Anglers not used to tackling big fish hold sharks in awe and tend to treat them with maybe too much respect. Fact is that blues are the easiest of all the UK sharks to catch, they'll fight but won't pull your arms off and neither do you need specialised rods and reels. The biggest advantage with blues is that there are usually plenty of them. Your chances of success are high, and that gives you the chance to enjoy fully what you're doing and get some experience before moving on to the bigger, more feisty porbeagles.
TACKLE A standard 30lb class boat rod and reel is ideal for your first blue. Don't be lead into believing that shark tackle has to be rods like telegraph poles and reels that can haul a tractor in. It's a slight advantage if the rod is equipped with a roller eye, but not necessary. Likewise the reel, lever-drags make fishing more fun, but a standard star-drag reel still gets the job done just as well.
Short stand-up style rods are okay, but they can prove a problem when a blue tries to get under the boat and there's the chance of the line fouling the propeller or the keel. This is a characteristic battle tactic of blue shark.
If you're feeling really confident go down to a 20lb outfit, even a cod type uptider is adequate, and you'll really feel what's happening when the shark runs deep.
Regards reels, a 30lb class multiplier needs to hold between 300 and 400-metres of line. A big blue shark can run off around a 100-metres of line when it goes deep and far off, but not much more. With the 20lb outfit, then an extra capacity around the 500-metres mark gives you more security if you're in to a big fish that wants some distance between itself and you.
TRACES The traces are very simple to make. Use 49-strand wire only in 175lb breaking strain for the main section and 275lb wire for the biting end. This is supple and helps minimise the chances of kinking when a shark rolls on the trace.
You need a trace with a total length of about 4.5-metres. This allows the shark to rub on the wire and not on the weak mono line. Cut off a 3-metre length of 175lb wire. Crimp on a size 1 plain rolling swivel. This is your connection to the main line on the reel. At the other end crimp on a size 5/0 rolling swivel. Now crimp a 1.5-metre length of 275lb wire to this. At the end you crimp the hook. The best hooks are the Mustad Barbless Tope & Ray hook size 8/0, which is plenty strong enough for blue sharks. If you prefer more strength in the hook, then look to the Mustad O'Shaughnessy size 6/0 or 8/0. There is no need to go bigger, but make sure the points are razor sharp.
The strongest way to crimp is to pass the wire through the crimp, then through the swivel or hook eye, bring it back through the crimp a second time, then push the tag end of the wire inside the crimps body a third time, then close the crimp. Use a proper crimping tool that fully shuts down on the crimp to compress the wire underneath.
For extra strength to the hook and first swivel you can use the Flemish loop. This is simply made by bringing the wire through the hooks eye twice and twisting the wire inside itself to form a loop then crimping the free tag end. This is very strong, but tighten the loop to its minimum size to just leave the hook free to swing in the loop.
You'll need a couple of other bits of tackle. Take a 22cm length of telephone wire. Attach this to a size 6 rolling swivel passing it through the eye then wrapping the wire around itself in tight touching turns. The main reel line, when tackling up, runs through this swivel with the free end of wire being taken a single turn around the knot of a party balloon. Only take a single loose turn around the balloon then it will pull free when the shark dives due to the buoyancy of the balloon. This releases the balloon for the fight and swivel and wire slide down to the attaching swivel out of harms way. Inflate the balloon no bigger than a grapefruit.
The swivel can be locked in place to control the depth of the bait by adding a separate length of telephone wire around the reel line in tight touching turns, or with a length of rubber band knotted around the main line. The 'phone cable actually slides easily in and out through the rod rings during the fight, whereas the rubber band can jam.
There is no need for shoulder harnesses and butt pads for blues.
WHERE & WHEN TO FIND BLUE SHARKS Blue sharks are found off the Devon and Cornish coast in by far the greatest numbers. Look to the ports at Plymouth, Looe, Polperro, Fowey, Mevagissey, Falmouth, Newquay and Padstow as being the main ones. The Isles of Scilly also offers excellent blue shark fishing.
Looe in particular is classed as the capital of English shark fishing with the shark season running from roughly late May through to the middle of October. The fish average between 30lbs and 70lbs, but with a good number of bigger fish. The current UK record of 218lbs was caught here.
The other named ports though, will all give similar fishing.
Large numbers of blue shark also move in to the waters off Southern and Western Ireland. Their season runs from mid May through to late October with the bigger fish often coming early and late in the year.
The most recognised Irish ports are Dungarvan, Ballycotton, Cork, Kinsale and Baltimore on the south coast, and the Dingle ports, plus Kilkee, Spiddal, Westport, Achill Island, Blacksod, Killala and Killybegs in the west.
RUBBY DUBBY OR CHUM Rubby dubby, or chum as our USA cousins refer to it, is a concoction of minced fish, animal feed bran and pilchard oil all smashed up together. This is hung outside the boat in either mesh bags or in plastic tubes riddled with small holes allowing the contents to gradually spill out to form a continuous trail of scent that the sharks locate and follow up luring them in towards your baits.
