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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

Catching, Preparing and Eating Mackerel

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Mackerel, a prized fish known for its firm flesh and distinctly rich flavour, captivates the taste buds of seafood lovers around the world. Whether you're an avid angler seeking the thrill of the catch or a culinary enthusiast eager to explore new culinary horizons, mackerel offers an enticing opportunity to embark on a delicious journey. In this guide, we will delve into the captivating world of mackerel, exploring the art of catching this remarkable fish, the various ways to prepare and cook it, and the delightful flavours it brings to the table. From the exhilaration of reeling in a mackerel to the joy of savouring its delectable taste, join us as we dive into the realms of catching, eating, and preparing this magnificent fish.

Catching and preparing Mackerel
Catching and preparing Mackerel

Understanding Mackerel

Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is a migratory species found in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. These pelagic fish are known for their sleek bodies, which are coloured metallic blue and green with a distinctive pattern of wavy, dark stripes along their backs. Mackerel can grow up to 20 inches in length and are highly prized for their rich, oily flesh, making them a favourite among seafood enthusiasts.

Seasonality and Migration Patterns

Mackerel are highly migratory fish that move in large schools throughout the year. In the UK, they typically arrive during the spring and remain until late autumn. The prime season for mackerel fishing in the UK is from June to September when they are most abundant and closer to the coast. During this time, they migrate from their wintering grounds in the deeper offshore waters to shallower coastal areas to feed on smaller fish and plankton. However, mackerel can still be caught at various times of the year, albeit in smaller numbers and further offshore.

Best Techniques for Catching Mackerel

Catching Mackerel from a Boat

When fishing for mackerel from a boat, there are several techniques you can employ to increase your chances of success. These techniques are often used in prime mackerel fishing locations such as Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Scotland, Northumberland, and Wales.

Trolling: In areas like Cornwall and Devon, trolling is a commonly used technique for targeting mackerel from a boat. Use a trolling rig or a string of feathers with a weight to simulate a small baitfish. Troll at a moderate speed, around 4 to 6 knots, and adjust the depth of the lure to find where the mackerel are feeding. This technique is effective for covering a larger area and locating schools of mackerel.

Drifting: Drifting is particularly useful in areas like Scotland, Northumberland, and Wales, where mackerel can be found in open waters and around reefs. Allow your boat to drift with the current while casting out lines with mackerel feathers or small lures. This method allows you to cover a larger fishing ground and increases your chances of encountering feeding mackerel.

Jigging: Jigging can be effective when mackerel are deeper in the water column or feeding near the bottom. In locations like Scotland and Northumberland, use metal jigs or lures and impart an erratic motion by jerking the rod up and down. This action mimics a wounded baitfish and can entice mackerel to strike. Vary the speed and depth of your jigging motion to find the most productive zone.

Catching Mackerel from a Pier or Beach

Mackerel fishing from a pier or beach offers a different experience, but it can be equally rewarding. Some prime locations for pier and beach fishing include Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Wales.

Float Fishing: This technique works well when fishing from piers, jetties, or rocky outcrops. Attach a float to your line and add a long leader with mackerel feathers or a small strip of mackerel as bait. Cast your line beyond the breaking waves or into deeper water and allow the float to drift with the current. Keep an eye on the float for any signs of movement, indicating a mackerel bite.

Spinning: Spinning is a versatile technique that works effectively when fishing from the beach or pier. Use a spinning rod and reel combo with small metal spoons or spinners as lures. Cast your lure out into the surf or beyond the pier, and retrieve it at a steady pace, imitating a fleeing baitfish. Vary your retrieval speed and try different types of lures to find what entices the mackerel to strike.

Feathering: Feathering is a specialised technique popular for mackerel fishing from piers and beaches. It involves using a string of artificial feathers, often brightly coloured, to mimic a small shoal of baitfish. Cast the feathers out into the water and retrieve them rapidly, imitating a school of fish. Feathering is particularly effective when mackerel are actively feeding near the surface.

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Prime Locations for Mackerel Fishing in the UK

South Coast: The south coast of England, including Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset, is renowned for its excellent mackerel fishing. Popular spots include Mevagissey, Looe, Brixham, Weymouth, and the Isle of Wight. These areas provide both boat and shore fishing opportunities. Rocky outcrops, piers, and jetties often attract mackerel close to the shore.

Scotland: The Scottish coast offers fantastic mackerel fishing opportunities. Areas such as Oban, Ullapool, the Isle of Skye, and the Outer Hebrides are well-known for their abundant mackerel populations. Boat fishing is particularly productive in these regions, but shore fishing can also yield good results, especially when mackerel come closer to the coast during the summer months.

Northumberland and North East: The northeastern coast of England is another prime location for mackerel fishing. Towns like Seahouses, Tynemouth, and Hartlepool offer great opportunities for both shore and boat fishing. Piers and breakwaters can be productive spots for shore anglers, while boat trips from these areas can lead to impressive catches.

Wales and Ireland: Along the coastlines of Wales and Ireland, mackerel fishing is popular and rewarding. Locations such as Aberystwyth, Anglesey, Galway Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula are known for their mackerel fisheries. Both shore and boat fishing can be successful in these regions, with some stunning coastal scenery to enjoy while casting your line.

Legal Considerations and Conservation

When fishing for mackerel, it is essential to adhere to local fishing regulations, including bag limits and size restrictions. These regulations help protect the sustainability of mackerel populations and ensure future fishing opportunities for everyone. Stay informed about the latest fishing rules and guidelines, and make sure to obtain the necessary permits or licences required in the area you plan to fish.

Conservation of mackerel stocks is vital to maintain their abundance. It is recommended to practice catch-and-release whenever possible, especially when the bag limit has been reached. Additionally, anglers can contribute to mackerel conservation efforts by participating in citizen science programmes, such as reporting catch data or participating in tagging programmes to provide valuable information for scientific research.

