Shark Fishing Methods and Tips
Although sharks have been caught on rod and line in Great Britain only during the past ten years, many books published prior to the turn of the century contain accounts of the epic battles between professional fishermen and these monsters. Nowadays, over six thousand sharks are landed annually by rod and line sportsmen, the majority of them in Cornish waters. Brigadier J. A. L. Caunter of Looe first attempted to take shark in the early 1950s. His experiments over the years with new tackle and methods finally produced a means of attracting the fish to the angler which is now accepted as common practice throughout Great Britain.
The method employed in this country is to drift with tide and wind so that, in effect, one is playing the fish from a stationary position and must fight it from the initial strike. Occasionally, of course, when a boat is fishing on its own and well clear of the others, the boatman will use his engines in order to run up on a big one, but this is exceptional.
It can easily be seen that in these circumstances heavier tackle is required than would be necessary with a boat that is capable of going as fast as, if not faster than, the fish that is on the line. For example, if the boat is drifting with the tide and wind at, say, four knots and the fish takes off in the opposite direction, it is obvious that his run has to be stopped quickly, otherwise there would soon be no line left on the reel.
Furthermore, one never knows just what species will take the bait next. Experienced shark anglers have on many occasions tried to get their fish with light tackle, but invariably something really big has come along and snapped their lines as if they were cotton.
Most anglers agree that it is far more fun to catch a blue shark on tackle with a line of around 14 kg (30 lb)than on tackle of 60 kg (130 lb), yet experience has proved that if one is to succeed in landing a really big fish from a stationary boat, it is essential to use the latter. The whole story would of course be altered if the fish were caught from a moving vessel.
One of the most important elements in the method employed in this country for shark fishing is the rubby-dubby. This is a pulped up mass of pilchard, herring, or mackerel. The first of these is the best attractor of all, for the pilchard has a very high proportion of oil content compared with the others.
It matters little whether the pilchard or other fish is stale, for by the time it has been pulverized into minute portions, little remain but a squelchy mass of bones and juice. The mashing is usually done in a dustbin on the way to the fishing grounds
Abroad, the word ‘chumming’ is employed to describe, but more often than not this entails using scoops of live fish, which are thrown in the water around the boat in order to attract fish into the vicinity.
On arrival at the area to be fished, two small meshed bags are filled with the rubby-dubby and tied at water level, one on the stern, the other at the bow. As the boat rolls, the bags go in and out of the water, each time sending out a stream of minute portions of fish. Very quickly the effects of the oil from the fish begin to tell on the surface, and before long a long, oily slick will be showing up on the weather side as the boat drifts.
The oily slick serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it enables the boatman to see in which direction the tide and wind are taking the boat, thus helping him to adjust his jib so as to keep the boat beam on to the sea. Secondly, in rough weather it helps to keep the sea flattened out around the boat.
Unlike other forms of sea angling, shark fishing is better in rough weather than in calm seas. Once the engines are shut off and the boat is left at the mercy of wind and tide, the stronger the wind the better, for it allows the boat to move at a greater speed through the water, thereby covering a far greater area.
Usually it takes from an hour and a half to two and a quarter hours to reach the sharking grounds. Even hazy weather creates no problems, for each boat is fitted with an echo-sounder and the boatmen know every inch of the bottom. As the boat leaves harbour, watches are checked, and at the end of the allotted steaming time the echo-sounder is switched on. Immediately it shows the depth that the boatman expects, the engines are switched off and the drift begins.
Although some sharks are taken very soon after fishing commences in the morning, most are hooked during the afternoon. It appears that the fish take some time to follow the rubby-dubby trail to its source and more often than not it is an hour and a half to two hours before the first strike occurs.
The first step is to put the two rubby-dubby bags overboard, in order to get them working as quickly as possible.
Next the rods are baited with whatever is available. Live mackeral are excellent, but often these are not obtainable and then dead pilchards or herrings are used in their place.
When fishing with live-bait, the normal procedure is to hook the fish through the body under the dorsal fin, or through the mouth. This way there is little interference with the swimming ability of the fish, which can move around and will attract greater interest than motionless dead-bait.