Make sure the fish used is fresh. Often, skippers advocate old fish as best, but my experience proves otherwise with fresh chum being the most effective.
At the same time it also pays to cut small 2cm chunks of fresh fish, usually mackerel, and add these to the trail one every 30 seconds or so. These are heavier than the chum mix and fall deeper bringing any sharks working deep down up in to the scent trail and increasing your chances of a hook-up.
BLUE SHARK TECHNIQUES Virtually all blue shark fishing is done on the drift with the boat moving to the whim of the tide and wind.
Ideal conditions are wind against the tide direction. This sees the wind slow the boats drift speed in comparison to that of the passing tide. The boat moves over the ground slower held up by the wind but the chum trail travels at the tides higher speed carrying it far away from the boat and advertising you to the sharks over a greater distance.
The worst conditions are wind and tide travelling in the same direction. The boat is carried along at the same speed as the tide leaving the chum falling almost vertical below the boat in a widening cone shape. This only locates sharks you accidentally pass over and is less conducive to good fishing.
Imagine the chum trail as being a widening angle projected from the boat and getting deeper the further it travels. The sharks move up in to the trail and follow its scent to source. You need to position your baits inside the chum trial suspended under the balloons at different depths to intercept them.
Three sets of tackle are usually used. Set the furthest bait about 60-metres away from the boat and at about 20-metres deep to intercept the sharks that are still at depth. The second bait needs to be 40-metres away and set about 10-metres deep. The nearest bait is set tight to the surface at only 6-metres deep and about 20-metres away. This pattern follows that deepening angle taken by the chum trail.
In very fast tides and the boat held up by a strong breeze, the chum trail will be running shallower and a balloon depth pattern of 20-metres, 8-metres and 4.5-metres is more likely to find incoming sharks.
Leave your reel with a very light drag on and with the audible ratchet set. It also pays to tie the rod to the boat's railings with an easy release lanyard.
Worth considering is to have a fourth set of tackle set up ready to go, but without the balloon attached. Often, sharks will miss all the baits and work towards the boat right at the surface with fin out of the water. These sharks come right in to the chum sacks, so close that one of the crew may need to lift the bag from the water momentarily as these sharks are prone to eating them. If a shark behaves like this, try dropping a freelined bait right in front it*and wait for the fireworks!
Blue shark can also be taken on plugs and flies, but that's another story.
HOW BLUE SHARK FIGHT If you're observant, you'll see the balloon "bounce" a couple of times as the bait is taken, then disappear. Now the reel starts to scream as it gives line. Pick up the rod and wait. As the run starts to slow down gently ease up the drag a little, not too much, and let the rod start to pull over. This will pull the hook home, steady pressure does it not repeated "strikes" with the rod which can break the line.
The shark will now move away fast on a short run, slowly stop and "thump" around on the rod tip, then realising it's in trouble, will start off on a longer faster run. This is usually downwards at between 30 and 45 degrees. Some bigger sharks will go down vertical spiralling as they go and maybe rolling at the same time which can wrap the trace around their body. Just let the drag do its work and give them all the line they want.
When the dive slows and stops, start to "pump" the rod to regain line and always keep the rod bent and the pressure on. Leave the drag to give line at medium pressure, it's your safety net to protect the line if the shark changes speed and direction suddenly.
The shark will go through a series of runs, dogged head shaking and stubborn resistance, then will probably go deep. Only repeated pumping and hard work from you will lift it. Watch out for a typical blue shark tactic, which is to swim tight underneath the boat. You're now in danger of the line touching the prop or the keel as we mentioned before. Put the tip section of the rod vertical in to the water and try to steer the shark out with side pressure.
With the shark at the side of the boat, it's now the boat crews turn for some action. As soon as the shark is tight to the boat gunnel, ease off your reel drag. This allows the shark to run off easily if the crew misses the fish and it dives. It safeguards your line and you can start the fight again with confidence.
The crew will grab the shark by the tail and pectoral fin, some skippers tail rope, which is equally good, but NEVER condone a skipper gaffing a blue, there is no need.
If the hook is deep just cut it free at the wire as close as you can. It will fall out of its own free will later. Get yourself a picture or two, then get the shark back in the water straight away, and go get yourself another one!
BAITS Mackerel make the best baits for blues. You can cut the tail fin off, then feed the hook through one side of the body stitching style until it exits the body just behind the gills.
Another good one is to cut out the backbone but leave the fillets attached to the head. Put the hook point in and out through the lower base of the jaw, then back in and out through the hard flesh between the pelvic fins. This bait is very bloody and is my personal favourite.
If you've fancied having a crack at catching a real shark, then go for the blues and don't think twice about it. You'll be fine!