How to clean and prepare Mackerel

Cleaning and filleting mackerel is an essential skill for any angler or seafood enthusiast looking to make the most of their catch. Properly cleaning and filleting mackerel ensures the removal of unwanted innards, scales, and bones, resulting in delicious, boneless fillets ready for cooking. Whether you're a seasoned angler or a beginner, mastering the art of cleaning and filleting mackerel will enhance your culinary experience and allow you to fully enjoy the succulent flavours of this delicious fish.

Gutting and Cleaning Mackerel

Start by rinsing the mackerel under cold water and patting them dry with a paper towel.

Use a sharp knife to make a small incision near the vent (anal opening) of the fish and carefully slice open the belly towards the head.

Remove the innards, gills, and any dark-coloured bloodline. Rinse the cavity thoroughly.

Trim off any excess fins or scales, if desired.

Rinse the fish once again to ensure it is clean.


Lay the mackerel on a cutting board and make a horizontal cut behind the gills, running the knife along the backbone to the tail.

Turn the fish and make a similar cut on the other side, separating the fillet from the backbone.

Lift the fillet away from the backbone, using the knife to gently separate it along the ribs.

Repeat the process for the other side of the fish.

Once the fillets are separated, check for any remaining pin bones and remove them with tweezers or fish pliers.

A quick way to remove ‘all’ the pin bones from a Mackerel fillet

Place the mackerel fillet skin-side down on a cutting board. Identify the row of pin bones running along the centre of the fillet. Make a V-shaped incision by cutting along one side of the pin bones, angling the knife towards the centre of the fillet. Repeat the cut on the other side of the pin bones, creating a V-shaped pocket. Use your fingers or knife to gently lift and remove the exposed pin bones from the fillet. Check for any remaining bones and remove them if necessary.

Mackerel: Pin bones removed
Mackerel: Pin bones removed

By making a V-shaped cut, you create a pocket that allows for easy removal of the pin bones. With practice, you'll become skilled at quickly and effectively removing the pin bones from mackerel fillets, resulting in boneless fillets ready for cooking.

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How to cook Mackerel

When it comes to cooking mackerel, there are various delicious methods to choose from. This versatile fish can be grilled to perfection, pan-fried for a crispy skin, baked for a tender and flavoursome result, or even cured for a unique and savoury experience. Whether you prefer the smoky char of grilling, the delicate flakiness of baking, or the quick and easy preparation of pan-frying, mackerel offers a delightful canvas for culinary creativity. So, get ready to explore the different cooking techniques and savour the delectable flavours of this prized fish.

Grilling or BBQ'ing: Mackerel is delicious when grilled. Brush the fillets with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and your preferred herbs or spices. Place the fillets on a preheated grill and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

BBQ Mackerel Fillets
BBQ Mackerel Fillets

Pan-frying: Heat a pan with some oil or butter over medium-high heat. Season the mackerel fillets with salt, pepper, and any desired spices. Place the fillets in the pan, skin side down, and cook for about 3-4 minutes per side until the skin is crispy and the flesh is cooked through.

Baking: Preheat the oven to around 180°C (350°F). Season the mackerel fillets with salt, pepper, and any desired herbs or spices. Place the fillets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily.

Curing: Mackerel can also be cured to create a delicious dish like gravlax. Mix equal parts of salt and sugar with your preferred spices, such as dill or citrus zest. Rub the mixture onto the mackerel fillets, place them in a dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Rinse off the curing mixture before slicing and serving.

A simple grilled or BBQ’d Mackerel Recipe

Whether you are at home or on the beach, this recipe can be cooking under a grill or on the BBQ, and it is truly delicious. Particularly if you have extremely fresh, stiff fresh, mackerel to use.

Grilled Mackerel with Lemon and Herbs Recipe


4 fresh mackerel fillets

2 lemons, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, thyme leaves, and rosemary leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

Pat the mackerel fillets dry with a kitchen towel and place them on a plate. Drizzle the olive oil mixture over the fillets, ensuring they are evenly coated.

Place a few lemon slices on top of each fillet, pressing them lightly into the fish.

Carefully place the mackerel fillets on the preheated grill, skin side down. Close the grill and cook for about 4-5 minutes.

Gently flip the fillets using a spatula, taking care not to break them. Grill for an additional 3-4 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily.

Remove the mackerel from the grill and serve immediately. Garnish with additional lemon slices and fresh herbs if desired.

Enjoy your grilled mackerel with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and serve it alongside your favourite sides such as steamed vegetables, a crisp salad, or roasted potatoes.

Also why not try these delicious mackerel recipes:

Summing Up

Catching mackerel in the UK offers a thrilling and rewarding fishing experience for anglers of all levels. By understanding the seasonality, best techniques, and prime locations, you can maximise your chances of success. Catching, eating, and preparing mackerel provides a fulfilling and rewarding experience for anglers and seafood enthusiasts alike. From the thrill of the chase to the delicious flavours that mackerel offers, it is a versatile fish that can be enjoyed in various ways. Whether you're casting your line from a boat, pier, or beach, mackerel fishing in prime locations around the UK provides ample opportunities for success. Once you've reeled in your catch, preparing mackerel can be a simple and enjoyable process, whether you choose to grill, pan-fry, bake, or even cure the fish. The delicate, oily flesh of mackerel pairs well with a range of herbs, spices, and marinades, allowing for culinary creativity. With its rich flavour and nutritional benefits, mackerel is a true delight to enjoy as a main course or incorporated into various recipes. So, embark on a mackerel fishing adventure, savour the satisfaction of preparing your catch, and relish the delightful taste of this prized fish.

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