Many of us have caught the occasional herring while mackerel fishing, but I have always been convinced there are a lot more around. I received an email from Askari, the European on-line tackle store with their promotion “Get ready for the herring season”. If others can target herring why can’t we? I searched on-line for information about herring migration and established that although the main stocks are in the North Sea, there is a substantial presence in the English Channel. Perhaps when we see shoals of fish on the fish-finder mid-water but can’t catch them, they are herring not mackerel?

As a result of research and experimentation, I can tell you how to catch them but I am still working out when they will appear regularly in the Eastern Solent. All I can say so far is that in early April they were around in good numbers. If anyone has more information please let me know.

Catching herring is like feathering for mackerel but with some significant differences. Those differences become obvious when you consider the diet of herring compared to mackerel. Mackerel feed on small fast-moving fish so are caught on strings of flashy feathers up to 3cm long, jigged up and down to represent an escaping school of small fish. Herring on the other had feed on the larvae of crustaceans which float about on the sea currents. Herring are gentle harvesters of food with delicate mouths. Mackerel are fast, all muscle and have tough, fish-grabbing jaws. Big difference in appearance and behaviour.

Herring mouths are very soft so a rod with a soft tip will cushion any jerky movements that could tear the hook out. Use the lightest, softest rod you can get away with.

The best herring feathers are small, sabiki lures that look like larvae rather than fish. Size 6 hooks, small transparent fish skin “wings” and short sparkly tails will work well. This is what you are trying to emulate:

crab larvae

As well as different lures, you will also need different fishing techniques. Like mackerel fishing, you will need to try different depths until you find fish but unlike mackerel fishing, keep the lures still!  The herring’s food just floats along in the water, so your lures need to float along too. Even too much rocking of the boat will make the lures too active. Keep them as still as you can.

When you feel a bite, which will be a gentle jiggle rather than the mad dives of a mackerel, wind smoothly and gently until the fish reaches the surface then swing it up and into the boat where it will probably fall off. Any jerky movement in that process will tear the hook-hold and you will loose the fish. That is all there is to it! The key is using very small lures, keeping the lures still, using a soft rod and bringing them in firmly but smoothly.

I have seen some interesting weights sold in Europe and Scandinavia for herring fishing, which are painted red and white. I presume these add to the attraction. I haven’t tried them but I have used a flashy pirk as a weight and that should have a similar effect.

Good luck!