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Making Bait – How To Catch Mackerel

Catch Mackerel

Best Time Of Day To Catch Mackerel

The first step in catching mackerel is to get the right gear. There are lots of different bait snaggers on the market, ranging from the simple to the extravagant and priced accordingly. I like to keep things basic and use Izorline’s Lucky Lura 4 hook snagger rig, which offers a good balance of price and durability. Along with your snaggers you’ll need some torpedo sinkers; I recommend picking up weights from 1 to 3-ounces. Finally, you’ll need something to unhook the baits once you catch them. There are plenty of tools on the market, but I’ve found that a large lead head with the tip of the hook filed down and a pinched barb does the job nicely.

Catch Mackerel

The next step in catching bait is finding bait to catch. Where to look varies by location, but mackerel schools can usually be found near bait receivers or harbor mouths. This shot was taken a couple miles out of San Diego Bay.

As you can see, there are suspended schools of bait under the boat on the up and down meter, but the side imaging shows that there are more mackerel off the sides of the

If your meter has side imaging, pay attention to what you’re seeing as you drive around because skittish mackerel will often swim out of the path of your boat. So while you’re not seeing anything on the up and down, they might be on either or both sides of your boat.

Any rod and reel will work for catching bait but I like to use a bass rod because it allows me to feel what’s going on and finesse the bait once I’m hooked up. Rather than just dropping your bait snagger straight to the bottom and bouncing the rod up and down, you should try and fish where the bait is. bd-bait-singleThat morning, the bait was suspended, so the trick was to use the lightest weight that allowed the rig to sink straight to the bottom and then feather the spool to slow it’s descent. Once the rig made it into the zone, the mackerel were stopping it on the fall. Rather than setting the hook and winding the bait to the surface, give the rod a little jerk to hook the bait and then very slowly retrieve it with the occasional pause to let other baits climb on.

Catch Mackerel

Once you’ve gotten your full rig to the surface, wind in enough that the swivel is a couple feet from the rod tip and grab your sinker with one hand and your rod with the other. Try to keep some tension in the line so that the baits don’t get tangled and remember to keep the baits as low to the tank as possible so if they do fall off they won’t have fall to far and won’t fall over the side. It pays to have a bait net on stand by to scoop up any baits that fall on the deck.

To properly use the unhooking devise, a person that is not holding the rod will want to grasp the main line of the snagger rig with their left hand and use their right hand to loop the tool around the leader. Then by pulling down with the left hand and up with the right, the tool will slide to the hook that is in the mackerel’s mouth. Once it’s seated, give it a downward shake and the bait should fall right in the well. This technique takes some practice, so just keep trying different things until you find the one that works best for you.

The tendency among anglers is to take as much bait as possible, but that can overcrowd your tank and cut into your fishing time. On this trip we were running to the Coronado Islands to fish yellowtail. Since the mackerel were just a back up plan if the fish didn’t bite the jigs, we only made twenty or so pieces and headed out.


Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...