The tragic death of a 56-year-old angler after being struck by a flying Spanish mackerel near the Six Mile Buoy was likely a million-to-one event but one that was always possible.
The man was struck on the chest by the pointy end of a large airborne mackerel and consequently suffered internal injuries which led to his death.
Mackerel are well known for leaping high out of the water and they do it for two reasons.
The first is to feed: they’ll tear up from below at high speed, seizing a baitfish on the surface and then just keep on going.
Sometimes, their propulsion is so fast that they’ll go as high as 15 metres and travel 30 metres across the water.
One fun technique to fish for mackerel when they are in this mood is to troll surface lures.
It’s an incredible experience to see a mackerel come flying out of the water with your lure in its gob… they always seem to have a smile on their face.
But you better hope it’s not smashing the lure from behind because it could end up in your boat.
The second reason to get out of the water and boogie is when a mackerel is being chased by a shark.
I’m talking about a hooked mackerel, of course, because there’s no way a shark could catch a mackerel that is unimpeded.
Over the years, I’ve lost or seen lost hundreds of hooked mackerel to sharks.
A hooked mackerel has no chance if it stays in the water with the line pulling against it, and is easy prey to a hungry shark.
It’s only hope is to leap out of the water before it gets munched on, and there’s not that much hope anyway.
Although we don’t know, I’m tipping that was the scenario that led to the tragedy on the weekend: a big, hooked mackerel flew out of the water trying to escape a shark or sharks and speared into the unlucky angler.
I remember years ago a couple of blokes were fishing of Cobourg Peninsula from a small tinny when one of them hooked a really big Spanish mackerel.
He fought it to near the boat when suddenly a shark charged up and tried to bite it.
The mackerel took to the air immediately and flew straight over the tinny, hitting the angler in the head and slicing off one side of his face to the bone.
It was a ghastly accident, with an air evacuation to Darwin then Sydney.
I never heard how he recovered.
That’s the other thing: mackerel have big, razor-sharp, pointy incisors which are designed to chop small fish to pieces.
No one wants to lose a great fish to sharks and one technique that works with hooked mackerel being chased by sharks is to free-spool the line.
That lets the mackerel dart away at full speed and then you simply follow it in the boat and hopefully the sharks lose track of which direction the fish, and you, went.
It can then be landed intact and either dispatched for later consumption or released.
Roxy Woolley caught this whopper red emperor fishing with her friend Steel wide of Dundee.