Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Much to enjoy about mackerelBy DICK PINNEY March 11. 2018 12:29AM
Our coastal mackerel seem to be either a favorite species for quite a few coastal anglers or just a pain for some people that are targeting other species, such as flounder, stripers or perch.
We're very happy to have located a school of feeding macks when we are using them for live bait when fishing for stripers! When we have a live tank with a dozen or so live mackerel and there's some stripers around, it's just about a guarantee that we're going to have some good action and probably catch some quality stripers using them for bait.
When we had a big live tank on our larger fishing boat, a 19-foot Eastern, we could keep a couple of dozen live mackerel onboard with no problems, but now we're fishing out of our 16-foot Alumacraft outboard powered skiff and do not have the capabilities of keeping any more than a half-dozen life mackerel and, even with that, it's a constant battle to keep them alive as we need to hand-bucket new saltwater into the too small bait tank we have.
So we've changed our tactics and instead of free-lining live mackerel we have found that we can have just as much success by trolling freshly killed mackerel. Our hooking system is very simple. We either use an appropriate size treble hook, inserting it just in front of the eye socket or a good sized single hook with a large gap.
We have found that it's hard to beat using a 40- or 50-pound test mono leader of about seven or eight feet long - just about the length of the rod we're using and a conventional reel full of 40 pound leadcore line that we use loop-to-loop for connecting leader to line. The reason we use that length leader is that the leadcore line connection won't pass through the tip-top line guide of our rods. But we've found that length of leader is sufficient and doesn't seem to bother the hungry stripers.
By trolling with the dead mackerel, you have the ability to put your bait right over good striper-holding structure, which from years of fishing the area we have a pretty good idea where the fish will be holding out.
We're not talking "schoolie-sized" stripers here. We're talking about fish that are eight to 10 pounds or more. These fish are at a size that they like to wait and hide behind structure and ambush them when they swim by, not like the smaller stripers that will chase those schools of mackerel around.
Using leadcore line enables us to use shorter lengths of line so we can sweep the bait over known striper structure. We do not just troll willy-nilly up and down the currents. We target these striper holding covers that we've learned from many years of experience. When you find one of these places that will hold good sized feeding stripers, you want to remember them! And after several trips of trolling mackerel bait to catch stripers, you should have a pretty good collection of those "striper spots" to pound on!
We troll a system we call "run and gun." If we put our trolled baits over a place that we've found will hold striper feeding structure and don't get a hit or at least a chase, we'll quickly reel in our lines and scoot over to the next proven striper "hot spot" for a try or two. It's really striper hunting and not striper fishing.
If your memory is not good, we'd recommend use of a notebook, entering the places and conditions, especially the tide information, to keep track of the striper holding spots. We've done it for so many years, we don't need to keep a written account of them but when we find a new striper-spot we're apt to make sure that we remember it, usually by just noting shore locations and structure. We'll always name these spots to make it easier to just go from one to another in our striper hunt. And that's what our striper fishing is, a systematic hunt of known striper holding places. But we're still finding new ones each year as we'll do a bit of "running and gunning" when we see places or structure that we suspect might hold a fish or two.
Know that we are not targeting the smaller "schoolie" sized stripers. We're geared for and baited up for stripers that are measured in pounds, not inches, although once in a while we'll find a real ambitious schoolie-sized striper that just can't let a too-big-to-eat striper bait go past it without giving it a nip or two.
When doing this kind of striper hunting, always make note of what the tide is doing and the time of the day when you get some action. After a while of this run-and-gun style of striper fishing, it all becomes second nature! And you'll find your success in boating larger fish has improved.
Drop us an email at DoDuckInn@aol.com and get out there this spring and get a big 'un!
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.