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By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 9 2017 08:00AM

As the weather and our coastal waters warm up (15 degrees appears to be the trigger point), mackerel will start coming inshore and in June you'll easily be able to catch them with a simple rig. It's a great introduction to sea fishing.


The simplest way to experience mackerel fishing is to book a spot on a fishing trip. You'll find them in most harbour towns these days and you can expect to pay a few pounds per person for a two hour session with all kit and instruction supplied (plus a share of the spoils) which is pretty good value and a great introduction for real beginners. But, assuming you'd rather invest in some kit that you can use at your own pace and whenever you're down at the coast, here's my mega mackerel masterclass to help you catch your own sustainable dinner, direct from the beach.

Basic kit

Don't be tempted to spend hundreds of pounds on tackle online. You can kit yourself out for a mackerel session for well under fifty pounds and the best place to go is your local tackle shop. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, you'll also be getting access to a wealth of free fishing information. Fishing shop owners are a friendly bunch and will be happy to talk as much as you like, especially if they smell a sale. They should know everything about their kit as well as vital local knowledge on the best spots. Tell the shop owner what you're after and hopefully you'll come out with at least the following:

- A rod (suitable for casting),

- A reel (again, suitable for casting rather than boat fishing or fly fishing).

- Main fishing line and a "shock leader" line.

- A selection of mackerel feathers (pre-tied strings of 3 to 6 hooks, with a feather, foil strip or similar sparkly adornment).

- A selection of ledgers (a simple lead weight or "bomb" in a streamlined shape, with a small loop at the top to attach to your line) from 2oz to 4oz.

If you're a complete novice you'll need to know how to set the kit up. Your helpful shop owner should be happy to show you how to do this but make sure you pay attention. You'll need to know a few basic knots as well as how the rod and reel work, so don't be shy to ask and make sure you've committed it all to memory before you part with your hard-earned cash.

When to go

Although mackerel are present in our waters all year round, they usually only come inshore in late spring and will be at their peak in June and July. The first thing to remember is that mackerel are either within casting distance of the shore, in which case you should catch some, or they aren't, in which case you won't, however hard you try. A wise and experienced angler once told me that the best way to fish for mackerel is to wait until you've seen someone else catch some, then get casting - and there's a lot of truth in that. If you can't wait or there's no one else around, you can maximise your chances by fishing at high tide and in the hours either side of sunrise and sunset. Calm, still days are best but as mackerel have no eyelids, they don't like bright sunlight - if it's a very sunny day, they'll be nearer the bottom. Signs you might look for include a thin slick of oil on the surface of the water and seabirds diving into the water (they aren't actually eating the mackerel but the bait fish - usually sand eels - that the mackerel are chasing.) In the height of summer you might even see the sand eels bubbling on the surface of the water, sometimes just yards from the beach. Mackerel have even been known to beach themselves in the hunt for their food.

Where to go

You'll need a beach or pier that gets you easy access to deep water. So, rapidly shelving pebble beaches like Chesil in Dorset, are ideal, or any long pier, such as Brighton. Piers may have rules about when you can fish so it's worth checking in advance. Rocky headlands are also good but they can be very dangerous and you'll need to take extra care on these.

Casting and retrieving

Set up your kit and get casting. Aim to get as much distance as possible. Although the fish can be very close to the shore, the further you cast, the more water you'll cover and the more chance you'll have of catching. But remember that you can vary your depth too - it's no good casting miles and constantly retrieving your feathers though the top 10m of water if the fish are at 20m. So, mix it up a bit. Leave a few seconds before you start your retrieve to allow the weight to sink a bit. If that draws a blank, try again but with a quicker or slower retrieve. You'll see people lots of different techniques - some people just reel straight in, others prefer to twitch the rod or use a series of pulls and reeling in. Give all of these a go and find the one that suits you. Ultimately, they'll all work if the fish are there.

Catching

You'll know when you've caught anything - there will be a sudden increase in resistance and you'll feel the fish fighting at the end of the line. It's an exhilarating feeling if you've never caught one before but, once you've felt that initial tug, it's worth trying not to get too excited. The fish that's there is likely to stay hooked but your other hooks may well be in the middle of a shoal and, if you give it a few more moments, you have a chance of catching a few more. So, wait a few seconds and then reel in. With this method it's not that unusual to score a "full house" with a fish on every one of your hooks. Unhook your catch and give each fish a couple of sharp blows to the head with a "priest" or study stick. It can appear brutal but it's the most humane method and ensures a quick death. Mackerel spoils very quickly so once you've killed it, gut it as soon as you can and then store it in a cool bag or a bucket or water.

