For those just starting out with sea fishing one of the first baits they’ll experience is the humble Mackerel. However Mackerel can be used in lots of different ways, many of which are self explanatory (whole, fillet, slither, belly) but the one that confuses most beginners is the Mackerel flapper. So what is a Mackerel flapper?
To prepare a Mackerel flapper your run your knife from just behind the head down both sides of the back bone. Remove the spine and tail and you are pretty much done. You’ll be left with the head and 2 flanks of the Mackerel. Variations include shortening the flanks and whether or not to remove the guts from the head section. You then hook the Mackerel through both jaws, either bottom to top or top to bottom.
Now you know what a Mackerel Flapper is I should explain why I think you probably shouldn’t be using it as a bait! If you ask most anglers of an age why they use a flapper it will no doubt come back to a magazine they read or a video they saw. It became a fashion during the 90’s when it was an extremely effective bait for congers off deep wrecks! The reality is that it is a terrible way of presenting a bait in most circumstances. Not only is it extremely wasteful (you end up with a chunk of Mackerel you can’t use) but over clean’ish/shallow rough ground it is an absolute doggy magnet! The exposed areas give them something to get hold off and a dogfish will completely massacre a Mackerel flapper in minutes. If you are looking to uptide or fish from the shore then it is an total pain in the ass to cast. Some will say whip it, in which case you lose any of the movement which is the main argument for using a flapper. It has literally no advantages in 99% of circumstances and in a lot of cases proves a worse bait than the traditional way of presenting Mackerel as a big bait… the simple head and guts. A diagonal cut from behind the head downwards. This gives off just as much scent as a flapper, is harder for any Dogfish/Crabs to pull apart and casts better. By then using the tail cone you’ll also get 2 baits (all be it one slightly less effective on the scent front) or if you prefer still have that part for cutting in to smaller baits. If you only have access to smaller Mackerel and you are looking for a fish that would take a flapper then use it whole! Cut the tail off to stop it spinning, a couple of slashes down either side to help with the scent release and you’re good to go. Trust me a Huss, Tope, Conger, Ling and the various sharks species will make short work of a whole small Mackerel. It’s worth noting that a head and guts section or whole Mackerel does not look or sound as cool as a Mackerel flapper.
So that leaves the times when I would consider using a Mackerel flapper bait? For me it is purely a deep water wrecking bait for when visibility is low. No doubt it is a smelly bait, the same as head and guts, but it has the slight advantage in low light of having a fluttery movement. I’m basing this on theory not actual results because I can guarantee you that when me and the old man fished baits side by side it made no difference, except his baits got chewed up less often. I was very much a Mackerel Flapper person (having had decades of reading mags and watching vids) where my dad was purely old school. Whole Mackerel or head and guts.
There you have it, what a Mackerel flapper is and when and when not to use it. And never forget, the single most important factor in using any Mackerel for bait, get it locally fresh if you can! Frozen pales in comparison.