Photography by Steve Painter

In our latest summer issue, we celebrate ‘Mackerel Day’ and Jackie Elliott (no relation) of Sonny’s of Rock-a-Nore, a brand new fish restaurant on King’s Road in St Leonards, offers up a mackerel recipe for you to try at home when those whitebait kindly lead them in. See recipe here

Illustration by Rachel Moller

 It was a few years ago that I first experienced ‘Mackerel Day’. It was blissfully warm and I’d been on the beach in front of Marine Court with friends and family and some small cans of gin and tonic from the shop. It was late afternoon, the light was soft and the beach was full of people enjoying the good weather, scared it wouldn’t last. My sister was visiting from Barnsley (my hometown) and as we sat, staring out to the sparkling sea, talking about whatever crap we were watching on telly at the time, when the sea went dark in patches and started to bubble as though it was boiling in a pan while seagulls hovered above.

Like the opposite of the scene from JAWS, people started cheering and yelping excitedly as they rushed toward the sea. Little did I know… it was ‘Mackerel Day’!

A spread from Get Hastings magazine feature on Mackerel

 My sister and I went down to the shore to see what all the fuss was about and thousands of whitebait were scattered over the pebbles. Kids were taking their buckets into the sea and returning with a couple of large mackerel. People were doing the same with carrier bags and some ‘pros’ were paddling out in kayaks and just letting them jump into the boat or scooping them up as they passed. 

My friend Jack, delighted, said “I just caught a fish with my bare hands!” My sister and I were amazed at what we were watching.

Mackerel Day is a bit of a phenomenon created by Mother Nature. It happens anytime from July to September depending on the weather. The mackerel chase the whitebait and the whitebait swim to shore in their bid to escape. For the next few weeks, every eatery will have various mackerel dishes on the menu and you can smell them cooking from neighbour’s barbecues. If you’re relatively new to the area, I massively recommend that you keep an ear to the ground or an eye to the shore to find out when Mackerel Day is this year… oh and take a bucket!