Even small fish such as mackerel put up a good fight when caught on light spinning gear.
A lure is a generic term for anything designed to look like a small fish that is intended to tempt a larger fish to attack. There are a massive range of lures on the market made from metal, plastic, rubber, wood or feathers, meaning a lure can be found for every sea fishing situation. Many anglers find lure fishing exciting as they are constantly active, casting and retrieving, knowing a fish could take the lure at any moment. Furthermore, the fact that no bait is needed means that angler can decide to go lure fishing at short notice without having to buy fresh bait or gather together loads of fishing gear. The need for relatively deep water means that piers, jetties and rock marks are the places where lure anglers will most often be found, although there are a number of steep shingle beaches where it is perfectly possible to catch fish on a lure. Using lures for sea fishing goes hand in hand with light tackle, and hooking a pollock, coalfish or bass on light gear is one of the most exciting types of fishing to be found, and even a single mackerel can give great sport if hooked on the right tackle.
Lure fishing is generally seen as a summer activity. This is because predatory species such as pollock spend winter offshore in deeper water and come into shallower water and within range of the shore angler in the summer months once the sea starts to warm up. Mackerel also come into UK waters in the summer as they are a migratory species which follow the sprat and sandeel shoals, while wrasse and bass also come into shallower water during the summer months. Exactly when summer species begin to arrive is not an exact science. If the winter is mild and the spring warm it may be possible to catch summer species in late April/early May. However, a colder spring may mean that it is necessary to wait until the start of June before summer species are around in any number. These days summer species appear to be staying in inshore waters for longer and it is certainly possible to catch summer species well into September and October around much of the British Isles.
In terms of the species which can be caught by lure fishing mackerel tend to be the target species of many anglers, but there is in fact a number of species which can be caught on lures.
It is not just mackerel which are caught on feathers and daylights. This picture shows a small coalfish caught on a feather.
The following species can all be caught by anglers using spinners, feathers, daylights, jelly lures or plugs:
- Weever fish
- Sea trout
Obviously species such as cod will also feed by hunting smaller fish, but as they are a winter species there is rarely crossover between shore anglers using lures/spinners and cod being present in British waters (hence cod not being on the list above).
Spinning Rods, Reels and Tackle
A light spinning rod and fixed spool reel.
The equipment needed for spinning is relatively cheap when compared to distance beachcasting and rock fishing gear. Generally anglers choose lighter rod and reel combinations in order to gain maximum sport from the fish they are targeting. Additionally, a lure fishing session involves repeated casting out and reeling in, and using a heavy rod for this is extremely tiring. For these reasons anglers often use a dedicated spinning rod which is usually 8-10ft long. An alternative is to use a bass rod. These rods are generally around 11ft long and have a casting weight of 2-4oz. These rods offer longer casting distances than spinning rods and the ability to handle larger fish. Because lighter lures and spinners are used most anglers keep things simple and use 15-18lb line straight through and go without the use of shockleaders. Inexpensive spinning rod and reel combinations can be viewed at Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.
A selection of spinners and spoons used in sea fishing.
Spinners are so called because they spin, wobble or revolve as they are reeled in which mimics the movement of a small fish. Spinners for mackerel are cheap, with 1oz spinners costing around £1.20 each, with heavier spinners, and the more realistic ones designed for catch bass, being a little more expensive. Traditionally, most spinners are silver, a colour which resembles prey fish such as sandeel or sprats, although these days spinners come in a range of colours which are just as effective as traditional silver spinners.
Setting up a spinning rod is easy as the spinner can simply be tied direct to the end of the main line and then cast out – no need for shock leaders, weights or complicated rigs. Wye leads and jardine spirals are weights designed to be added along the line for a spinner and add weight for casting, but it is always better to avoid this complication and use a spinner that can be successfully cast with no additional weights added. Spinning rods also double up as effective rods for float fishing from rock marks or piers.
Related Article: Types of Spinners available to UK Anglers.