Then get that barbeque lit. The fresher the better is definitely the rule for mackerel.

And finally...

If you fish regularly throughout the summer you will have days when you can catch hundreds of mackerel. It's easy to get carried away but try only to catch as many as you're going to eat. Once caught, mackerel can't be released as they have a very sensitive skin membrane which degrades as soon as it's been touched. If handled by human hands, even very gently, mackerel will die within days. They do freeze well but mackerel are always best fresh. So if you don't have a plan for them, best to leave them in the sea and come back another day. Conversely, some days you'll do everything right and just won't be able to catch them. If that's the case, pack up, and get down to the fish and chip shop before you get totally fed up. There are no guarantees with fishing and it's important to know when to cut your losses. Retain some of your enthusiasm for another day and remember that it wouldn't be any fun if you caught something every time, now would it?


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 25 2016 01:48PM

If you're looking for a sustainable, under-rated and seriously tasty fish to try in the summer you won't do any better than mackerel. Why not grab a rod and catch your own?


Mackerel are one of the fishy highlights of our summer, if not the entire year. These outrageously tasty fish are easy to catch and once you know how you'll be desperate for the warm weather to return each year, just so you can get fishing again.


The simplest way to experience mackerel fishing is to book a spot on a fishing trip. You'll find them in most harbour towns these days and you can expect to pay a few pounds per person for a two hour session with all kit and instruction supplied (plus a share of the spoils) which is pretty good value and a great introduction for real beginners. But, assuming you'd rather invest in some kit that you can use at your own pace and whenever you're down at the coast, here's our mega mackerel masterclass to help you catch your own sustainable dinner, direct from the beach.


Basic kit


Don't be tempted to spend hundreds of pounds on tackle online. We reckon you can kit yourself for a mackerel session for under fifty pounds and the best place to go is your local tackle shop. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, you'll also be getting access to a wealth of free fishing information. Fishing shop owners are a friendly bunch and will be happy to talk as much as you like, especially if they smell a sale. They should know everything about their kit as well as vital local knowledge on the best spots. Tell the shop owner what you're after and hopefully you'll come out with at least the following:


- A rod (suitable for casting),

- A reel (again, suitable for casting rather than boat fishing or fly fishing).

- Main fishing line and a "shock leader" line.

- A selection of mackerel feathers (pre-tied strings of 3 to 6 hooks, with a feather, foil strip or similar sparkly adornment).

- A selection of ledgers (a simple lead weight or "bomb" in a streamlined shape, with a small loop at the top to attach to your line) from 2oz to 4oz.


If you're a complete novice you'll need to know how to set the kit up. Your helpful shop owner should be happy to show you how to do this but make sure you pay attention. You'll need to know a few basic knots as well as how the rod and reel work, so don't be shy to ask and make sure you've committed it all to memory before you part with your hard-earned cash.


When to go


Although mackerel are present in our waters all year round, they usually only come inshore in late spring and will be at their peak in high summer. This year, they are a little later than normal arriving but are currently present in large numbers on the south coast.


The first thing to remember is that mackerel are either within casting distance of the shore, in which case you should catch some, or they aren't, in which case you won't, however hard you try. A wise and experienced angler once told us that the best way to fish for mackerel is to wait until you've seen someone else catch some, then get casting and there's a lot of truth in that.


If you can't wait or there's no one else around, you can maximise your chances by fishing at high tide and in the hours either side of sunrise and sunset. Calm, still days are best but as mackerel have no eyelids, they don't like bright sunlight - if it's a very sunny day, they'll be nearer the bottom. Signs you might look for include a thin slick of oil on the surface of the water and seabirds diving into the water (they aren't actually eating the mackerel but the bait fish - usually sand eels - that the mackerel are chasing.) In the height of summer you might even see the sand eels bubbling on the surface of the water, sometimes just yards from the beach. Mackerel have even been known to beach themselves in the hunt for their food.


Where to go


You'll need a beach or pier that gets you easy access to deep water. So, rapidly shelving pebble beaches like Chesil in Dorset, are ideal, or any long pier, such as Brighton. Piers may have rules about when you can fish so it's worth checking in advance. Rocky headlands are also good but they can be very dangerous and you'll need to take extra care on these.


