Shark are the product of aeons of evolution - those deadly creatures were truly primeval predators on the prowl, following the scent slick of our rubby dubby bags up the tide - sniffing out the opportunity of a free lunch!
The free lunch consisted of a whole mackerel bait concealing a 12/0 Mustad Sea Master hook with its barb partially crushed to make it easier to „jump‰ the hook from the jaw of the shark. We had no intention of killing any of these fantastic creatures if it could be avoided, we were there to compete with this planets last truly wild creatures, to pit our wit and muscle against a creature which kills to live and lives to kill.
There is a finger of warm water from the Gulf Stream which reaches deep into the English channel through the Summer months, bringing with it the richness of sea life which predatory fish such as Blue Shark, occasionally Porbeagles, Mako and Thresher shark depend upon. Often less than twenty miles off my home port of Plymouth we cross into this finger of warm water, in some conditions the border line between the cold and warm water is clearly visible. This border line is frequented by mackerel and increasingly once more herring shoals, bringing with them the inevitable packs of predatory shark.
The twin Volvo's raced us across a sea that was slick and smooth, faintly reflecting the last coppery flecks of a sun that was by now a few degrees above the horizon. There was that joyous lift to the soul understood only by those of us who pay tribute to the sea and all it's wonders. Today was a good day, fish or no fish!
Once upon a time Shark fishing tackle was the ultimate tackle that we would use in European waters. 14/0 reels loaded with 80lb line and a heavyweight 80lb class rod, full body harness, maybe even a fighting chair, but truthfully, looking back, it was all a lot of macho bull****! If there were a chance, just an outside chance of encountering a heavyweight Porbeagle or a Mako then I would still be fishing this weight of tackle. It is still up in the attic, insurance against the futile hope that we might just see the packs of these savage shark return to our waters in the numbers that are just a wistful memory nowadays. Roll on Global Warming!!
But that is just wishful thinking, a standard 30lb class outfit is more than adequate to land the largest blue shark you are ever likely to encounter in European waters. Even if you struck lucky and got tucked up into a 200lb blue, a 30lb class outfit will still handle such a shark with ease. Take a standard 30lb class rod such as Daiwa Powerlift, Shakespeare Quarzlite or Shimano Ultegra, match them up with a Penn Senator 4/0 or a Shimano 20/30 Twinspeed or TLD25 and you have an outfit that will do the business with ease.
If you can‚t make your own shark traces, buy them in from Roger Bayzand, phone(UK) 01 590 674 652 or Rok Max, phone 01 803 883 111. Floats can be a child's balloon, inflated to about threequarters of its full size, plastic cistern floats from any DIY store, chunks of polystyrene or whatever serves the purpose. Baits are nearly always freshly caught mackerel. Whether you hook them whole or debone them as a flapper is a matter of personal choice. Whichever way you decide to present the bait, ensure that the hook point is not obstructed.
If you are on a charter boat it is usually the responsibility of the skipper to bring the "rubby dubby", at least the first sack. Should you fish from your own boat it is a good idea to make up the rubby dubby sacks when mackerel are prolific, freezing the dubby down already in the sack, all in a large ice cream container. When you go fishing, all that has to be done is to take out a container or two, so that by the time you are ready to start fishing, the thaw should have started and the dubby will be able to start the slick instantly.
The first rod set was the one with the deep bait, no float, just a sinker above the trace to take it down to forty or fifty feet. This deep rod is positioned right off the stern to find the shark that swims up to the boat to investigate the source of the rubby dubby. Sometimes this shark will hide in the shadow of the boat waiting to ambush the shoal of mackerel and garfish that will come to feed on the mashed fish particles being washed out of the dubby sacks.
The next rod out was the one with the shallowest set bait, perhaps just fifteen to twenty feet deep. Set with a brightly coloured, partially inflated balloon float this bait was set just twenty yards astern. The other two rods had their baits set in a pattern of depths so that baits covered depths down to fifty feet, the deepest one being the furthest away from the boat, going deeper with the spread of the dubby.
Shark fishing has been described as long periods of utter boredom with spaced out moments of sheer panic and not a little terror. We had pulled our usual stunt of taking an all day picnic, all the things we are not supposed to eat but enjoy so much when we are away from the 'boss!'
After catching the fresh mackerel for the baits and a few spare for 'chunking' to spice the dubby trail up from time to time, we settled back to enjoy some particularly sticky do-nuts, when the ratchet on the deep rod clicked a halfdozen times. I hope the seagulls enjoyed the do-nuts because this was the start of the first run of the day. Split seconds later the early day quiet was shattered as the reels ratchet screamed its urgent song as the shark took off with the bait.
The oft quoted advice to the novice shark angler is not to strike until after the start of the second run. What happens is this, the shark homes in on the baits by picking up the scent of the dubby slick, it seizes the bait across its jaws and takes off on its first run, biting hard to kill the bait fish. It then stops and turns the bait head first to swallow it. Then it swims off, feels the pressure of the line and the fight is on. Problem is, this often results in gut hooked shark which does not fight as well and is likely to die anyway. If you intend to return as many shark as possible, strike the shark as soon as it stops the first run, you may well pull the bait away from a few fish, but in a high proportion of cases you will have a shark hooked right in the jaw with the hook clearly visible and easily disgorgable. Larger size hooks, say 12/0 and even 14/0‚s make the job of jumping the hook even easier. We have been experimenting with Seamaster hooks with the barbs flattened in a vice and lightly dressed with a file, early days yet, but so far very few fish have been lost due to the hook coming adrift. Lifting a shark from the water even for a moment is said to cause internal damage to the fish because its bodily structure depends on the support given by the water, so if the hook is not visible or disgorgable, the best thing to do is to cut the trace as close to the jaw as possible with the fish in the water. This was a shark that eventually we "guestimated" to weigh in the region of 80/90 pounds which gave the rod and reel a good workout, impressing us all yet again with the power and ferocity of a truly wild creature, touching us with the reality of a world where do gooder's don't exist and if they did, they would get eaten.
Shortening up on the trace, there was a metallic clink as the disgorger found the hook and with a flick of the wrist the hook was out. The shark rolled in the water alongside the boat, for just a heartstopping moment its cold baleful eye regarded us. Then with a sinuous grace, it turned and was gone into the deep blue. What more needs to be said. That'll do!
Note. It is a misconception is that Blue sharks are a shark of the surface region, recent research data from America on the Atlantic Blue Shark shows that blues go much deeper in the water column than was previously thought, down to more than a 1,000 feet, especially during daylight hours but staying much closer to the surface during the hours of darkness. So try rigging your spread of baits over a greater range of depths.
Fun time! The dubby sacks spread a slick of oily fish particles downtide for hundreds of yards. As well as attracting shark the slick also attracts mackerel and garfish, some of which are the larger "channel mackerel" and the garfish are larger than the fish caught inshore, so there is some fun to be had catching these fish on light spinning or flyrods. There is little need to cast very far, small spinners tipped with a small strip of mackerel will keep a constant stream of fresh baits coming aboard. Fly fishing is the most challenging, it is not the sort of thing you can do on a charter boat without spoiling other peoples enjoyment of the day. But on your own boat it is true to say that sometimes I have hoped that a shark run would not interfere with the fly rod fun I was enjoying. Try it!! For flies try a small Lefties Deceiver or a Clousers minnow in Blue and white with lots of sparkle.
Else cheat a bit and steal a fly from a Sabiki rig, they work really well.