Favorite Mackerel Lures/Plugs & How You Fish Them

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Mackerel come in basically two types - the Tinker Mac which is a juvenile form of an adult and the Adult Mackerel. Many fisheries don't have Mackerel present throughout the season if at all. However when you get near Atlantic open water you will start to see Mackerel are a primary bait fish.


For years I lived at the mouth of the Connecticut River which is primarily on Long Island Sound fishery. I would fish 150 to 200 days a year in season after season I rarely ran into them when shore fishing.


The most epic day I ever had occurred one summer afternoon believe it or not. I had fished from 2 in the morning until about 10 a.m. and done fairly poorly from the boat. It was getting rough out so I came in and went and made myself a sandwich. As I'm relaxing watching a baseball game I notice a massive squall of birds out at the shore it was high tide.


I started cursing in disbelief, ran out into the garage & frantically grabbed the surf rod & swooped up a few lures that were drying on a picnic table from being rinsed off been charged out to the beach to see what was going on.


When I saw these long slender fish racing along the shore every now and then they were racing parallel to the beach and right up close to my feet as I looked into the water. All hell was breaking loose. I looked into the gin clear water noticed millions of tiny little flashes which were Atlantic Butterfish. This "strange" 12" to 15" fish appeared to be blitzing the Butterfish. Mackerel are forage species and I believe that they were feeding on the butterfish.


As I stared into the water I noticed lots of boulders. I thought this was odd because I didn't remember ever seeing these big boulders. Then I realized the boulders were moving. They weren't boulders. They were these weird 12" to 15" long slender fish I had not seen before.


I stared into the water directly in front of my feet. Enormous splashes were distracting me but I tried to focus. Then I begin to notice the patterns on their backs and immediately recognized that they were Mackerel. Many of them were half mangled and bitten but still swimming and panicking. Then 10 or 20 of them just flew out of the water and landed on the beach and they had a nice close look.


They were big. I didn't have anything that size on me but in the garage I had a few options so I sprinted back to the garage. I believe I ran a sub 10 second hundred yard dash but I can't be certain lol, and I grabbed the very first thing I saw hanging on the wall in the garage - an old rusty Atom 40 Danny Swimmer. I ran back to the beach this time, probably under 11 seconds because I was carrying an open beer I had grabbed & tore into from the fridge in the garage and the Atom 40.


I snapped on the Atom 40 and took about 10 casts way out into the water, focusing my casts directly in front of me with no luck. The sizes in force of the swirls were enormous bigger than anything I have ever seen in my entire life . Then I decided to throw the Atom parallel to the beach. I could see the enormous Bait-Balls of Mackerel being pinned against the shore.


The moment I started reeling the plug parallel to the beach my entire rod buckled over and I had my first 45 pounder in broad daylight taken from the beach.


As soon as I released him I repeated the cast and the rod buckled over. I happened to look to my left and I saw enormous objects swimming around beneath the bait-balls - much larger than what I had just caught and released??? Yep. Huge fish.


This time the hooked fish swamm out in front of me very slowly and then banked right out to sea it swam steadily and with a force I've never felt before from the shore.


After an excruciating five minutes of maximum drag on my Penn SSM 750 Surf Reel, I heard a devastating ping as my 300 yards of braid was now gone. I stared at the real and disbelief as the bedlam continued right in front of me and I raced back into the house to grab some heavy conventional equipment, panicking the entire time. I had never seen anything remotely similar to this.


The next two hours with some of the wildest fishing I have ever experienced, humongous bluefish, humongous stripers and sharks mixed in. I had never seen a shark tear up a blue fish it was quite a sight . One I'll never forget .


To this day I've never encountered anything similar but if you fish in an area where you have Mackerel, you know you have to be prepared for them because when they show up fishing is usually epic. Many times weather events will blow them in. If you've ever stood on a rock and looked down into the Cape Cod Canal you may have seen a giant Pod of Mckerel swim by. I have been treated to such a site many times and recall seeing such a site for the first time.


At first I thought it was a Baby Whale! (LOL) the head of the pod is always the larger Mackerel and as the pod moves by the decrease in size with the smaller ones bringing up the rear. It's an amazing sight to see


When you're picking out the best ways to imitate a Mackerel, you have to decide between plugs plastics and even metals.





Two of my favorite imitations are either full on Needlefish Plugs or better yet, Stubby Needlefish Bullet type plugs. When you watch a Mackerel swim, you will notice only the tail moves. For this reason longer more slender lures have the right profile and you can impart the right swimming action to trigger strikes.


For smaller Mackerel, Swimmer (Bomber) style lures are excellent choices. Certain ones are better and more popular than others. Tackle shops in areas where macro are present will be loaded with many options.