Casting and retrieving


Set up your kit and get casting. Aim to get as much distance as possible. Although the fish can be very close to the shore, the further you cast, the more water you'll cover and the more chance you'll have of catching. But remember that you can vary your depth too - it's no good casting miles and constantly retrieving your feathers though the top 10m of water if the fish are at 20m. So, mix it up a bit. Leave a few seconds before you start your retrieve to allow the weight to sink a bit. If that draws a blank, try again but with a quicker or slower retrieve. You'll see people lots of different techniques - some people just reel straight in, others prefer to twitch the rod or use a series of pulls and reeling in. Give all of these a go and find the one that suits you. Ultimately, they'll all work if the fish are there.


Catching


You'll know when you've caught anything - there will be a sudden increase in resistance and you'll feel the fish fighting at the end of the line. It's an exhilarating feeling if you've never caught one before but, once you've felt that initial tug, it's worth trying not to get too excited. The fish that's there is likely to stay hooked but your other hooks may well be in the middle of a shoal and, if you give it a few more moments, you have a chance of catching a few more. So, wait a few seconds and then reel in. With this method it's not that unusual to score a "full house" with a fish on every one of your hooks. Unhook your catch and give each fish a couple of sharp blows to the head with a "priest" or study stick. It can look brutal but it's the most humane method and ensures a quick death. Mackerel spoils very quickly so once you've killed it, gut it as soon as you can and then store it in a cool bag or a bucket or water.


Then get that barbeque lit. The fresher the better is definitely the rule for mackerel.


And finally...


If you fish regularly throughout the summer you will have days when you can catch hundreds of mackerel. It's easy to get carried away but try only to catch as many as you're going to eat. Once caught, mackerel can't be released as they have a very sensitive skin membrane which degrades as soon as it's been touched. If handled by human hands, even very gently, mackerel will die within days. They do freeze well but mackerel are always best fresh. So if you don't have a plan for them, best to leave them in the sea and come back another day. Conversely, some days you'll do everything right and just won't be able to catch them. If that's the case, pack up, and get down to the fish and chip shop before you get totally fed up. There are no guarantees with fishing and it's important to know when to cut your losses. Retain some of your enthusiasm for another day and remember that it wouldn't be any fun if you caught something every time, now would it?


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 16 2016 11:41AM

Our last blog was on the topic of that true flag-bearer of summer, the mackerel. Two facts about mackerel you need to know: 1. They are very tasty. 2. They are very easy to catch. That does mean that on occasion we have a bit of a glut and so we are always looking for new ways to enjoy them.


This weekend, with one of the first mackerel of the season we wanted a quick and simple lunch. This quick cheat “pate” takes only about 20 minutes from start to finish and can be prepared in a single bowl.


You will need:


Two fresh mackerel fillets (or two small tins of mackerel fillets)

200g cottage cheese

Juice and zest of one lemon

Lots of fresh black pepper

A small bunch of fresh dill, chopped


To serve: crusty bread


Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Bake your to mackerel fillets on a sheet of baking foil for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool. You can do this the day before to save time. Once you’re ready to eat, flake the fish into a mixing bowl and add in all of the other ingredients then give it a good mix. You can be fairly rough with it as you want to break down the flakes into quite small pieces. Adjust the seasoning to taste and enjoy on toasted bread.


The mackerel season runs until September so we are almost certain to have one or two more recipes for you before then. Enjoy the warm weather we are having and happy fishing!


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 11 2016 12:13PM

The return of the warmer weather is great news for seasonal foodies because it brings with it the return to our shoreline of that fantastic fish - mackerel. Outrageously tasty and easy to catch too, they’re one fish that should be on every seasonal family’s menu.


Bad news then, back in 2012, when stocks of mackerel from the North East Atlantic lost their Marine Stewardship Council sustainability rating.


As is so often the case, it was man-made and political factors that were the biggest influence – a “mackerel war” was fought between Iceland and the Faroe Island with both sides plundering stocks and potentially causing serious damage to one of the sustainable food movement’s real flag bearers.


We can have a long debate who was right (both sides claim they had the right to take more fish) or we can celebrate the fact that, after further scientific assessment, the fishery has this month won back its MSC-certified status.


From a consumer’s perspective, it’s reassurring to know that the MSC status is so rigorously enforced and regularly reassessed – to be worth anything, we need to have confidence that any sustainability or ethical assurance mark is regularly reviewed. And from a foodie point of view, to have Atlantic mackerel back on the menu just in time for summer is great news.


