Mean, fast and dangerous denizens

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IT CAN BE very exciting, but fishing for shark requires skill, planning and the right equipment, as STEVE COOPER explains:

SUMMER and autumn are the seasons for shark fishing, and prime time is from now through to the end of May.

Like that day off Cape Nelson near Portland aboard Sea Wolf 2, an 8.5 metre plate aluminium operated by Roger Chadderton. Frank Bluch had chartered the boat; he was chasing a shark on fly.

It was about 8.30 a.m. in 60m of water off Cape Nelson, when Roger hung a pair of tuna frames over the stern and we started our drift. The wind was offshore and brisk enough that a sea anchor was used to slow our drift rate. The tuna oil slick trailing on the water soon attracted albatrosses, seals and our first shark, a mako between 20 and 30kg.

This 212kg mako shark was caught off Torquay and towed several kilometres to shore where it could be landed.

At this size, Frank deemed it ideal for a 4kg line class attempt and produced a 9wt rod coupled with a Shilton fly reel. The blue and white fly resembled the pilchard cubes being used, and had a second or stinger hook. Although the shark swam several times around the boat, it showed no interest in the tuna frames, the pilchard cubes, or Frank’s fly. We even tried an old trick of touching the tilt button on the outboard motors, but the slight electrical charge given off did nothing. After a few minutes, the mako swam off.

Another hour or so and a blue shark appeared in the berley. The difference between the blue and the mako could be seen in the reaction of the albatrosses: when the mako came through the berley, the birds flew off immediately; the presence of the blue shark was ignored, and the birds continued sitting in the berley trail feeding on tuna scraps. Every now and again one of the albatrosses would get cheeky and look underwater at the shark. Perhaps it was making certain it was a blue, after all the penalty for error is harsh.

Frank cast his fly into the berley. Allowing it to sink, he stripped it back across the nose of the blue, which dutifully ate it. The fly rod doubled over, line sizzled out through the guides, and then the shark was gone. On inspection, it was found the shark had swallowed the fly down past the piano wire trace and bitten through the monofilament leader.

About 2pm, another mako arrived. A shark of about 30-40kg, it was hot to feed; and the birds took fright and flight. Frank offered up his fly, the mako swallowed and took off, ripping about 150 metres of line out in a few seconds before the 4kg tippet parted under the force of the take. However, the shark wasn’t finished; even though the line had separated, the mako came out of the water to complete a victory roll followed by a back flip.

Less than 30 minutes later and another shark was in the trail, this time a blue. Frank presented his fly, which was duly eaten, and this time wire, leader and tippet stayed together for the 45 minutes it took Frank to bring the 38.6kg denizen boat-side

Whether you fish fly or bait, shark fishing is exciting, and on good days, the action will be consistent, and there are plenty of toothy options including makos, blues, bronze whalers, seven gills, threshers, school sharks and even the occasional hammerhead.

The species of shark you encounter often depends on where you fish. In Bass Strait, the most common shark you will encounter is the blue: oceanic nomads, albatrosses of the marine world if you like, that instead of a great wingspan, use large pectoral fins to glide the oceanic currents.

It is from about 50-60 metres depth that blue sharks congregate, however, this can change, and sharks will always be where the food is. Ten years ago, blues were most common in about 40 metres of water. Most blues are from 2-2.5 m long, but 4-metre long blue sharks exist.

The most sought shark in game fishing terms is the mako. Known as blue dynamite, makos are mean, fast and dangerous, which is what you would expect of a superior marine predator. Every year, mako sharks more than 200kg are hooked, although this is above average in terms of size. Most makos you hook will be two to three metres long.

Mako sharks can be a difficult proposition, even when they are small like this one being boasted off Portland.

Having said that makos are dangerous and superior predators, it might seem incongruous to say that they are more cautious in their feeding habits than lesser sharks like blues. But that’s how it is. Mutton-birds sitting in a berley trail hardly flap a feather when a blue or whaler shark is in the trail. When a mako comes hunting though, you can almost smell the fear among the birds as they take off fast. Surprisingly, makos are often reluctant to swim up a berley trail preferring instead to hang back in the trail.

Bronze whalers are another species worthy of attention. They will offer a solid account, and some can be downright tough, particularly the big mommas, like the 360kg specimen caught off Barwon Heads. These whalers tend to operate closer to shore in less than 30 metres of water, and inside bays.

The unknown quantity in all of this is the thresher shark. To catch them consistently it seems you have to work the shallower inshore reefs, fish near the bottom and use small baits; something few shark fishers do with any consistency.

Thresher sharks do not have the same, fearful reputation as the mako, however this creature with a tail up to half its body length, large eyes, and small mouth is, in my experience, a tougher opponent. Makos are fast but threshers are faster. One thresher I was involved in catching a couple of years ago took three anglers an hour to land, and it weighed not much more than 45kg! A mako of similar size would have been in the boat and filleted over the same time.

Seven-gill sharks are a popular target in our inshore waters and bays. Some of them don’t fight at all, appearing to be sluggish. Don’t be fooled. Documentary filmmaker and spear fishing champion Rob Torelli released a video called Shark Quest. Footage shot during the making of the video showed Rob and another diver having to get out of the water due to the aggression of feeding seven-gills. And Rob’s no pussy when it comes to sharks. He has dived (outside the shark cage) with white pointers, and had head-on confrontations with large tiger sharks.

METHODS

Sharks are attracted both by smell and vibration and berley is an essential ingredient to attract them to a boat. Any sort of fish crunched up in a berley pot combined with a tiny, steady drip of tuna oil works a treat.

A blue shark on the wire trace at the side of a boat in Bass Strait.

As far as tackle goes, a 15kg rig is a good all-round outfit with enough punch to allow you to feel the power of the shark. There will be times though when 10kg tackle will be adequate, while for most situations 24kg outfits are too heavy.

A wire trace is essential, preferably multi-strand and most anglers work between about 100 and 200kg wire and use ball-bearing swivels suited to the breaking strain of the wire. Hooks should be extra strong and sharp. Size 10/0 will handle most sharks. Mustad 7699 Sea Masters are popular.

Fresh bait is the best. Couta fillets, squid, salmon and even fillets from reef species like wrasse will all work. Remember to reduce the size of the bait if you are after thresher sharks.

The standard practice is to have the bait set up beneath a balloon or detergent bottle that is allowed to sit back away from the boat in the trail. When the action is slow, it may pay to send down a free-floating fillet of couta in the trail. The fillet goes deep and is likely to attract those sharks, particularly makos that might be hanging back away from the boat.

FLY FISHING

For anglers wanting a challenge, try fly-fishing for sharks. Outfits in the 13 to 15-weight class range are suited, and the reel needs a smooth drag, and must hold about 300m of 15kg braid. I run a fast sink shooting head on one rod, a slow sink line on the other. Unless chasing some sort of record, use a 15kg level line leader with about 30cm of piano wire.

Successful flies include jumbo-sized Pink Things, about six to eight inches long, and some wide-bodied flies. Super sharp hooks with a wide gap are preferred.

Salmon at Corsair Rock, thresher shark at Collendina
mm

Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.

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