Mackerel a true fish of summer

Think back to those formative fishing days as a teenager in North Devon and mackerel would feature high in those fishing memories. Caught on silvery spinners, strips of mackerel fished beneath bright crimson tipped floats or more commonly on strings of feathers launched from the rocks. I remember watching the shoals as they drove scattering silver whitebait from the water as the birds swooped to feast upon the fleeing fish.

I had begun to think that those days of plenty had been consigned to history books but sometimes nature bounces back. I had heard that mackerel were abundant in shoals not witnessed for decades with large shoals showing from Hartland to Porlock.

I headed down to Ilfracombe to enjoy a session after the mackerel and scrambled out onto the rocks amongst the foundations of the old pier. It was good to see the rocks and pier busy with anglers of all ages casting a variety of lures and feathers. News that mackerel were about had brought out the occasional angler in abundance. And whilst I’m not generally keen on fishing amongst crowds I resigned myself to this hustle and bustle of communal angling.

I had brought a spinning rod and a few metal lures to savour each fish taking a few home for tea whilst enjoying the thrill of catching. For the first twenty minutes or so I suspected that I had missed out on the recent abundance. But then I noted a few mackerel starting to show with the twisting and turning fish being swung ashore.

A sharp knock was transmitted through the line and I was in. The mackerel are miniature tuna and fight hard their bodies packed with muscle. As I watched them in the clear water I reflected upon the huge tuna I had seen caught last winter and questioned my sanity in seeking contact with a member of the mackerel family 500 times bigger than the fish at the end of my line.

As the tide flooded I was forced to leave my rocky platform with five mackerel, real jewels of the summer sea. The sun was setting as I put the rods into the car and lines of anglers were still casting from the rocks.

Whilst mackerel can sometimes encourage a less savoury aspect in those who litter or take more fish than required it also brings anglers  of all ages to the shoreline to enjoy those simple pleasures.

During July and August many Ilfracombe Charter boats take holidaymakers on short trips to catch mackerel an experience that can be the introduction to a more serious angling addiction.



The North Devon Coast has many miles of very varied and spectacular coastline much of it well worth exploring so when James suggested a trip to check out a cove near Ilfracombe I was keen. Lee Bay is a secluded Wooded Valley that descends to a fascinating stretch of coastline intersected by the South West Coast path much of the land in the custodianship of the National Trust.

James had suggested a short trip to explore the coves with a fishing rod perhaps incorporating a swim. We arrived shortly after Low water and walked out along the beach following a fascinating pathway cut into the rocky foreshore.

The path leads to a secluded beach sheltered from the prevailing South Westerly. This was where James intended to take a swim. But before cooling off we ventured beyond the cove through a maze of gulley’s that lead to a rugged rocky foreshore that screamed bass.

We had a few casts but with the tide flooding time was limited and we headed back to the cove where James plunged into the clear waters to cool down.

I stepped out onto the rocks and cast a lure whilst savouring the unfamiliar topography.

I didn’t really expect to catch and joined James on the beach suggesting we head back to Ilfracombe and try for a mackerel as the tide flooded.

Ilfracombe was a contrast to the secret coves of Lee Bay with its bustling harbour and people all around. After catching up with the cricket score we took our lure rods to the rocks near the pier and cast shiny metals into the clear water.

The aqua blues and greens of the sea with white breaking waves against rocky foreshores were exhilarating. We spied vast shoals of sandeel shimmering and shoaling close in against the shoreline. Birds were working out in the tide a sign that mackerel or bass were hunting.

A burst of life upon the water caught my attention and I cast my lure into the general direction. After a couple of casts came that pleasing thump as a mackerel hit the lure. Over the next twenty minutes we added four more mackerel to the tally. Fresh from the sea we looked forward to them lightly grilled or pan fried for tomorrow’s breakfast or dinner.

I was delighted to share the shoreline with James seeing the sea as it should be with abundant fish and prey. A lively moving eco system that can be enjoyed if only we could learn to use it in a sustainable fashion taking only our fair share.

As the tide forced us to retreat again we strolled along the harbour to pick up  delicious burgers and a Katsu box from Paul Lorrimore’s

It would have been nice to savour the food sat on a bench overlooking the harbour but Ilfracombe’s seagulls made us retreat to the safety of the car parked beneath Verity’s towering presence.

