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How to Livebait for Moreton Bay School Mackerel

By Tammy Spina

There are many different ways to catch mackerel but today I will be taking you through how to live bait for them in the Moreton Bay region.

Lets get straight into it

Mackerel are an aggressive pelagic predator built for speed and armed with razor-sharp teeth.

They can be found nearly all year round in Moreton bay and are common between 50-75cm, currently they have a size limit of 50cm or greater and a possession limit of 10 in QLD. School mackerel are considered a good table fish by many.

The speed of that first run is unmistakable and with the larger models you will hear your line tearing through the water as the mackerel makes a blistering straight run, and just when you think you have the fish under control be prepared that when it sees that boat it will go for another run and may dive straight under the boat or head for your anchor rope!

Mackerel can breach the surface while striking lures and live baits, this aggressive nature and incredible speed makes them a fun species to target for the whole family and I myself could chase mackerel any day of the week.

Let’s talk gear

Mackerel are a relatively clean fighting fish meaning you don’t have to worry about them running into reef or structure and busting you off.

A rod in the 4-10kg range matched with a 3000-5000 size spin reel makes for a great fishing experience and 20-30lb mainline is sufficient when chasing Mackerel.

Small leaver or star drag overhead reels are also a great option for live baiting.

Larger mackerel can put out some screaming runs and a decent quality reel with carbon drag washers is definitely worth investing in. 

Let’s Talk Rigs

A lot of people tend to go straight for the wire trace isle in their local tackle store when preparing for mackerel fishing, while I have definitely caught mackerel this way, from my experience the bite rate dramatically drops when I have used wire traces and some days when I couldn’t even get a bite, as soon as I have swapped out that wire trace to flurocarbon the fish started rolling in. 

Depending on the day 30-50lb fluro carbon leader will be sufficient, yes you may occasionally get bitten off no matter how thick your line is, mackerel teeth will snip it like a pair of scissors but it can be the difference between catching fish or going home empty-handed, on a tough day I like to do all I can to increase my chances of catching fish.

I run a set of three or four 3/0-5/0 gangs separated by size 4-6 swivels, I do this as it makes rigging your live bait much easier and swim more freely. gangs that are not separated by swivels tend to catch on each other and have the potential to twist open under pressure, for this reason, I do not buy cheap gangs.

Unweighted live baits have been very productive for me, on other days I will run a small ball sinker above a swivel about 1 meter up the line, on other days I have only gotten bites when the live bait was on the bottom. This is something that needs to be judged on the day. If the mackerel aren’t bitting try mixing things up and remember there isn’t just one way of catching mackerel, many different ways can work.

Finding Your Live Bait

Doing your research, searching for structure, drop-offs, shipwrecks or pressure points where bait holds is key. We have so many resources these days with our phones and the many apps we can download. Navionics for example shows contours of the seafloor and sunken shipwrecks. Using this to your advantage, mark a few spots and go check them out to see if these spots hold any fish. Having a good sounder with charts and a side-scan feature really helps when it comes to finding structure and bait schools. Baitfish don’t just hold in one location, I have a few different spots for catching live bait, so if one isn’t holding baitfish chances are another spot will be. This can take some time finding some go-to spots but I assure you it is definitely worth putting in the time.

Approach your desired spot with some stealth by drifting or slowly motoring into your desired fishing grounds, once you find some baitfish I usually use a size 6-10 bait jig to catch herring.

If you are not running an electric motor to hold position, once you find the bait you will have to set up a drift or anchor up to catch them.

Using gloves or a wet cloth when handling the live bait helps prevent the removal of their scales and I have found that they survive longer.

To keep your baits alive you will either need a live well in your boat or you will need a good size bucket with 1 or 2 aerators running, depending on how many fish and how much water is in the bucket.

Positioning your boat

Once you find and catch your live bait chances are the mackerel are right there! This is why I recommend a more subtle approach to give yourself the best chance of catching fish.

Once you have located baitfish or a school of mackerel try to avoid motoring directly over them, noise from your engine or the bubble trail from your motor may affect the fish and can shut them down especially in the bay as it is relatively shallow. I have seen it so many times where a hot bite has been shut down due to unaware or reckless boats motoring directly on top of the fish.

Anchoring up current from the bait school so that your live bait ends up floating back into or just outside the bait school is the goal here. Some days setting up and drifting through the bait school is the only way to get the mackerels attention. 

Rigging Your Live Bait

So what is the little trick to not getting bitten off since I am not using a wire trace?

You want to pin your live bait using the third and second gang hook and leave the first gang free, this pretty much acts like a trace and has proven itself to be very effective. For some strange reason this just works and mackerel that will not hit a trace happily snap up a bait rigged this way.

Now Your ready

Set your boat up in the perfect position, flick your live bait out gently behind the boat and slowly let more line out until your bait has reached the bait school.

Now all you have to do is hold on. Usually if there are mackerel around they will take a live bait within a few minutes if not seconds when they are really on the bite, sometimes you can’t even get another bait on the hooks before your first bait is screaming off!

Other ways of catching Mackerel

If you are interested in trying a few lures for them then I would suggest a Halco Twisty thrown out as far as possible, let it sink to the bottom retrieve as fast as possible for about half way up the water column, let it sink back to the bottom and retrieve quickly again to the boat. Smaller stickbaits and divers will also work, lures such as a Rapala X-rap Magnum Cast or even a Nomad Madscad retrieved steady to a fast pace, (remember to mix things up if one retrieve and/or one lure is not working). 

When using this live baiting technique, there is always a chance of catching other species. You could also find yourself catching spotted mackerel, Spanish mackerel, snapper, grass emperor, jewfish, plenty of reef sharks and other weird and wonderful creatures.  

Get out there, enjoy the journey and happy fishing guys!

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