by Scott Baker
It's early February, and with the water temperature starting to rise, and the appearance of the small pelagic tuna off the north east coast. Wade Pelham and myself decided it would be a good time to seek out a highly regarded game fish; the Blue Pointer or more commonly known as the Mako.
This shark is an open ocean shark and is common to Tasmanian waters, especially when there is a good source of feed close to call. The fighting characteristics of these sharks are some what surprising; when hooked the Mako tends to run off hard along the surface and often on a regular basis will jump well clear of the water with spectacular results, quite uncommon in a shark as they usually tend to race to the bottom and slug it out from there. But, there is always the exception.
It was 4 am when the alarm sounded with that dreaded screech. I jumped out of bed with anticipation of what the day ahead had in store for us. We were on the road at 4:30 am. Wade, my younger brother Justin and myself. We headed for the Pirates Bay boat ramp with the "Half Shot Too" in tow.
By 6:00 am we are on the water and heading for the Continental Shelf. The wind was 10 - 15 knots NW, perfect for what we had in mind. We started out inside the Shelf and commenced laying a berley trail. The berley consisted of fresh mackerel, courtesy of the Paddy's Point fish factory at Triabunna.
Within half an hour we had a nice berley slick trailing well back into the distance. All we had to do now was keep the trail going and wait for a shark to cross its path and home in on our berley pot, hopefully without ripping it of the back of the boat.
The Mako is an interesting animal and can reach a length of 3.8 metres and weigh 300 kg and the bigger they get the more attitude they posses. There are recorded cases of these sharks attacking boats for no known reason, so by the time the shark reaches the boat with a nose full of blood and fish pieces, it is usually pretty fired up.
The time had comes to draw straws to see who would take the first shark to reach the boat, if indeed any sharks come at all. Justin come up trumps and it seemed appropriate as it was his first shark fishing trip. So with renewed enthusiasm Justin proceeded to punch the berley out and keep a watchful eye on the water behind the boat.
45 minutes had passed and all of a sudden the mutton birds that were greedily helping themselves to an easy meal in our trail were spooked and all took to the wing. "It has to be a shark!" Wade called, and sure enough it was. A Mako of around 40 - 50 kg darted up along side the boat. This was it, this was what we were there for.
Justin was up and with his pre-baited hook of juicy mackerel attached to a six foot wire trace with another six food of three hundred pound jinkai line crimped to that and connected to a TLD spooled with 15 kg line. Justin flicked the boat out with the reel in free spool and slowly thumbed it back behind the boat. "There it is!" Wade called again with a keen eye for sharks.
It picked the bait up and moved off with it. Justin let it take it for a moment and then flicked the reel up to strike and drove the hook. Yes, he was on. The shark bolted off leaving the TLD screaming in its wake and Justin wondering if it was ever going to stop.
Thirty metres behind the boat we cold see the water swirl and splash as it made a half hearted attempt to jump. The fish ran off a bit further and then slowed up. The line was still creeping off the reel when Justin started to work on turning the fish around, keeping the tension on the reel all the time.
It was in the back of his mind that any slack line could enable the hook to drop out. Slowly he worked the fish back to the boat, a few metres at a time. But what Justin didn't know was that all the line he was getting back would soon disappear when the shark saw the boat.
Sure enough just when Justin thought he had the upper hand he took off again with a bit of a surface swirl mid run, but still no jump. The shark ran off two more times before it was tired enough to let us grab the trace. This act in its self can be dangerous, as hand lining Mako shark and not knowing what it is going to do is tricky business. It's important not to wrap the trace around your hand in case its got one more blistering run left up its sleeve. In this case the shark was led to the gaff without much trouble and gaffed successfully, and after a few well placed cracks with a base ball bat was lifted aboard.
Justin was pleased to see his catch aboard and while catching his breath remarked on how he must build up his left arm before trying to catch one any bigger. Anyway it was his first Mako and he was pretty happy with it, as we could gauge by the grin on his face that lasted for ten minutes. We reversed the boat back and picked up our berley trail again and proceeded to add to it.