The Diana SP Minnow & SP Bullet are two wonderful choices each fishes completely differently. The minnow is a retriever and flutter it along steadily type beat where is the bullet is more of a cast it as far as you can and make it go side to side bait. When big Bass are on Tinker Mackerel these are excellent choices. If the fish are hitting fairly close to shore you would use the SP Minnow. If they were two or three hundred yards out the bullet could come in handy. I'm not implying you actually reach them if there 300 yards out but you know what it's worth a shot!




The Bomber Long Cast and the Jointed Bomber can both be great choices obviously the long cast is best in wind or from the shore while the jointed bomber is a great night lure from shore for terrific from a boat.




One of the coolest swimming lures in this class is the Savage Minnow, they have a tremendous side to side action as a flutter along, they also cast great and certainly produce!




The Mambo Minnow is my absolute favorite night lure and though it doesn't cast very far, if you have a rod rated 1 - 3 ounces you will have an easy time flinging it and if you're around isn't too terribly long you'll be able to use one hand as you retrieve it to give the Mambo the right action. I like to pulse the Mambo as I retrieve it. Out of all the lures in this class it is least likely to get hung up in weeds and get snagged and it definitely out swims just about everything. Its action is similar to a Cotton Cordell Red Fin Shad if you've ever fished one of those. Try the Mambo at night and you'll be chuckling to yourself as you land fish after fish when no one else can catch steadily. I use the 10' Ron Aara Rods for Bates this light and they do great. I'm actually shocked sometimes at how far they will cast with the right rod. I have actually out-cast guys next to me who are throwing the SP Minnow's with heavier rods plus they have been surprised when they see the results I get with this bait. Always remember the right rod makes a big difference with what you're doing.





The Rapala X-Rap is another lower that a lot of people use to search the water with one small Mackerel are present. I'm not a huge fan of this bait when trying to imitate a Mackerel but I have seen many people be successful with it and I didn't want to omit it from the post. The one big plus with this type of bait is that it has a sonic vibration to it which would be best in the class. It also has an extremely tight wobble which may be more realistic than other choices. To me I would take the SP Minnow over the X Rap.




One can't forget about Metal Lipped Swimmers like Danny style plugs or Pikeys. The day I first encountered Mackerel that I wrote about above would have been a perfect day to choose this style of plug as a go to imitation. If you fish open water in the Atlantic, I'm talking about waves high tides Slack water before current changes these types of plugs can be devastatingly effective. The ones pictured are made by Mike's Custom Plugs & I am a huge fan of his workmanship and the effectiveness of his plugs. There are many other choices on the market and I'm hoping posters will put some up to show us ones they like!




Here are a couple other of Mike's custom Mackerel plugs, a Jointed Swimmer & a Slope Head Metal Lip. I tend to fish it is when I have deeper water to contend with. I'll throw a jointed swimmer often times during a blitz or in slack water when I know big Mackerel are present and Bass are feeding below the surface & not showing.




Sebile also invented the Stick Shad which is one of the best imitations of American that you will find and this is the bait many prefer as their number one choice when dealing with Mackerel and subsurface feeding Bass. This is a tremendous pain that flashes side to side imitating a Mackerel that is panicking. If you have access to deeper water like the Cape Cod Canal or perhaps from a boat these are a must have lure.




Bottle Darters are a great way to fish deeper water and rips as they hold very well in current and also allow you to swim them back after drifting extremely long distances out into the rip or off the shore. Most like to fish these types of plugs right on the edge of fast moving water or during outgoing tides from a beach situation.




An increasingly popular lure is the fairly new to the market Shimano Waxwing. This beat is similar to a stick shad as it slashes back and forth when its retrieved.

If you have access to deeper water or if you fish from a boat this is a great imitation.




Soft plastics are a whole other category and residing in this category is the best tinker mackerel imitation we have seen yet. The Savage Sandeel. I have paddled along the banks of the Cape Cod Canal in seeing this particular lure dangling from 30 or 40 rods in a row that's how good it is. It gets down deep and swims identical to a Tinker Mackerel and in Clearwater the results that this bait produces are in- arguable. All I can say is wow, the Savage Sandeel is deadly. If you don't believe me you can ask pretty much anyone.




If you fish by boat and you want to use soft plastics to cover larger sized mackerel you can read your own shaker style paddle tail baits with jig heads. Pictured above are the Lunker City paddle tail shads in Mackerel of course. When you need to imitate larger bait these can be great from both conventional rods and reels from shore or from the boat.




You can also get very realistic Storm imitations for Tinker Mackerel. Personally I like the Savage Sandeel better.




