This Christmas past, just as right through the rest of the year, there's been hardly a moment when - should you so choose - you couldn't catch, somewhere on satellite TV, a shark programme. Sharks rule National Geographic, Discovery, all the documentary channels except, I guess, History. And I'd not be at all surprised if they turn up there one day. And, my God, how boring the creatures are...

"Killing machines" - that's the cliche that you're bound to hear somewhere in the first five minutes of a shark movie. The truth, though, is that they're really not very efficient at it. If you saw that stunning BBC series, Blue Planet, you'll know what I mean. Can you imagine a dumb old shark managing to corral baitfish into a ball like tuna or marlin can do and hit them like wire-guided missiles? No, indeed. Sharks sort of bumble along, snapping up the slow coaches. Even the much-vaunted Great Whites, the ones I've come across in South Africa anyway, rely heavily on the slowest fur seal in whatever the collective name for fur seals is, and the odd, thick-witted penguin that doesn't get up on the rocks fast enough.

All of this being so, it follows that, in rod-and-line terms, sharks are unimpressive. In fact they can be a bloody nuisance when you're after real game fish, and some places suffer more badly than others. The worst case I can recall is Panama. There's great wahoo fishing there, and you're trolling far too fast for a shark to take the bait, even if it could see it. Trouble is, though, that by the time you've hooked the second wahoo, the sharks move in, the mate shouts "Tiberon!" and you have to move to somewhere else in the ocean where, once again, you'll catch just a couple of real game fish before the tiberon move in again. Then if you get seriously mad, which is easy enough, you put out a fish bait on a 130 lb outfit, wait for a shark to hook itself then rev up and aquaplane the bugger. Some Panamanian skippers use a more direct deterrent, the bang stick, which I won't describe now in case it might upset the more sensitive of readers....

The only time that sharks are a serious sportfishing prospect is when you catch them from the shore - tope are a good example. Still and all, though, there are drawbacks. Once I was surfcasting for red drum on a beach in North Carolina with my son Nick when he got into a shark which held him up for quite a while before he beached it. This seemed a serious trophy for a young lad, as he then was, so we took it ashore to weigh. A tad disappointingly it came in a couple of pounds under the 100 lb mark but it was still a hell of a trophy for a kid, so we went back to the motel to get his camera.

When we got back, however, it had vanished - somebody'd come along and nicked it. The motive for this was apparent when we discovered that sharks were fetching a couple of bucks a pound at the local fish market.

A big shark can hold you up for quite while from the beach, as I discovered a couple of years back when it took me not far off two hours to beach an estimated 250 pounder on a Skeleton Coast beach in Namibia. The toughest part of that, though came when I'd got him into the breaking surf - beyond the white water he was manageable enough. By comparison, the two tarpon that I've hooked in the surf - one on a Costa Rican beach and the other on the Georgia coast - both spooled and broke me in minutes, even though each one of them was less than a third of the weight of the Skeleton Coast shark.

The TV shark craze undoubtedly started with Jaws and the much-publicized Great White. I've never fished for them but I've been within close range. That was a while back when I went to South Africa, to join the tourists who headed out every day to the famous Dyer Island channel to look at them at close range. The Great Whites (actually, South Africans just call them "Whites") are attracted there by the 300 metre channel of fast water between Dyer and another small island - both of which are covered, almost literally, by fur seals and penguins.

These days, though, the Whites don't need them. Instead, they feast off the profusion of horsemeat and seal meat (said to hove been obtained from seal carcasses washed up on the beach - a likely tale) tossed in by the skippers of the tourist boats to bring them round to be photographed. Actually, I found some of the tourists a lot more interesting than the sharks. There was the woman from California, for instance, who told me she earned her living organising birthday parties for dogs. And there was the pilot from the Swedish Air Force who was so fascinated by the Whites that he'd overstayed his leave by three months. "I donét think I have a military future"é he said to me one day. I suspect he was right.

The time I went to Dyer Island there were maybe 15 tourist-packed boats hemmed into the 300 metre channel and from each of them free lunch for the whites was being liberally dispensed. I'm told that now, though, the South African government has put a stop to the worst excesses and - I believe though I haven't checked - that only three boats at a time can operate around Dyer. Which, of course, is good news for everyone except the penguins and the fur seals which now, presumably, will be back on the menu...