Spinning Techniques: Anglers usually cast out as far as they can and then slowly retrieve the spinner which will make it come back towards them in mid-water where most of these species will feed. As the diagram below shows reeling in quickly will make the spinner move higher up in the water, which can be useful for catching fish that feed on or near the surface, such as garfish. Reeling in slowly will obviously make the spinner come back near the seabed and could tempt a species which feed here, but this also runs the risk of getting snagged.
Reeling in quickly will see the spinner work near the surface, while a slower retrieval rate will see the spinner active in deeper water closer to the seabed.
Anglers will often experiment with the speed they reel spinners in. If reeling in fast is not producing and fish then reeling in slower will see the spinner work deeper down and potentially catch any fish which are feeding there.
Another technique is the ‘sink and draw method.’ This involves reeling in for several turns and then allowing the spinner to sink down for several seconds before reeling in for another few turns. This technique allows the spinner to cover a wider area in the water column and the sinking and then moving action can also help to attract fish.
Sink and Drawn Method: When being reeled in (solid arrow) the spinner moves up in the water, while stopping reeling in sees the spinner fall back down in the water column (dotted arrow).
Alternatively, some anglers experiment with a jerky and erratic retrieval consisting of quick and slow turns of the reel along with sweeping the rod tip upwards in different directions. This can make the spinner resemble an injured or disoriented fish and prove an effective method to attract fish to the spinner. While mackerel are indiscriminate feeders which will attack any kind of lure which passes them larger pollock and especially bass can be more selective feeders and the latter two techniques can prove more effective when targeting these species. View the full range of spinners available on Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.
A rig of four silver daylights.
While spinners used with light rod and reels provide great sport for summer mackerel many people ignore this method and instead employ feathers or daylights. As described in the terminal tackle section feathers and daylights are hooks, usually sized 1 – 2/0 dressed with feathers or plastic to resemble small fish. They are widely sold from tackle shops on traces containing 4-6 feathers/daylights for around £1-2. There are a huge range of feathers and daylights available on the market today, and as mackerel are unfussy predators they can be caught on pretty much any of the different types of feather/daylights which are out there. While many anglers cast feathers and daylights using full-sized 12ft beachcasters it is much better sport to use them with a bass or spinning rod. View all of the feathers and daylights at Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.
Related Article: Types of Feathers and Daylights available to UK Anglers.
Feather and Daylight Techniques
There is little subtlety to this kind of fishing. Strings of feathers are cast out as far as possible and then reeled in with either a slow and steady retrieve, or a sideways swipe of the rod (similar to striking) followed by three or four fast turns of the reel. The latter method imitates a shoal of prey fish and allows mackerel the chance to attack the feathers or daylights. Small fish can often be caught by lowering feathers or daylights straight down over the edge of a pier or amongst the supports of a stilted or promenade style pier. Daylights jigged up and down, or left to sway and flow in the tide will also tempt fish to attack. Many anglers use daylights to quickly bag up on mackerel for bait, but there is not much sport in repeatedly reeling in multiple mackerel on heavy tackle meant for much bigger species. When using feathers and daylights a range of species can be caught including greater sandeels, herring and mini-species such as smelt, and larger species may also go for daylights on occasion. Purchase feathers and daylights by clicking here.
There are many different types of plug available to anglers today, and sea fishing with this type of lure is increasing in popularity, particularly for anglers targeting bass. Some plugs are designed to float on or near to the surface of the water, whereas others are designed to go under the water, with the size and angle of the diving vane dictating how deep the plug will go as it is retrieved.
There is a huge range of plugs available to anglers.
Plugs were traditionally made from wood, although plastic plugs are much more common nowadays. Plugs can be a single section or two or even three sections, with two or three treble hooks typically incorporated into the design of a plug. Many plugs incorporate a rattling noise which adds vibrations as a further attractor to predatory fish. Read our full article which has much more detail on plugs the methods and techniques used in plug fishing by clicking here.
Jelly and Soft Lures
Jelly eel type lures are extremely effective for a range of predatory fish, especially bass and pollock.
