There is nowhere in Western Australia quite like the Mackerel Islands, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in the latest edition of Scott’s Spots.
Located off Onslow (1,375km by road from Perth) and not far north of Exmouth, this collection of Pilbara islands offers some of the most exciting fishing in the State.
As the name suggests, there are few better places to catch a mackerel and these waters absolutely teem with them for most of the year. However, the name barely scratches the surface of the incredibly rich diversity of fishing options in this area.
There are several options for those wanting to fish the Mackerels, and the southern islands such as Flat and Long are well within the reach of boats from Exmouth on a good day. Obviously, launching at Onslow is another option for a day-trip.
However, for those wanting to truly explore the area and enjoy the extended Mackerel Islands experience, the opportunity to stay in the comfortable accommodation at Thevenard Island is very appealing and places them right in the heart of the fishiest waters. There are comfortable self-contained cabins overlooking the water, or unit style accommodation, and boats can be moored just off the beach. All the facilities needed to fish the Mackerels are there, with fuel available and a small shop offering all the general supplies, including fishing tackle. It’s a fine set up, but the real beauty of staying at Thevenard, which is around 22km from Onslow, is that a host of quality fishing spots are literally just minutes away from there.
One of the most popular ways to fish Thevenard is to join a ‘Seafari’ – there are several of these each year which see a flotilla of trailerboats travel in convoy to the islands and fish there for a week. The beauty of a Seafari is safety in numbers, but also being able to benefit from the knowledge of others to ensure you have a successful trip.
Western Angler is running a Seafari to Thevenard Island from August 29 to September 6 this year, email email@example.com for more details.
There is also a charter operating out of Thevenard.
Once there, the fishing options are almost unlimited, and start on the island itself.
If the weather is not suitable for getting the boat out or you want a day on shore, then walking the island with a flick rod is a delightful way to spend your time. There are often heaps of squid around the jetty, and a few mangrove jack lurk around there as well. Walking the endless beach around the island is a great way to catch various species of trevally, queenfish, long tom and other bits and bobs that cruise the shallows. Every now and then big queenfish and trevally will show up, and even longtail tuna get caught from the shore occasionally.
However, most people visit the Mackerels to fish from boats and it’s not hard to understand why.
As mentioned earlier, Spanish mackerel abound in the area and can be found around most islands and just about anywhere there is a drop-off or reef ledge.
They can be caught on almost anything, whether it be floating baits, poppers, stickbaits, jigs or trolled minnows, and at times can be around in almost plague proportions.
Longtail and yellowfin tuna are regular catches in the same areas, while wahoo often show up in surprisingly shallow water and cobia are also commonly encountered.
Sailfish are often seen jumping and caught quite regularly, while those heading out deeper to depths of 100m and beyond will fancy their chances at a billfish.
Flicking lures in the shallows around the various islands is a recipe for great fun on species like golden, giant and gold-spot trevally, queenfish, spangled emperor, longtail tuna, school mackerel and shark mackerel.
There is also the chance of the highly-prized coral trout (as pictured in the header image) and cod showing up around structure in the shallows.
Bottom fishers are also well catered for at the Mackerels, with a wide range of popular demersal species on offer. Rankin cod are a regular catch and in some huge sizes, while red emperor and coral trout abound in these waters, along with saddle-tail.
Surprisingly good fish will be caught in water as shallow as 15-20m, with clever use of the tides and a good berley trail keys to consistent success for many anglers. Jigging works but you can expect to be snipped off a few times by the hordes of ravenous mackerel. Sharks are also a problem at some of the more popular locations and it is best to move on when they move in, whether chasing demersals or pelagics (they love a feed of macks).
As with billfish, the rewards for heading out wider are also there, with the likes of goldband and ruby snapper on offer.
A look at a map will show the various islands including Thevenard, Airlie, Serrurier (Long), Bessieres and Rosily Cay. All the different islands have their own unique fishing characteristics that become clear when they’ve been fished a few times, but each can produce excellent action on the right day. The hardest part of fishing the Mackerels can be deciding just where to go when the weather is good.