Fishing technique

The weight, trace of hooks and backline are streamed astern as the boat motors against the tidal current at between 2 and 3 knots through the water. 

Mackerel, side protection and lines - photo: Peter Ghey

The amount of backline paid out depends on the environmental conditions and depth that the mackerel are expected to be found, but usually between the upper plankton zone and mid water.  The scale on the display of the fish finder is adjusted to give a reading that includes the full range of the water column from the surface to bottom.


Prior knowledge and experience is needed to identify the echo traces of any fish in the water column as several shoaling species are to be found in the summer months.  They are in order of abundance, Pilchard (Sardina pilchardus), Scad (Trachurus trachurus), Greater Sand eel (Hyperoplus lanceolatus), Sand eel (Ammodytes tobianus), Sprat (Sprattus sprattus), Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus), and Northern squid (Loligo forbesi) as well as Pollack (Pollachius pollachius), Pout (Trisopterus luscus) and Poor Cod (Trisopterus minutus) over rough ground and rocky outcrops.

The display is constantly monitored, and it is a matter of seconds between mackerel being detected beneath the boat and being felt striking the hooks on the backline.   The boat immediately turns sharply to starboard, and with the tiller locked hard over, proceeds to circle over the shoal, the fishermen briskly recovering the line and trace, by now filled with mackerel.

The fish are shaken from the hooks six to eight at a time from the trace as it is hauled up and the cleared hooks are paid out immediately.  The process is repeated until  the last lower section of the trace nearest the weight is cleared, leaving the backline, trace and hooks streaming untangled and clear of the boat just below the surface.  If  mackerel are still showing on the sounder, the weight is released to carry the gear straight down into the shoal.

Any slack backline in immediately recovered and it is usually found that the descent of the weight has been stopped by the swimming activity of mackerel already caught on the hooks, tension being kept on the line at all times in order to maintain contact and stop the line tangling.  The line is recovered when all hooks are considered to hold fish, and the above process repeated.  Great skill and dexterity is needed to ‘work the loop’ as the operation is called and ideally the sequence should all take place in one circuit of the boat which takes about one minute.
The whole process stops when the numbers of mackerel coming aboard drops to less than 15 or ‘half a string’, either due to the boat making leeway from the track of the shoal due to the prevailing weather conditions, or the shoal having been caught or scattered.  Sometimes it is only necessary to make a short twenty metre adjustment across the tide to be over the shoal again.

If no mackerel are found, the circling is stopped and the search is resumed with the handline streamed astern as before, adjusted for depth of the shoal previously encountered.