Tags Fish Guide

Mackerel Tuna

Tags Fish Guide
Mackerel tuna can be both abundant and elusive at the same time. Abundant in that a feeding school may cover an area of 100 square metres or more. Elusive in that getting close enough to them to cast, without spooking them, can be very difficult at times. But, when you can get in range for a cast, mack tuna will mostly oblige with a feisty performance on light gear.

A six-kilo mack tuna, on light gear, is a memorable encounter. They are stubborn fighters that continue to give their all until captured.

The only time I have ever eaten mack tuna was at the Mackerel Islands one year when a Greek friend baked one up with garlic and vegetables – it tasted pretty good too, given that it looked so bloody and uninviting when he prepared it. Most readers will have eaten mack tuna in its canned form.

In game fishing circles mackerel tuna go by the much more appealing Hawaiian name of kawa kawa – now there’s a name that has a ring to it.


Mackerel tuna can be recognised by the pattern of broken diagonal lines on the upper sides and two or five dark spots above the pelvic fin.

They can be distinguished from the less common frigate mackerel by the lack of space between the dorsal fins.

Mack tuna are members of the very important family Scombridae that includes all mackerel, tuna and bonito.

The Australian all-tackle game fishing record stands at 11.8 kilos, taken in Queensland back in 1973. The West Australian record is a bit smaller at 8.9 kilos taken off Exmouth in 1995 by Geoff Moyle.

These are big mack tuna, which are more commonly encountered along the WA coast at three to five kilos in weight.

Mack tuna are a tropical species, but they can occasionally be encountered as far south as Busselton. They are at times found around land-based fishing platforms such as Steep Point and Quobba, around the Dampier Archipelago and throughout most of the Pilbara and Kimberley region. Boat anglers will encounter them in a wider distribution.

Breeding and migration

Mack tuna are prolific summer open water breeders and their eggs and larvae are widely dispersed by ocean currents. Adults spend most of their time in open waters, but generally remain close to the shoreline.    

Sadly we know very little of the biology of this fish.

There are currently very few threats to mack tuna in Australia, although they are under increasing pressure around the Indian Ocean as a source of food.

Tackle and bait
A good spin stick and threadline reel loaded with 6kg mono, or 10kg braid, with a metre of 24-kilo mono trace, is an ideal outfit with which to chase mack tuna.

Mack tuna frequently require a long cast so metal slices are ideal for this task, although they will readily attack bibbed and bibless minnow lures if you are able to get close within casting range.

A wide range of baits can be also be used to catch them, from strip baits to mulies, and even gardies, although lure fishing is the preferred method employed by most anglers.

Fishing methods
Land-based anglers will often wait until they see the telltale signs of mack tuna busting the surface while feeding, often having to wait for tantalisingly long periods of time until the school comes within casting range. More energetic anglers may simply make repeated long casts in the general direction of a school in the hope of contacting a stray fish.

For boat anglers the task of getting close enough to a feeding school can at times be difficult, as they spook very easily and will sound at the slightest provocation. Quietly getting upwind of the school and then cutting the motor before casting to them can prove successful, as can trolling around a school with lures way out the back.

When chasing mack tuna it pays to have a range of tricks up your sleeve or the day may well prove to be very frustrating.

References: The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia by Gerald Allen and Roger Swainston.
Fishbase website  www.fishbase.org
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