with 5000 size reel, 15lb braid and 20lb leader
Lure Types: Hardbodies, slugs, spoons and stickbaits
Session Rating: 8/10
Camping and land based Mackerel fishing at Cape Hillsborough was the first thing I thought of when more time off came my way. I set up my swag at the Smalleys Beach camping ground about 10 minutes drive from the Cape. The campers next door were a friendly lot and we soon got chatting over a cup of tea.
Around this time of the year, most rocky headlands along the Queensland coast overlooking deep water will yield land based Mackerel. Small-sized early-season Mackerel were present around Cape Hillsborough in large numbers as they chased the schools of bait both in the bay and out off the headlands. The Mackerel were not picky and seemed happy to strike at anything in front of them. Large numbers of Mackerel and perfect weather meant it really was a prime time for land based Mackerel fishing at Cape Hillsborough.
My first encounter with a Mackerel was on the outgoing tide on day one. A large school of juvenile fish had set up in a deeper channel surrounded by some small rocky islands. Water was sucked off the flats, over some shallow strewn boulders and into the deep where the predators hung back for their morning meal to be washed past their noses. I stood up high on an overlooking boulder with a birds-eye view of everything. I cast out a 4” hardbody and twitched it back with the current.
Heaps of Small Mackerel
This technique produced a lot of small 40cm-50cm fish. While the fish were not of a legal size they were loads of fun to catch and release. The Mackerel competed in smalls schools in a frantic race to hit the lure first. The bigger sized lure meant I wasn’t getting bitten off and I landed around 8 fish over the hour with a few dropped fish at the base of the rocks. Inside the packs of Mackerel there was also the odd Wolf Herring and even a few over-sized Bream.
The Bream frequently charged out after the lure from under the rocks to fight the Mackerel for the lures. The high vantage point and made this a truly fascinating sight to witness.
Cape Hillsborough Mackerel not up for the dawn bite time
The following day I changed locations and concentrated on the deeper water on the outside of the headlands. I arrived at dawn and commenced casting slugs out deep with no success. It wasn’t until the sun hit the water that the fish began to get hungry. At first, the hits were coming from right in close to the rocks and right down deep. The problem with this was that my metal lures were getting bitten off on the drop.
Catching Mackerel down deep on metal slugs
The challenge here was to not let the lure sink down into the feeding zone. The timing of the drop and retrieve was critical. To do this, I used a count of “4”. If I let it sink any longer than that, the lure would usually get taken completely and I wouldn’t see it again. Commencing the retrieve at the right moment tempted the fish to strike the lure from below and connect with the trailing trebles already in motion.
Spotty and School Mackerel to 70cm
I was soon landing lots of legal School Mackerel up to 60cm long. By 10 o’clock a school of larger fish comprised of both School Mackerel and Spotted Mackerel came busting up through the area . I landed fish to around the 70cm mark and witnessed some metre plus Spotties chasing my lures without actually striking. I had 300m of 15lb braid on my reel ready for the epic runs of these bigger specimens but could not connect to any of these trophy fish.
The lures were mostly taken on the drop or the moments after lifting it off the drop with the occasional strike coming near the surface. These 50-70cm fish had lightning fast runs but quickly ran out of steam after taking 20 or 30m of line. I landed around a dozen or so fish in that size range with three of those kept for a feed.
Technique for landing and handling Mackerel
Mackerel are a delicate fish and do not always release well. My landing and release technique definitely improved over the course of the session. After getting the fish in close, I guided it up the rock face with the incoming swell, wrapped the leader twice around my hand before lifting it completely clear of the water. From there I put the lip grip on the fish (so they did not damage themselves on the rocks) and plucked out the lure with the pliers while it hung suspended off the ground.
Technique for releasing Mackerel
The release of these fish is just as important. As quickly as possible after getting the hooks out, the fish should be returned to the water. I used the lip grips to swim the fish around the shallows until they start to kick and then release them. One time I got lazy and speared one of the fish back into the water without swimming him. It hit the water and lay stunned for a moment. That was all it took however for a massive 14kg Cod to come out from below the rock I was standing on to engulf the entire fish. Only the kicking tail of the Mackerel could be seen hanging out from the Cods mouth. The Cod shook its massive head furiously before disappearing back under the rock with with his Mack snack. I felt bad for my Mackerel but it was actually pretty cool to see.
If the Mackerel are not put quickly back in the water and swum properly, they do not survive. If the Mackerel you catch experiences something like an epileptic fit while out of the water – don’t bother releasing it because it is already dead.
I kept the three Mackerel from the session which would not have released well. They were hugely appreciated by my neighbours back at camp who I had became pretty good friends with. We put them on the BBQ, shared a few home brew beers and reflected on what a great spot Cape Hillsborough was.
If you are interested in going to Cape Hillsborough, Steve Morgan has penned a useful article http://blog.queensland.com/2016/12/13/mackay-secret-fishing-hot-spots/ on the area focusing on its improved prospects for fishing. Also check out this awesome article http://www.hookedupmagazine.com.au/how-to/spinning-for-spanish-mackerel/ for a some more in depth coverage on how to catch that land based Mackerel of a lifetime.
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