We’ve been enjoying some of the very first stocks with some of the first gooseberries of the season in this classic combo.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 27 2015 02:00AM

Although it might not feel like it right now, we're coming towards the end of Winter.


The end of January is a bitter-sweet time (or perhaps, to use a food-related expression, a curate's egg). There's no doubt that we're looking towards some warmer weather and the green shoots of Spring, but it also means the end of the game season. We won't see any feathered game on our tables until August (when grouse make a return) and it will be early Autumn before we see pheasant and partridge back on the menu.


The dates of the British game seasons are curiously complicated and, for reasons that we've never been able to fathom, the duck and woodcock seasons end on 31st January whilst pheasant and partridge come to an end the next day on 1st February...except this year 1st February is a Sunday and it's illegal to shoot game on Sundays, so the seasons actually all end on the same day...


Unnecessary complexities and arcane shooting laws aside, the fact is that, after this Saturday, no game birds will be shot for several months. Even allowing time for those last birds to be hung for a few days (for the meat to tenderise and improve in flavour) and to make it to market, supplies will quickly dwindle and you'll do well to find any fresh meat in the shops past the middle of the month.


As a legally-enforced season, game shooting comes to an end rather more abruptly than most. Most natural seasons see a slow reduction in the availability of produce - mackerel numbers will gradually decrease during September until there are only a few stragglers by the end of October. Gooseberries will start to fade in August and will usually be all gone by September. But, regardless of how quickly they leave us, there's always a slight sadness as we know we're saying goodbye to those fabulous ingredients for another year.


As seasonal foodies, our sadness is, of course, tempered by two important factors - first, by the knowledge that they'll be back next year and secondly, by the absolute certainty that there's something just as good to follow. Our mackerel will be replaced by juicy mussels and our late gooseberries will overlap with the first blackberries. As we mourn the loss of all that feathered game this week, remember that there is some great venison available in March and pigeons will be at their best around April, once they've had a chance to feed on the first green shoots of Spring.


So, as one season goes out, another equally delicious once comes in. And so the seasonal cycle continues. It's this anticipation of what's next on the menu that makes seasonal living so fantastically enjoyable and exciting.


In short, let's not be too upset about the game season coming to an end. It'll be back in the Autumn and there's plenty of interesting ingredients to keep our tummies full before then. Just keep calm, carry on and eat seasonally. (Someone really should put that on a mug...)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 4 2014 11:21PM

The extended Summer means waters off our coasts are still beautifully warm at the moment. OK, it's all relative but with the South coast being the mackerel equivalent of a steaming jacuzzi, they are plentiful and great value. Try cooking them up with some of the season's new roots and mash in this Omega-3-packed autumnal treat:


Spicy Pan Fried Mackerel with Celeriac Mash

(Serves 2)


2 fresh Mackerel

250g Celeriac, peeled and diced roughly

200g King Edward Potatoes, diced roughly (leave skin on to retain its fibrous goodness)

1 sprig Mint

Rapeseed Oil

1 Onion, finely diced

Knob of Salted Butter

Sea Salt and Black Pepper


For the Marinade:


1 tbsp Rapeseed Oil

1 ½ tsp Smoked Paprika

1 tsp ground Cumin

1 tsp ground Coriander

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

½ small Red Chilli, finely chopped

Bunch of both coriander and parsley (or whatever herbs you have handy), roughly chopped

Juice of ½ Lime

1 Lime, cut into wedges to serve

Sea Salt and Black Pepper


Method


1. Prepare the celeriac and potatoes. Pop in a saucepan with a sprig of mint. Cover in boiling water and boil for 25 minutes, until tender.

2. Meanwhile, make 3 diagonal slashes on either side of each mackerel.

3. Mix the marinade ingredients thoroughly together; using only 2/3 of the chopped herbs. Coat the mackerel in the paste and set aside.

4. Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan. Dice the onion and cook for 8-10 minutes on a low heat until soft.

5. Drain the root veg and return to the saucepan. Add the cooked onion, a knob of butter, mustard and a generous grind of salt and pepper. Mash well, but try to leave a few chunkier bits. Check for seasoning. Place a lid on the saucepan to retain heat and set aside.

6. In a frying pan, heat a little oil. Fry the mackerel for 2-3 minutes on each side. Using a fork, check to see if the flesh falls apart from the bone. When it does – the mackerel is cooked!

7. Spoon the mash onto the plates; place the mackerel on top and scatter with the remaining chopped herbs and a squeeze of lime. Serve with lime wedges.




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