Baitfish

  • HTC - Baitfish

Māori name: Hautere 
Scientific name: Trachurus spp  
All-tackle NZ record: 1.940kg  
Eating quality: Good, but usually used for bait!

Description

Jack mackerel are primarily used as live or dead baits by Kiwi anglers, although some anglers specifically target them for their eating qualities. In Japan, jack mackerel (aji) is often eaten raw as sashimi or cooked deep-fried (karaage) style.

There are three different species of jack mackerel, difficult to tell apart, swimming in NZ waters. They are little fish (generally caught between 15-30cm) that are fast-moving and prey on plankton and smaller pelagic fish like anchovies. 

Their distinctive feature is their unusual bony plates (scutes) which cover the lateral line and form a broad spiky keel at the tail. The colour scheme includes a silver-green back that fades to a creamy-white underside and a yellow tail.  

Jack mackerel belong to the family Carangidae, which also includes trevally, kōheru, and yellowtail kingfish. They can be distinguished from kōheru by their distinctive bony, kinked lateral line. 

Where to catch

Found right around NZ, jack mackerel school in midwater and range from bays to oceanic islands. They are often encountered in large schools at inshore depths, both over flat bottoms and around reefs. Good areas to start hunting out ‘jack macs’ are sheltered areas like harbours, bays, sandy drop-offs, and shallow reefs – often in depths between 5-25m.

Birds on the water (gannets, terns, and/or shearwaters) are a good mackerel indicator, and schools often show on your fishfinder as baitballs in midwater. They also congregate around man-made structures such as bridges and wharves, making them an accessible target for any angler.

When to catch

Jack mackerel can be reliably found throughout the year, although the schools tend to shift around a bit – therefore, where you found them a month ago might not be where they are now. In shallower coastal areas, large swells influence mackerel and often push fish out into deeper water. 
Although jack mackerel feed throughout the day, they become more active in the dark, making them a great prospect to catch when anchored up overnight. They are also attracted to lights, meaning wharves and city breakwalls are popular areas for keen aji anglers.    

How to catch

The most common method of catching jack macs is on a sabiki, a string of 3-6 small flies tied on tiny fine-gauge hooks. Keen live-bait fishers generally cruise around and find the bait with the fishfinder. Mackerel sign will either show up as big balls or small scattered shapes around mid-water. 

You’ll likely hook several fish on a single drop if you get onto a hungry school. Try to keep the sabiki flies moving. Normally, the best technique is simply to drop all the way to the bottom and then retrieve quite quickly, interspersed with a few jiggly pauses. This way, you cover the whole water column and keep the flies looking alive. 

At other times, they can be a tad fussy, so parking up with some berley in conjunction with tiny slivers of bait on the sabikis will help your chances. If you’re catching mackerel under lights at night, micro-softbaits (ajis) or very small jigs can be deadly. 
 
 

Similar Articles

Bait Fishing Basics
26 August 2022

Like an occasional golfer, the average angler does not often find the time to do enough fishing to really work on their ‘handicap’. Sam Mossman runs... Read More >

Eating bait fish
12 March 2019

 Peter Langlands catches his own bait – then eats it, too!... Read More >

Fishing the anchovy schools
16 March 2018

Keen lure fisher John Eichelsheim can’t wait for the waters to start cooling, triggering an exciting scenario that’s enjoyed by surprisingly few people…... Read More >

Baitfishing Tips and Tricks
1 August 2017

After covering some of the basics of tackle and rigs in the first two parts of this series, Sam Mossman looks at how to fish more... Read More >

Micro-jigging and anchovy schools
23 October 2015

This article is all about anchovies, trip planning and a bit of micro-jigging heehaw.... Read More >

1

Rate this

Fishing Reports Visit Reports

Bay of Islands Fishing Report - 26/01/23

Hit and miss It’s been tough finding the fish. I’ve had a few days out... Read More >

Bream Bay Fishing Report - 26/01/23

Action slowing down The fishing throughout Bream Bay has slowed generally over the past fortnight,... Read More >

Canterbury Fishing Report - 26/01/23

Rivermouth action going off! I’m almost scared to jinx things, but the weather has been... Read More >

West Coast Surfcasting Fishing Report - 26/01/23

Tough fishing to kick off the year Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great start weather-wise to... Read More >

Fishing bite times Fishing bite times

Major Bites

Minor Bites

Major Bites

Minor Bites

Latest Articles

The 2023 Great Tradie Fish Off is Back!
January 2023

Trade against trade, company against company, mate again mate – it’s time to prove you’re the best at what truly matters: catching fish.... Read More >

Export Competition 2022-2023 Quarterly Update
January 2023

One lucky angler will win the Export Fishing Competition major prize at the end of the 2022-2023 season, and it’s as simple as entering one eligible... Read More >

Snapper Lures
January 2023

Grant Dixon lists some of the new lures on the market... Read More >

Hints When Fishing is Hard
January 2023

Grant Dixon shares his thoughts on how to cover your bases in those times when the weather is a challenge and opportunities are few and far... Read More >

Mark Kitteridge's Top 10 Local Species: Part 1
January 2023

Mark Kitteridge acknowledges there are very few advantages to getting old. However, thanks to a working lifetime spent in the fishing trade and the plentiful fishing... Read More >