Category: High Risk
THE FIRST time I fished for shark mackerel they were busting up bait on the surface out from Parker Point at Rottnest. The air was full of terns that wheeled and dived repeatedly into a small area of rippled ocean. I simply ran a trolling feather jig way out the back of the boat and, having passed the feeding school, turned the boat to drag the lure through the bait and feeding shark mackerel. Bingo, I was hooked up straight away.
It wasn’t usually a long fight, but some of the sharkies were seven or eight kilos in weight, and there were plenty of them. And back in the 70s you could do that just about every weekend from February until the end of summer. Shark mackerel acquired their name as a result of the shark-like ammonia odour they have when filleted. Happily, this disappears after cooking. Sharkies are also still referred to as large-scale tuna by some game fishermen and large-scale mackerel on the east coast. Double-line mackerel is another old name that comes from the fact that sharkies have a double lateral line.
In eating terms they are often thought of as the poor mackerel cousin, but although the flesh can be a little dark at times it cooks up just fine when filleted.
Free swimming sharkies are a silvery colour with a tinge of very light green or blue, and after capture this transforms to a golden yellow or yellowish green. This mackerel usually has a series of dark spots along the breast and belly, but it’s the double lateral line and unique colouration that make identification quite easy.
The Australian record for a sharkie is 11.7kg, but a fish of 6-7 kilos is a good one and anything over nine kilos is a big ‘un. Interestingly, very few fish under 4kg are caught by anglers.
Shark mackerel are pelagic and live in inshore surface waters. They are a schooling fish and if one is caught there are generally a few more around. They are often found over reef flats on rising tides and near tidal run-outs on the falling tide, as they feed on congregating baitfish. Although a tropical species, sharkies can be found from Perth northwards into the Northern Territory. Little appears to be known about any long distance migration patterns that shark mackerel may undertake.
Breeding and migration
Virtually nothing is known about the biology of shark mackerel, which should be of concern to recreational anglers.
Although numbers of shark mackerel have clearly declined along the coast in recent years, especially around the metropolitan area, no clear threats appear evident. It is most likely that cumulative fishing impact has reduced stocks to their current levels.
Tackle and bait
Shark mackerel are often an incidental catch for anglers targeting spanish mackerel. It follows that it’s a good idea not to fish too light when pursuing sharkies as it could cost you a big spaniard! My choice would be at least 6kg line or 10kg braid.
Sharkies love high speed lures. In the early 70s, when fishing the rock ledges at Quobba, good numbers of these piscatorial missiles would home in on metal slices and the ubiquitous white lead-head jigs. Groups of sportfishers would congregate during the mackerel season and cast lead-head jigs into the distance, before retrieving them as fast as possible. Keen anglers only stopped to either allow somebody else to have a cast on a small restricted ledge, or because their arms simply couldn’t cast any longer.
The lead-head jigs used for high speed spinning generally have mylar skirt material instead of feathers or soft plastics, which would not last two seconds when sharkies are slashing at them with razor-sharp teeth.
Spinning for sharkies is best done with a 2-2.5m spin stick and fast retrieve spinning reel. However, a word of caution – buy a good quality spinning reel that lays the line properly and which preferably has a bail arm roller that includes a ball bearing. If you don’t line twist and line failure, and lost fish, are your destiny.
I use a two metre 24kg nylon trace tied to the main line, and then I attach my trace to 300mm of brown mono wire that carries the lure. The idea being that I want something light, but strong, that resists sharp teeth.
Casting is still by far the most popular way to target sharkies, which frequently have their location announced by the presence of feeding terns. If boat fishing approach suspected feeding sharkies with care as they can be very flighty when boats are around. Get used to casting long distances.
Metal slices, metal fish profiles and lead-head jigs are all great for casting because they have the weight that’s needed to make good distances consistently.
When boat fishing, I have always preferred to troll surface lures for sharkies way behind my other lures – sometimes as much as 50–100m back. The lure speed should be such that occasionally the lure hits the surface and puts out a small bubble trail. You will probably need to troll a bit faster than normal to achieve this, which in turn may mean you can’t run bibbed lures in close at this speed. But give it a go, you may be surprised.
Trolling a pattern of bibbed minnows will catch you some sharkies, but it wouldn’t be my favourite way to target them.
Sharkies generally feed on small baitfish so avoid using lures bigger than about 120mm in length. Anglers that have caught a number of sharkies will be able to testify to the fact they frequently spew up baitfish they have been feeding on, and these are invariably quite small.
Casting pilchards to sharkies is also very effective, if they stay in one place long enough and if you can cast far enough. A weightless pilchard out the back, when fishing at anchor, is another great fish taker.
Sharkies can be great fun when they are on, so keep your eyes open for the signs.
References: Sea Fishes of Southern Australia by Barry Hutchins and Roger Swainston.