Frigate Mackerel or Leadenal as they are sometimes known are a top little sport fish even though they can be difficult to get a hook-up on at times it is well worth the effort. Even though they are a small fish & a Frigate Mackerel does not often weigh in at more than 1.5 kilos they put up an excellent fight on very light tackle. On the down side they can be extremely frustrating as well & on some days it is next to impossible to get a strike but when you do you will not be disappointed. The bonus with catching Frigate mackerel is that they are one of the best baits around & in my opinion are better than Striped Tuna as the flesh is finer grained & hangs on the hook better. The other good thing about Frigate Mackerel is that most of the time you do not need to go offshore to find them & they travel the full length of both Pittwater & Cowan & most fisherman have seen these little green torpedoes chasing bait fish in shallow water. A top little fish to catch & I recommend having a try if you have not done so before.
Frigates generally start showing up in late January & are in the area until the end of May. This varies a bit with conditions & water temperature of course but it is not uncommon to still have a few about right up till the end of June.
The Frigate mackerel can be found in many areas in Pittwater & Cowan Creek. I generally keep an eye out for schools of them along the western shores of Pittwater from Scotland Island right down to West Head. In Cowan I have had good success in the entrance to Jerusalem Bay & in little Jerusalem as well. The northern shoreline opposite Cottage point is also a good place to look. Offshore I generally find them around Barrenjoey Point & along the back of Palm Beach with the northern side of Lion Island also being worth a look. Frigates will often work along the shoreline either singly or in small schools of 3 or 4 fish. They especially like to do this in small bays & shallow areas. Often there will be no splashing just a little bow wave pushed up by the fish & they swim around looking for bait just under the surface. It pays to stop & have a look in a few of the little bays in both areas & I have often seen them doing this at Bayview Ramp & around the ramp at Apple Tree Bay.
I prefer to use a light threadline outfit when I am chasing frigates as normally you are throwing very small lures around 5 to 10 grams at the fish & this can cause problems with bait casting tackle. A rod around 2 meters in length & preferably a light tip & suitable for 2 or 3 kilo line is ideal for casting the tiny lures used on Frigates. I use an Okuma Epix EB 30 spooled with 2 kilo line. Whatever reel you use the drag needs to be working properly & smooth as these little tunas will test it for you. As far as lures go I have used Raiders & Kokodas in the smallest sizes available but one lure that is fairly new on the market & I have had a lot of success with is the River2Sea "searock" in the 7 gram weight in both blue & green colour. These have out performed every other lure I have tried on Frigate mackerel. If you are using fly tackle a 6 weight would be ample for Frigates & these fish will test out your casting ability due to the speed they move. A floating or intermediate weight forward line would do the job OK & for flies use tiny baitfish imitations. I have a few home grown flies that work well & will post picture's at the bottom of the page. A simple lure often overlooked these days is a barrel sinker painted white. Just slide one on the line & leave it free running & tie a treble hook to the end of the line. These work fine & have accounted for 100's of frigates for me as well as Bonito ,Mack tuna & other pelagics
As I have mentioned above Frigates can be difficult fish to catch at times & I use 3 main methods of fishing for them. A point I will make first is that when using metal lures the retrieve speed needs to be fast & if you are having problems with your lures skipping get the rod tip under the surface if you have too. Speed works with picky fish as they only have a split second to decide whether to bite or not as the lure flashes past & often a fast lure will trigger a strike from fussy fish. If using fly gear fast is good but if hits are not coming try a very slow retrieve , I have been having a fair bit of success with that.
This is probably the easiest & most successful way of scoring a Frigate Mackerel & if you just want to enjoy the fight this is the way to go. I prefer to troll for Frigates early in the morning up to about 9 am. The tide I find best on them is the start of a run out tide down to low tide. I will start trolling at the bombora near Barrenjoey using small saltwater flies like those pictured below or a small all white fly. The smallest sized Xmas trees also work if you prefer that type of lure. If I don't get any hits around Barrenjoey I troll to the Northern end of Whale beach & troll the area between the point & the southern corner of Palm Beach. While I am doing this I watch for surface schools of them & it pays to have a casting rod rigged ready. Fishing like this will normally produce a bit of sport plus these fish take cast lures & flies a bit more readily offshore than they do inside.
This is a good method of catching frigates when there is plenty of baitfish available & they are actively feeding on the surface. Frigates don't often get birds over the feeding schools as they don't leave much in the way of scraps so you will need to keep your eyes peeled to find them on occasions when tailor are mixed with them there will often be a lot of sea gulls over them & you stand to lose a few lures due to bite offs (see pic below). The size of baitfish they are feeding on will govern how obvious a feeding school is. If they are on bait like large whitebait or frogmouth pilchards you will see plenty of splashing activity on the surface & the fish are easy to spot. However if they are feeding on tiny glass minnows which is common there will be some small splashes & swirls & at times they will not break the surface at all & all you will see is a few swirls & it is very easy to miss schools like these. The hardest part of this method is finding the fish. Generally feeding frigate mackerel schools don't move very fast but unfortunately they do not stay up for long either. Very fast & accurate casting will help & as with other species of fish feeding on the surface try to work the lure or fly along the edge of the activity. One bonus with this method as often other fish like Kings & Bonito are mixed is & sometimes tailor so if the Frigates don't strike normally the others will so you will get some sought of action.
This is probably the most difficult yet the most challenging way of catching these fish. I cruise around the bays either in Pittwater or Cowan until I see a frigate or chasing bait. Normally you will see just a bow wave that the fish pushes up in front of him as he swims about looking for bait. The fish follow the rocky edges of the bays & up in the shallow water of the sand flats. These fish are actively hunting so if you can get your lure or fly in the right spot you should get a strike. It pays to sit back & watch the fish as more often than not they will cruise around the bay time & time again in a set pattern hunting baitfish & once you work out the pattern it can help you position yourself for a cast. The main thing to remember is these fish are traveling fairly fast so you need to cast well ahead of them. Your lure needs to end up right in front of the fishes nose, it is no good behind him or 3 meters to one side. Accuracy is the key & the more accurate your casting is the more fish you will catch. This is a tough way of catching them but a heck of a lot of fun.
Once you have hooked your frigate no matter which of the above methods & tackle you are using you will not be disappointed with the fight. These little Frigate Mackerel are great fighters & after a couple fast runs on the surface will go deep & circle & you will work for every centimeter you get back. I have spent many an hour catching these little tunas & enjoyed every minute of it as they present a real challenge at times to hook & a great fight afterwards
Flies like the above one work well on frigates
The River2Sea "Sea Rocky 7 gram" a top lure for Frigates & any fish feeding on small bait
Nice Frigate taken just off Jerusalem bay
A mixed school of Frigates & Tailor. Birds like this generally mean Tailor so expect a few lures bitten off.