Mackerel, Maine’s Fun Fish

Here on Lamoine’s shore, 8 miles from Bar Harbor, the mackerel schools show up with the warm weather and the tourists. While not as thick as in Belfast, an hour southwest, our local mackerel is certainly worth pursuing. In fact, it takes so little in effort and investment, it’s the cheapest seafood you can get. And they’re fun to catch too.

It must be said, the beauty of the fish, with its classic streamlined shape and iridescent purple coloring is somewhat unmatched by its culinary appeal. The meat is oily,  sort of mushy and strongly flavored. Not the premier dining experience, but even sushi chefs serve it. The mackerel is related to the tuna and bluefish, so it has good heritage, and the fishery is reasonable healthy. Some folks find the taste quite good, especially when fresh, and the meat is high in vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids. Also, unlike their larger cousins Northern Atlantic mackerel are very low in mercury, and can be eaten at least twice a week according to EPA guidelines.

Catching mackerel couldn’t be easier or more fun. The most humble of fishing pole and reel are adequate and the classic “four drop” mackerel rig can be bought anywhere for a few dollars. This rig has four hooks arranged with colorful sleeves and the impression is that when you reel in, all hooks will have a fish. This may be optimistic, but I have had more than one on occasion. Add a weighted hook at the bottom for easier casting.  Spoons or bare hooks can also be used. Bait is often a cut up mackerel, but where do you get cut up mackerel before you catch the first one? Start out with whatever meat is in your fridge: a hot dog, a chicken bit or a shrimp. Or, just ask the guy fishing next to you on the dock for a bit of mackerel.

Mackerel move and feed only at certain times. The tide has a big effect on their feeding behavior and it’s best to ask around for the local knowledge. If you go to the Lamoine State Park, just glance at the floating dock to see if anyone’s fishing. This is the best mackerel spot around, so just monitor the activity there and you will have success. Alternately, throw a line overboard while sailing or kayaking, but be ready for a fight. Mackerel are feisty fish and may pull your small boat quite a distance before they tire.

Keep your fish alive or on ice as soon as possible to preserve their texture. They can be simply grilled but are especially good smoked. I have done this by placing cherry sticks under the grill of my gas barbecue, heating them until they flame and then shutting off the gas. The fish are high enough to not be reached by the flame (on the upper grill). When the wood is burned, the fish are usually done, but if not the gas can be relit for a few minutes. Enjoy a meal of Maine mackerel, Maine potatoes and Maine sweet corn!

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