Atlantic Mackerel
Typical Size
10-13" (8-15 oz.)
Decent Size
14-16" (1 lb.)
Nice Size
16-18" (2 lbs.)
18.5" (2 lbs. 10 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

2 lbs.
Genus/Species Scomber scombrus
Common Names mackerel, mack, tinker, jack mackerel
Hot Spots Massachusetts Bay, Stellwagen Bank, Cape Cod Bay
Best Time Mid-May to early June &
late October to Mid-November
Best Baits small jigs & teasers, grass shrimp, seaworms
Best Method Jigging

Atlantic Mackerel are small, slender, spindle-shaped fish with 2 well-separated dorsal fins and wavy dark lines across a blue/green back. Sides are an irridescent silver-blue, turning to a pearl white underside. The deeply-forked tail and tuna finlets make this fish easily recognizable and indicate it's blazing speed. The mouth has numerous teeth but they are so small they pose no threat. These fish quickly lose much of their stunning color soon after they are caught.

Atlantic Mackerel
The larger "jack" mackerel visit the south shore in late May
Atlantic mackerel are a pelagic species spending the majority of their time in the offshore waters of the North Atlantic. They live in a variety of habitats and generally are found in water temperatures of 45-55 degrees. Although Atlantic Mackerel are small, they are not plankton eaters, as has been suggested, but rather are voracious predators of small fish including sand-eels and juvenile herring, as well as squid and shrimp.

Atlantic Mackerel range from Labrador down to North Carolina but undergo seasonal migrations in much of their range. They also move from offshore to inshore grounds, influenced by both spawning habits and temperature fluctuation. On the south shore of Massachusetts, they can be caught from mid-May to early June and then again in late October through much of November. The spring migration to inshore waters is the greatest, where they tend to school up millions strong to eat and to spawn. The fall run is made up of more scattered schools with many small individuals (called "tinker" mackerel).

Spawning occurs in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in June where the eggs and spermatazoa of the mackerel are released into the sea. Mackerel can release up to one million eggs. The egg is just over a millimeter long with an oil globule attached to it that keeps it afloat. Surviving larvae at 3 mm long will feed on copepods but by the early fall the mackerel will already be "tinker" sized, having attained a length of six inches. By the following spring, the mackerel will be nearly a foot long.

You can fish for mackerel with many different kinds of bait, however artificial lures are best by far. If you must use bait, grass shrimp is the best but seaworms, squid strips, and bits of clam will also work. A simple basic bait rig with a sinker just large enough to weigh the bait down is sufficient. Mackerel can swim at any level of the sea column so be sure to change depth constantly in order to find the particular school in the area.

The most popular method for taking mackerel is jigging. Jigging involves setting up a jig and multiple teaser combination and casting the jig uptide, letting it sink to the bottom, then engaging the reel and quickly take up ten turns and begin swinging the rod up and down in smooth motions. If no strikes occur immediately, reel up another ten turns and repeat the process. Continue doing so until you find the depth that the fish are swimming at. If fishing in deeper water (over 100'), it is often best just to let the jig sink slowly down and feel for any "bump" or lack of weight. This way, if the fish hit the jig on the way down, you will have a much better idea of how deep the fish are suspended.

Fishing for Atlantic Mackerel is fast, furious, and fun. These frantic, feisty fishes make a heck of acounting for themsleves on the right tackle. Light tackle spinning gear is best with 17-20 lb. test line and 2-4 oz. diamond jigs, spoons, or spinners. If you don't find mackerel fishing fun, then your gear is all wrong. They attack with wreckless abandon and feel far heavier than their 1-2 lb. weight would suggest. Atlantic Mackerel are an extremely important commercial fishery, less important as a recreational fishery. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, very few, if any, charter or party boats target mackerel. Most mackerel caught recreationally are incidental to cod trips. Commercial catches of mackerel are used for bait, ground up for fish meal, or frozen and shipped overseas. The flesh of the mackerel is dark, quite oily, and strong tasting. Although it can be fried or grilled, extreme care must be taken in handling as it spoils rapidly. Once caught, mackerel should be bled and put on a bed of ice.