These type of lures are made out of a kind of rubber or soft plastic and have an extremely realistic and life-like action making them ideal for targeting large species such as bass or pollock. They can also be used to catch mackerel and in their very smallest sizes they are also used for LRF (Light Rock Fishing) where they will catch species such as blennies, gobies and sea scorpions. Jelly lures come in a wide range of different form with eel/fish and worm lures being the most popular, but jelly lures are now available which resemble prawns, crabs, worms and a range of other sea creatures. A full article on using jelly and soft lures – including the methods and techniques needed to fish with these type of lures – can be found on this page.
Rock marks which offer deep water, such as this one at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire can fish well on clear sunny days when the water is clear and visibility is high.
Some of the best marks to spin for mackerel include piers, groynes and breakwaters which offer easy casting into deep water. Venues such as this will get very busy with people fishing for mackerel in the summer months, particularly during school holidays or in popular seaside resorts. Mackerel put up a great fight and catching one on an eight foot spinning rod designed to cast one ounce spinners is some of the best sport you can have. Pollock can also be taken from these marks, but are more likely to be found in their natural environment of heavily rocky and weedy areas of natural coastline, meaning that a high number of spinners can be lost to snags when fishing for pollock. Plug fishing too can be used to catch pollack from rocky areas, and a plug diving into deep water can be an extremely effective technique to catch this species. Spinning or plugging for bass is trickier, as this is a much rarer and harder to catch fish. Locals who have found marks where lures catch bass are likely to keep this information to themselves, rather than spread the word and see all the bass caught, or their favourite mark packed with anglers.
Many anglers fishing with spinners and lures seek out the deeper water accessed by fishing from piers, breakwaters and jetties.
Certainly, there are marks around the south west of England and south west Wales where spinning for bass is popular, along with marks in Norfolk, Kent and the west coast of Scotland. Ireland – and the increased bass stocks this part of the world has benefited from – offers the greatest number of lure fishing venues for bass. Look for places where bass are likely to be feeding such as areas where the water is deep and cast the spinner over patches of heavy broken ground, mussel beds or at the edges of big kelp beds. Working a plug from rock shelves is another successful technique. Although tackle losses will be higher in marks such as this they provide the best choice of getting a decent sized bass. As usual dawn and dusk provide the best bass fishing times.
A pollock caught on a spinner.
Piers, breakwaters and jetties are extremely popular for feather and daylight fishing, and in summer anglers can be fishing almost shoulder to shoulder once the word gets around that the mackerel are in. The problem with this type of fishing is that is effective – pulling a string of six feathers through a shoal of mackerel can catch a fish on every one. However, there is little sport in this as the heavy beachcaster can easily bring the mackerel in, and fishing with lighter gear is much more fun. The only time serious anglers fish for mackerel using a beachcaster and six feathers is when they want to catch mackerel quickly to freeze and use as bait in future fishing sessions. There are also issues with ‘anglers’ who only seem to fish during the mackerel season causing trouble and anti-social behaviour on piers and other popular venues, as well as problems with anglers taking excessive amounts of the easy-to-catch mackerel from the sea.
- In coloured water bass and pollack will hunt for prey by detecting vibrations and movement in the water using their lateral line as much as sight. In conditions such as this using a spinner or plug designed to generate the maximum amount of movement and turbulence can be extremely effective, as can plugs with an internal rattle or those which cause disturbance to the water.
- For mackerel – a species which will snap at anything even remotely resembling prey – cheap silver spinners will work perfectly. No point at all in getting expensive spinners or plugs.
- However, anglers targeting pollack, and especially bass, will have a range of different spinners to switch to depending on conditions, with brightly coloured spinners working well when water is carrying colour and black spinners working at time when fish will see them silhouetted against the sky.
- Diving birds are a sign that small fish and sandeels are near the surface of the water. Casting a spinner or plug near this area will be very productive.
- Similarly, when looking from a pier, breakwater or rock mark anglers may sometimes see the sea ‘boiling.’ This is in fact a shoal of mackerel hunting preyfish and forcing them upwards. They will flap and splash at the surface in an attempt to escape. Again, a lure cast into this would almost certainly be taken.
- If fishing in deep water vary the depth at which the lures are retrieved. Fish will feed at differing depths, sometimes quite close to the surface, while at other times it may be necessary to allow the lures to sink for some time to allow them to reach the required depth to catch the fish.