When dead-bait is used, in view of the fact that sharks usually take the bait head first, the best method is to thread the trace through the fish by means of a baiting needle, leaving the hook protruding from the mouth, eyes, or gills.
Most people prefer to use one hook, but up to three are allowed, a triangular counting as three. When two separate hooks are in use one should be threaded through the mouth, the second farther back behind the dorsal fin. This ensures that when the fish takes the bait one of the hooks strikes home.
Generally the baits are set to fish between three and ten fathoms. The line is measured off the reel to the required distance, andis attached. Line is then paid out again until the float is in position from three to four fathoms from the boat. (If two rods are in use one float will be set for fishing one depth and the second a couple of fathoms deeper.) The rods are then placed against the gunwales, with the reel in the free position and on the check or ratchet, so that the moment a fish takes the bait it is free to run without hindrance, but the angler has time to get his harness adjusted and ready for the strike.
Experience has shown that if a strike is made on the initial run, the fish will throw the bait. To be certain that this does not happen, no effort should be made to stop the fish on this first run. When the reel ceases to revolve, indicating that the fish is swallowing the bait, the rod should be hooked into position. As soon as the shark moves the second time, the strike should be made by lifting the rod straight up, driving the hook home.
From now onwards it is a case of angler against shark. Once the fish is under control, but lying deep in the water, it will be necessary to pump it surfacewards. The end of the rod is lowered to a point just above the gunwale — it must not touch the boat or any person in it other than the fisherman, or the catch will not be recognized for record purposes. Then, exerting pressure, the angler forces his fish to the surface. Under no circumstances must it be jerked, otherwise the hook will come away or the line will snap. If the rod is worked in exactly the same way as a pump there should be no great difficulty in eventually bringing the fish to the. The pumping process may have to be repeated two or three times before the fish is brought in.
It is of course highly probable with a fish of 184 to 230 kg (400 to 5001b) that the combined efforts of boatman and anglers would not be enough to get it into the boat. It is much easier to sink a barbless hook into the fish and haul the line taut, thereby depriving the fish of much of its fighting power, than to try and haul it inboard.
Most fish are gaffed in the region of the vent. With a detachable gaff head, it is fairly easy to get a good purchase around the mast and lift the tail of the fish from the water. This deprives it of most of its fighting power. A second gaff can then be sunk into the mouth of the fish and made fast forward. If there is much fight still left in the fish and it is possible to steam ahead, a quick method of killing it is to keep the head level with the water and go ahead at full speed. With a very large specimen, it is far better to leave it outside the boat for the journey back to port. The accepted way to do this is to haul the head clear of the water from the bow and the tail from the stern, so that the rest of the body skates over the water, causing minimum drag.
All boats employed in shark fishing carry a ‘priest’ or cosh. This is a very important piece of equipment, for once a shark has been brought inboard it begins to flail around with its tail, and, if not brought under control at once, could do serious damage to those aboard and to the boat itself. The priest usually weighs several kilogrammes and is brought down in no uncertain manner on the head of the shark.
Returning to port in the evening, each boat flies pennants from the yard-arm indicating the number of sharks on board. In order to give notice to the official weigher that the boat has sharks over 34 kg (75 lb) in weight, which is the minimum required for membership of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain, those estimated to be under 34 kg (75 lb) are shown below and those over 34 kg (75 lb) above a blue pennant.
The Shark Angling Club of Great Britain was founded by Brigadier Caunter in 1953. This club is now looked upon as the leading authority on shark fishing in Europe and the Brigadier as a world authority. The Club has a strict set of rules that must be adhered to when catching sharks, based more or less on those of the International Game Fish Association of Miami, Florida.
Records of all sharks caught in British waters are held by the Club, and when a claim is made for a new record, a thorough investigation is carried out to see that the fish has been caught by fair means, and is in reality of the species claimed.
The cost of a day’s shark fishing is very reasonable, considering that you can have the exclusive use of a deep-sea fishing vessel and crew. At Looe, each boat is equipped to fish two rods. One can either have the boat alone, share it with another, or make up a party of four and fish in turn.