When you're lucky enough to have surface blitzes when mackerel are present one of the lures that moves to the top of the class is a pencil popper and there is no better pencil for long distance casting then the Left Hook Pencil. These babies come in either 2 or 3 ounces and they cast a country mile. When distance is key this is a great choice. As with any heavy pencil it is a lot of work to keep it on the surface and for this reason you have to move it fairly quickly.




You can also make your own long distance pencil by loading a Cotton Cordell pencil popper with number 8 bird shot. Pictured above are three and four ounce jobbers I made myself. Obviously the four ounce will outcast even a left hook on the right rod.




Along the banks of the Cape Cod Canal a flat bottomed Pencil Popper became the choice of many hardcore fisherman. The flat bottom assists the plug in helping it to slash back and forth as it hydroplanes and dances along.




Floating pencils, like those pictures above made by Mike's custom plugs can also be deadly because not only can you move them incredibly well but you can just leave them hanging in the strike zone and then start them back up again. If catching fish is the objective having a floating pencil but also cast fairly decently is a must.




No post on Mackerel would be complete without the famous Yozuri Surface Cruiser. Pictured above is the original in Blue Mackerel which was unfortunately discontinued a few years ago. This plug had a cult like following because of its ability to dance back and forth like no other. When adult mackerel where present this was a real top go to choice for many experienced anglers. Yozuri has updated the plugin relaunched it in a better casting but worse swimming reincarnation. The new version also has a very fancy paint job and finish.





Tsunami also makes the Timber Lure, which is an OK imitation of a large Mackerel. The drawback to this pencil is it it doesn't cast particularly far but it does float & the workmanship isn't bad for what you get. Personally I'll pay the extra end purchase on Mike's custom plug any day of the week. But, to each their own.




Walk the dog type lures have become very popular especially for both fishermen and with good reason as they are deadly. Stopping and starting a lure like this as you retrieve it can produce vicious hits and they rattle and shake and make noise as they come back. Pictured above is the famous Yozuri Hydro Pencil which is absolutely gleeful when worked around structure or cast from a boat into an open water Blitz. Also pictured is the new Shimano Orca Lure which is a massive macro limitation designed for pelagic species originally but one that striper fishermen are catching on to and for good reason as it is a deadly way to imitate an adult Mackerel. The bottom picture is a plug made in Rhode Island and features a very unique walk the dog design which assists this plug in slashing back and forth better than any walk the dog type lure I have seen.




It will be interesting to see some photos of other favorite Mackerel imitations as this thread gets legs. My advice to guys who want to imitate mackerel is don't forget about Stubby Needles, Mambo Minnows, SP Minnows, Savage Sandeel & Stick Shads which would be my top choices.




The last category is Metal and dart style jigs like the Point Wilson Dart are great for windy days or if you're fishing from the boat and you need to get down 10 to 20 feet or more quick. I like the 3 oz. ANCHOVY body style in this particular dart from shore because it's a little longer and more slender than Herring Darts & more similar to an actual Mackerel's body.


Often times you can add an additional teaser tail to achieve extra body length to a bait like this.




Edited by CaryGreene

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Nice plugs! I would be embarrassed to post a photo of my cheap pencils that I load with bb shot then stripe with a sharpie.

Hi Running Ape, don't say that pencils are moving fast fish can't tell whether it's ultra realistic or not and if they work for you then they deserve to be seen by all of us come on man pony up! Don't ever feel embarrassed around fellow fishermen we only judge what catches the fish and unfortunately many of us buy what catches us!

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Exciting story ! :)

For those of you that don't know what an Atom 40 is, here's the exact one that hangs in my garage doctored up slightly of course for modern times!


Of course by including this photo I'm going to throw the entire validity of my post into the garbage can macro are green black and silver in this old hunk of plastic is blue and white which just goes to show you have to have the right shape and size anything will work. Actually I caught a fish on a pink plug that very day I didn't write about it in the story but it was a humongous old wood pink plug they had the right length. So during that very blitz not only did blue & white work just fine but so did pink.




Edited by CaryGreene

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I have 4 of those in my tackle box. I think they are on the 4th or 5th set of hooks on them. I want to say I got 3 of the 4 around 1978. Still catch fish with them.

For those of you that don't know what an Atom 40 is, here's the exact one that hangs in my garage doctored up slightly of course for modern times!

Of course by including this photo I'm going to throw the entire validity of my post into the garbage can macro are green black and silver in this old hunk of plastic is blue and white which just goes to show you have to have the right shape and size anything will work. Actually I caught a fish on a pink plug that very day I didn't write about it in the story but it was a humongous old wood pink plug they had the right length. So during that very blitz not only did blue & white work just fine but so did pink.


Edited by natsgrampy

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