Slimy mackerel are a favourite food fish and recreational target in many places such as England, Spain and Japan. However, here they aren’t held in such high esteem and targeting them is mainly the realm of kids and fishermen chasing live bait to tempt more charismatic fish that view slimies as tasty lollipops. So following on from advanced Mullet fishing techniques, I plan to sing the praises of these beautiful little fish as both food and “sportfish”.
Slimy mackerel (Scomber australasicus) are a small tropical and sub tropical mackerel species found all over the world. They are pelagic and can be found from out on the Continental shelf to in and around bays and harbours, often congregating around structures such as jetties and wharves. These environments where they are easily accessible to everyone will be what we are focusing on in this guide to catching this great little sportsfish. They can grow to over a kilo and a half but are more commonly caught between 100-700 grams.
The great thing about little fish like these that congregate in numbers around easily accessible structures, is they can be targeted with almost any gear you can think of; light handlines, K-mart combos, bream outfits and fly outfits will all do the job brilliantly. For enjoyments sake the lighter the better. Pound for pound slimies give a surprisingly good account for themselves and a big 600-700gram model will pull some drag and put up a good fight on 1kg gear.
Baits, hooks, lures and flies
Slimy mackerel dine on anything from plankton to small fish and crustaceans, meaning they will respond to a variety of different baits and techniques. They are voracious predators and will happily dine on baits of bread, prawns, fish baits, squid baits and mollusc baits. Fact is they aren’t particularly fussy.
While baitfishing is great for kids and people starting out chasing these little speed demons, fooling them with lures and flies is far more exciting. They will readily attack small fish imitation lures and flies with gusto. Metal lures, soft plastics, flies, vibes and small hardbodies all work a treat!
While schools of Slimy mackerel are found all the way out to the edge of the shelf the best place to use most of these techniques is around fish attracting structure such as wharves, rockwalls and jetties in bays and harbours. Given the easy access to these places and the abundance of fish (not just slimies) that congregate around them, they are are great places to start kids fishing and well worth checking out from time to to for more experienced fisho’s.
The simplest technique and the one to start young kids on is simply a small hook baited with a fish flesh, prawn or squid bait. You can fish the bait either unweighted or with a small running sinker. To congregate the fish, berley is important, this can be small bits of fish flesh or bread, or a mix of both. Then simply drop your bait into the berley trail and hold on, waiting for a nice little slimy to smash your bait.
While bait fishing is highly effective, slimies are far more fun to chase using lures. Its a great way to get young kids started out (hooked) on lure fishing, as when the slimies get into a feeding frenzy they are one of the easiest species to tempt with lures. I still have fond memories of catching hundreds of slimies with dad off the chip mill wharf in Eden as a 9 year old. Those memories are priceless! Use small metal slugs small plastics or small hardbodies. For metal slugs, the best method is to jig them, drop them to the bottom and then use little flicks to bring them to the surface. Plastics can be worked in much the same fashion, while hardbodies should simply be cast out and retrieved, focusing around structure. Much like bait fishing a good berley trail will vastly increase your success.
Fly fishing is another great option, especially on a light outfit, such as a tenkara set up or 000 weight fly set up. Use small fish or crustacean imitation flies and you should get into a couple of fish pretty quickly using a bit of berley. Its great fun and I’m sure would be a great way to start kids out fly fishing.
Lastly, you can use a bait jig, although, this really doesn’t amount to sport fishing. A bait jig is a string of 6-8 “flies” made of plastic or fish skin often with flourescent beads. They are highly effective when dropping into a school, although this technique is really the realm of people chasing live baits, or simply a feed, not the maximizing the fun to be had chasing these little dynamos.
Using any of these techniques with light gear is a surprisingly fun form of sport fishing. Slimies fight hard and are a very underrated sports fish in Australia. They may not be big, but sometimes, size isn’t all that counts 🙂 Any man who isn’t as well endowed as Graz will understand what I mean.
Aside from being underrated as sportfish, they are hugely underrated as eating fish in this country. While they are quite strongly flavoured, this makes them great smoked or barbequed.
In terms of smoked fish, I personally think Slimies are one of the best. In this case what I am talking about is hot smoking, which also cooks the fish (I am yet to set up a cold smoker but plan to give it a go at some point soon). The way to do it is to soak the butterflied fish in a brine (3-5%salt) for 1-2 hours. Then pat dry the fish and leave to dry on the bench for 2-3 hours. The drying step is to ensure that the flesh of the fish caramelizes properly in the smoker giving you that deep golden colour. Then you simply smoke them. Feel free to add any other flavours or marinades you want, a bit of smoked (or sweet or hot) paprika rubbed into the flesh before smoking works a treat. The time it takes to smoke the fish will depend on the smoker you are using and can vary from 15 minutes to an hour, a few tries and you’ll quickly work out the optimum smoking time. You can also vary the time, to vary the texture of the finished product. I personally actually quite like “overcooked” very dry smoked slimy mackerel. The chewyness and intense flavour goes incredibly in smoked fish pasta. On bread, I like softer “lightly cooked” flesh, which requires a shorter smoking time.
To smoke your fish you can pick up a small box smoker for $30 from most fishing shops, which works just fine. You can also fashion your own more complex smoker if your a decent handy man, or invest in one if you really get into smoking your catch. Even without any of these you can still smoke your fish in a wok. To do this, line the wok with aluminum foil and place your sawdust/woodchips in the bottom and fire up the burner till the sawdust is smoking. Put a metal rack over teh top, lay the fish on it and cover. The heat will both cook the fish and make the sawdust smoke. 15 minutes later you will have beautifully smoked fish. Choosing the wood you use to smoke the fish is personal preference. Just don’t use any wood that has been treated, or painted as they can release harmful toxins into your fish. Personally, I simply use whatever is at hand, which is usually, Red or Yellow box or wine barrel chips from mum and dads farm. Be creative though, tea and rice smoked fish is delicious for example.
The other great method for slimies is barbequing. Two of my favourite methods are scoring the thickest part of a whole fish, or butterflying them and then marinating them in teryaki sauce before barbequing. The other is salted mackerel. Simply score the whole mackerel then rub in sea salt. Leave it to sit for 40 minutes to an hour. Wash off the salt, pat dry the mackerel and BBQ! Serve with chilli flakes. Easy and delicious. Other recipes and combinations to consider are Mackerel escabeche (a personal favourite in which the fish is lightly pickled), cooked with orange and celery or barbequed with parsley garlic and smokey paprika (with a drizzle of red wine vinegar to serve). A quick recipe search will turn up dozens more.
For the more adventurous amongst you, Slimies also make for great Sushi (sushi “Saba”), if killed (spiked and bled) and cared for carefully. I suggest you try it!
In any case, hopefully next time you want to have a bit of fun on light gear or are heading game fishing and are collecting some live bait, I strongly suggest keeping a few slimies for the table. Looked after and cooked properly they are delicious. Who knows, you may even chose to release your tuna and just have slimies for tea.
Hopefully, this post has been of some use to those of you starting out fishing on wharves or jetties and maybe just maybe has convinced a few of our older serious fishermen to put away the serious gear from time to time to have a bit of fun “silly fishing” for these wonderful little sport fish.
Thanks for reading!
Over and out