Within five minutes three blue sharks turned up, two about 40 - 50 kg and the other about 60 kg. We left them to swim around the boat while we took the chance to get some under water photos (from inside the boat I can assure you) This type of shark is a long drawn out sort of creature with real long pectoral fins. They remind me of B 52 bombers as they glide around the water.
The fight this shark produces is one of a up and down battle, the shark runs down and you pull it up, they also have a tendency to roll up on the trace and if it rolls too far up on the line they will bust it off. In the end the temptation was too much with no Makos in sight I grabbed down a 10 kg outfit from the rocket launcher and presented bait to one of the smaller blues. He took it with greed.
I set the hook and off he went straight down about 30 metres he slowed up and I started to turn his head back towards the surface and pump him up to the top. As this was going on the other two blues stayed around and then another Mako turned up much the same size as the one already in the boat.
With me hooked up on the bluey we really couldn't take this Mako on in case the two fish crossed over and tangled. So with this in mind I locked up the drag and really put some heart into the 10 kg rod and reel. I expected the line to break at any time but it was not to be. Wade grabbed the trace and brought the shark along side, and Justin cut him loose right at the eye of the hook with a sharp pair of side cutters and he swam off. Wade baited up another hook and tossed it right in front of the Mako which was some five metres from the back of the boat. Then bingo, he took it before the blue sharks knew it was in the water.
It raced off with the same gusto as the first and really had the reel screaming. It took Wade five minutes, to get the end of the trace back and just as I was about to take it in hand he took off right along the top, breaking the surface and giving us all something to cheer about. Wade soon had him turned and back to the boat.
This time the trace was taken and the fish firmly gaffed. That was two nice fish in the boat but we were hanging out for something bigger and meaner to really give us a run for our money. We kept the berley flowing and we were now out over the Continental Shelf.
With the two remaining blue sharks still trailing the boat and snapping at the berley pot there was something to keep us amused. With the berley almost out and talk of heading back, eagle eyed Wade spotted a good one. He swan deep and fast past the boat and then turned back towards the trail. We estimated it to be around the 100 kg mark, quite a nice fish. Wade passed the rod to me and told me to go for it.
I strapped my gimbal on in anticipation of a long fight and tossed the bait back.
Wade started the boat as a precautionary measure. I few the bait back until it was out of sight, we knew the Mako was there a bit deeper. Something had picked the bait up and was freely taking the line off the reel. WE weren't sure whether it was the Mako or one of the blue sharks which had been around, for this reason I let it run off for a while before throwing the reel into strike.
I hooked up solid and the line on the reel crept off, not what I expected from a large Mako. I was surely hooked onto it because it come right up to the surface and cruised along the top with the line running from his jaw right back to the rod tip. It didn't seem to know it was hooked, it took a wide arc out from the back of the boat then turned in towards it, all the while right on the surface was it's dorsal fin and tail fin protruding from the water.
It couldn't have been feeling the hook, so I gave it a couple of swift tugs to see if I could get him to go off but no he still just laid on the line. I guided the fish up along side of the boat and we were going to try for a risky trace and gaff with the fish as its full energy level. Wade traced it and Justin drove the gaff in and held on, the shark started to thrash and chipping the gel coat off the side of the boat with its protruding teeth. Wade dropped the trace and went for another gaff I held the rod in case it broke off. Wade got his gaff in and the shark was secured. It took all three of us to heave it aboard. I put the tape measure on it and from the tip of its nose to the centre vee in its tail, it was 6.5 feet.
We cleaned up the boat the best we could and decided to call it a day. With the last bit of berley in the pot punched out and a good final look out the back with no more sharks worth catching we headed back towards the Pirates Bay Boat Ramp. The biggest shark was nice to have in the boat but the fight it produced was quite disappointing, we put it down to the fact that it was hooked in the lower gill area as compared with the small two which were hooked in the corner of the jaw.
Anyway we had enough flake to stock our freezers for some time as well as pass some on to our friends, and I had an impressive set of jaws to hang on the shed wall. Once reaching the boat ramp we found a committee member of the Tasmania Tuna Club working on the club house, and as I was a member we decided to weigh the big shark in and record it on the clubs books. The fish weighed in at 74 kgs, a bit short of what we thought, but you know what they say "They always look bigger in the water."