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Atlantic Mackerel

Atlantic Mackerel

Scientific Name: Scomber scombrus

Common Name: tinker mackerel (small mackerel)


The Atlantic mackerel is a fast-swimming species that often travels in large schools. It has a slender, streamlined body and a long, pointed head. The mackerel is easily identified. It has a wide, deeply forked tail, striking black bands on both sides of the body, and finlets running on both the dorsal and ventral sides from the rear edge of the dorsal and anal fins to the tail. Most Atlantic mackerel caught by New Hampshire anglers are 12 to 18 inches in length and weigh less than 3 pounds. Mackerel range from Labrador south to North Carolina. Two distinct populations migrate through coastal New Hampshire waters at different times. The more southerly contingent arrives in early summer from spawning grounds off the New Jersey and Long Island coasts. The northern contingent of mackerel moves inshore to the southern New England coast by late May, migrates north to spawn in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and then passes through coastal NewHampshire again in September-October on its way offshore to overwinter in deeper waters. Mackerel are sexually mature by the time they are 13 inches long. The mackerel is a popular recreational species because of its schooling habit and voracious feeding behavior. In the Gulf of Maine they can be caught from late spring through fall, although mackerel fishing is best in early June after spawning or during the fall when they are fattened following a summer of feeding.


Catching Mackerel: Atlantic mackerel can be found inhabiting the upper 10 to 25 feet of the water column almost anywhere along the New England coast. They are most often caught from private or party boats, but shore-based anglers catch them as well. A medium spinning rig spooled with 15-pound test line is best for casting with a single, 1- to 1-1/2-ounce mackerel jig. However, any small jig or shiny metal lure can be used with good results. Effective bait includes worms, clam necks and squid. Effective lures include diamond jigs and mackerel trees.