Pacific Mackerel

Species: Scomber japonicus from the Greek scombros (an ancient name for the common mackerel of Europe) and japonicus (for Japan where the species was first recognized).

Alternate Names: Greenback, blue mackerel, striped mackerel, Mac, Big Mac, Mac Attack or Mac Trash.

Identification: Typical mackerel shape; identified by the long space between the dorsal fins, twenty-five to thirty black to dark green bars and spots across the back and irregular spots on the sides.

Size: To 25 inches and 6 pounds. Most mackerel caught on piers are under 18 inches in length.

Range: From Banderas Bay, Mexico (although some source books say Chile), to the Gulf of Alaska.

Habitat: Pelagic.

Piers: Common at most piers in California north to and including those in Monterey Bay (best at the more northern piers in late summer or fall). Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, Goleta Pier, and Gaviota Pier. I have had almost unbelievable days at Newport Beach, Redondo Beach and Gaviota.

Bait and Tackle: Caught on a wide range of baits and artificial lures. Best bait is probably live anchovies but when a hungry school is around (the infamous Mac Attack) they will sometimes hit on almost anything. They especially like a small, bloody strip of freshly caught mackerel. Yes indeed, they are cannibalistic. The most common rigging the past few years has been a single hook (size 6-2) baited with a small strip of squid. The line is weighted with as little weight as possible, sometimes with only a small twist-on sinker (much like out on the boats). It depends on the pier, the wind and the current. When active, mackerel are suckers for Lucky Lura or Lucky Joe-type multi-hook leaders -- which can cause problems. Sometimes you will catch a fish on every hook and unless you are using fairly heavy line, the Macs will twist and turn (rock-and-roll ?) the leader into an unusable mess fairly quickly. Most fun is to be had with a light outfit and an artificial lure - especially a small spoon (like a Kastmaster), a bonito feather, or a bucktail-type lure. If things are slow, a live bait may need to be used, or at least a moving bait. A technique that often works is simply to cast out a high/low leader baited with cut anchovy or mackerel, let it sink to the bottom, then immediately begin a medium speed retrieve. Mackerel will often hit the leader on the way up, especially just before it gets to the surface. Mackerel are also one of the best pier fish to catch at night; they are attracted by the lights shining down into the water.

Food Value: Most people hate to eat mackerel because they don't know how to cook them; bags of mackerel are taken home for the cats, or used on the rose bushes. They are very bloody and strong flavored. REMEMBER: DO NOT PAN FRY OR DEEP FRY MACKEREL. Broil or bake the mackerel (remove fat from the flesh, don't add more fat/oil). Some people like to bake them with a little anchovy paste/butter -- try it. Bar-b-queued mackerel is fairly good and smoked mackerel is even better. But no, it will never be the same as eating halibut.

Comments: Mackerel seem to go in cycles; for years they were hardly caught, then for years they were caught in vast numbers. Recent years have seen huge catches. Unfortunately many of these mackerel go to waste. I have seen people with gunny sacks full of fish - I hope they used them. Mackerel are terrific fighter for their size.