Pacific Mackerel

From 19th Trip: Huge Day Off Laguna Beach

Family: Scombridae (Mackerels and Tunas)

Genus and Species: Scomber japonicus

Description: The body of the Pacific mackerel tapers at both ends, is rather elongate, and somewhat compressed. The head is pointed and the mouth is large. The head is dark blue, the back is dark blue with about 30 dark wavy lines, and the undersides are silver green. The widely separated first and second dorsal fins serve to distinguish Pacific mackerel from all of the other tuna-like fishes that inhabit our waters, except for the frigate and bullet mackerel. Pacific mackerel and bullet mackerel can be differentiated by counting the dorsal finlets. Pacific mackerel typically have four to six, while bullet and frigate mackerel have seven to eight finlets.

Range: Worldwide in temperate seas; in the eastern Pacific from Chile to the Gulf of Alaska.

Natural History: Larval, juvenile or small fishes appear to be the most important natural food of Pacific mackerel, but there are times when they rely heavily on small crustaceans. They feed upon squid to a lesser extent, and eat whatever other bite-sized organisms they may encounter. Off southern California, spawning normally reaches a peak during the early spring months, especially March, April and May. Pacific mackerel eggs are about 0.045 inch in diameter and float free in the upper layers of the ocean, usually within 300 feet of the surface. At average water temperatures they will hatch 4 or 5 days after being spawned.

Fishing Information: Pacific mackerel have long been cast in the role of an intruder or nuisance fish by most anglers, especially those seeking larger sportfish like yellowtail or barracuda. Nevertheless, they have been the most frequently caught species on hook and line in California waters in recent years. Known as a voracious, indiscriminant feeder, Pacific mackerel will devour a live anchovy, engulf dead cut bait, strike readily on lures and often on flies. When in a feeding frenzy it has even been known to hit a piece of rag soaked in fish gurg. While it is relatively small in size (3 pounds or 18 inches would be trophy size), it scores high for power (ounce for ounce) and beauty. Pacific mackerel put up an excellent fight against light tackle.

Other Common Names: American mackerel, blue mackerel, greenback jack, chub mackerel.

Largest Recorded: 25 inches; 6.3 pounds.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

About the Author

Sean loves to fish in Southern California and this site is his journal of his adventures in fishing. He started fishing when he was a little guy with his dad David, and has continued to this day with his family. In his day job, Sean has been a graphic designer for over 15 years, designing everything from in-store displays and signage for supermarkets to e-commerce auction sites for an online consumer electronics company. He was a web and graphic designer then later an art director for McMullen Argus Publishing (Primedia), building and working on sites for Lowrider Magazine and Super Chevy, plus 30 other automotive magazine sites. Sean seized the opportunity to teach other aspiring designers - a passion that took him first to Learning Tree University and then to Golden West College in Huntington Beach, CA, where he has been an integral part of the renowned digital arts department for more than ten years. Throughout his teaching career, Sean maintained a freelance business, designing for clients including the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards), Image Comics and many more. See his work at