Common name: Mackerel
Latin name: Scomber scombrus
Record weight: The boat and shore records are quite similar, as you would expect for a primarily shallow water species. The current boat best is a huge fish of 6lb 2oz 7 drams, whilst the shore best is not far behind with a fish of 5lb 11oz 14 drams.
Distribution: Mackerel are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, although not in the huge numbers that existed before commercial fishing intensified. Still, mackerel can be found in decent numbers right around the British coast and are often the first fish caught by the sea angler. If you visit many holiday resorts during the Summer months, boats will take out parties of visitors 'fishing' for mackerel with either hand lines or rudimentary tackle. Whilst few anglers specifically target mackerel, they are a major part of the sea anglers bait armoury and a supply of fresh mackerel is essential for success with many species.
Features: A streamlined fish, the mackerel is designed for fast swimming in large shoals. The fins are short and tend to be positioned well back on the body giving the fish greater straight line speed. The tail is deeply forked, again giving good acceleration and manoeuvrability. As an open water species, the mackerel has a white belly with a mottled blue-black back broken up into horizontal bars. This colouration makes the mackerel less visible when viewed from below (against a light coloured sky) and the stripes resemble the pattern of light created by waves on the water surface. The mackerel has a large mouth and eye, perfect for catching its prey.
The horse mackerel, Trachurus trachurus, although resembling the mackerel in some respects, is not related to the true mackerel. The horse mackerel has a grey/silver body and deeper profile than the true mackerel.
Diet: Mackerel are relatively indiscriminate plankton feeders and will take just about anything that they can fit into their mouths. Larval fish, shrimps, and other smaller plankton are eaten when available. Mackerel are attracted to movement and colour, making them easy to catch on even the most rudimentary artificial bait.
Spawning: Mackerel spawn from March to September with a peak in activity during the early Summer. The mackerel shoal up at this time of year in shallow water. Each female can produce up to half a million tiny eggs, each containing a globule of oil that makes the egg buoyant. As the fish use up the reserves of fat in the egg, the egg becomes less buoyant and begins to sink. When the eggs hatch the larvae are around 4mm in length. The small fish spend the Summer in shallow water, only migrating to deeper water in the Autumn at a length of approximately 15mm.
Growth: Mackerel are a fast growing fish, reaching sexual maturity in only a couple of years. They are only short lived though and rarely reach more than five years of age.