            The end of another perfect day in North Devon.

Stunning Images of Summer Sea Angling

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Combe Martin SAC member Dan Welch has been enjoying some superb fishing from both the boat and shore. Early morning images, bass, mackerel are all the essence of summer sport on our beautiful and rugged coastline. Many thanks to Dan for letting me publish his stunning images.

 “loads of mackerel tonight haven’t had mackerel like that for 10-20 years” Dan told me

Mackerel show that Summers here!

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Boat anglers are enjoying an upturn in sport off Ilfracombe with the arrival of mackerel an encouraging sign. Anglers aboard Wild Frontier caught plenty of mackerel, pollock and scad whilst feathering off the coast. Bull Huss provided sport at anchor and an octopus made its getaway at the side of the boat. The next few weeks should see good numbers of hard fighting tope move inshore following the mackerel shoals. Images courtesy of Jack Phillips.

Squid Trip brings glittering bonus!

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Its often good to cast a line from a different shore and this seemed extra relevant as 2019 gets underway bringing a renewed focus on club fishing events. There has been considerable interest among many sea anglers on fishing for squid using jigging tactics and myself and several members of Combe Martin SAC were keen to have a go. After a few discussions over a beer at the end of a 2018 club meeting a plan was put in place.

As is often the case when the day came several club members could not make it but five of us could and so on January 5th we set off on the journey to Torquay and Princess Pier. The location had been chosen after reading reports of squid being caught on a regular basis. The alternative venue was Weymouth which was a bit further but potentially more reliable. On this occasion being a our first squid foray we decided upon this closer to home venue as a training ground to gain experience.

We had also heard reports of a few mackerel being caught and this would be a welcome opportunity to stock up the bait freezer with both squid and mackerel. A visit to Ilfracombe’s High Street Tackle ensured that we had a few lures and Sabika feathers.

The trip down to Torquay proved uneventful and by 1.30pm the intrepid five were lined up on the front of Torquays Princess pier. The seaside town seemed quite vibrant and busy with plenty of tourists strolling along the prom on this cold calm winters day. Behind us in the inner harbour luxury boats rested on their moorings; a testament to the vast sums of money some people acquire. The seascape of the bay was a glassy calm across to Berry Head with the occasional fishing boat, pleasure boat and Jet ski disrupting the mirror like surface.

We had been advised that squid could be caught during daylight hours and as a result had arrived well before dark. This ensured we secured a good spot and gave more time to experiment. A clue to good spots to try for the squid were small stains of black where squid had been pulled ashore. we also chose a spot close to the lights that are known to attract baitfish and squid after darkness descends.

After a few casts with our squid jigs small fish could seen following and this prompted the switch to sets of small Sabika type feathers. Dan Welch was I think first to catch swinging a small mackerel ashore.

This was followed a short time later by a herring to Matt Jeffery a pleasing sight and Matt’s first of the species from the shore.

As the afternoon progressed we all started to enjoy success with herring with these shimmering silver fishes brought twisting and gyrating to hand to be stowed away as bait for predatory fish on the North Devon coast or to sit beneath a crimson topped float at some pike water inland.

(Above)Rob Scoines is delighted with a string of herring.
Matt Jeffery joins in the fishy harvest.

(Above) Josh Jeffery enjoyed success with the herring shoals.

As the light fades the herring continue to smash into the strings of feathers and our bait bags are all well stacked with gleaming fishes. Its now time to focus fully on the main agenda squid!

The jigs are flicked and retrieved at various rates and varying between steady pulls and erratic twitches. As none of us have any prior experience we have to learn from scratch and it is this that is part of the fun. There is great excitement when we glimpse a squid chase young Josh’s lure until he runs out of water.

Encouraged we all focus on the squid mission with renewed belief and enthusiasm. It is Dan Welch who eventually brings success for team squid lifting a moderate sized squid to hand with its amazingly vibrant glowing colouration.

With mission squid partly accomplished parking tickets and fast food start to dominate the conversation and we decide to retire to KFC before heading back to North Devon with plenty of bait and some happy memories. An occasional trip to a seaside pier offers  refreshingly easy fishing where friendly banter and fun takes priority. Catching mackerel in January seems a little unseasonal as the Christmas lights twinkle into memory. Mission squid was not exactly a great success but we did catch a squid. The pleasing bonus was string upon string of glittering herring.