Makos of the North West
As spring sets in most creatures have already, or are set to begin a fornicating frenzy and all though my thoughts at times are dominated by similar images, the approaching game season is steadily turning the tide toward thoughts of chasing mako sharks from our local ramps. These mighty adversaries are available in numbers on occasions and in my experience the jumbo triple figure numbers are more prevalent in the early part of the season.
I am told the water temperature has reached around 11 degrees is slowly rising, and with it (somewhere around mid to late spring), will come hordes of mackerel, squid and couta. The arrival of these species is a sure sign larger visitors are present. These bait species are great fun to catch and make an excellent distraction whilst waiting for the arrival of a shark. Although the temperature is far less critical than the presence of bait, check of the sea surface temperature chart (SST) can be made on at the CSIRO web site is the next most accurate test of the water temp other than sitting out on it.
This can be found at the following address (www.marine.csiro.au) and follow the link to (lband sea surface temperatures). The page will be an Australia wide map which may take a little time to draw depending on your system and connection. By clicking with the pointer at any point on the ocean will give the co ordinates and temperature in the last 2 days or so depending on the satellite pass over update.
Tools of the trade
There are several items that are required to chase mako or blue shark and the principle item is a boat. Firstly a misconception is the boat does not need to be very large or extremely well equipped. I learnt from Mason Paull (the guru himself) who has been targeting this species on the eastern seaboard for in excess of 17 years and has seen just about all that these fish can come up with.
In the last 5 or so years however he has also taken to targeting these fish more, as a lead up to the East coast season from the North West coast and some of these trips have been in smaller open boats and have successfully tagged or on occasions taken good sized fish. A craft around 5 metres or so is a good average starting point. Weather and sea heights should be checked depending on your boats capabilities as Bass Straight is shallow and can get very rough. The water is only 50 meters deep or so at 10 miles dropping to 60 at 15 - 20 miles. The mako to range between 50 and 250kg and also common to the coast are blue shark between 35 and 100kg. The commonly encountered size of the mako seems to be between 60 - 90kg and around 50kg for the blue whalers.
Rod and reel combinations can range from 8kg to 24kg and I have found an overhead game reel with 15kg string ample for average and even larger specimens. Several years ago off Burnie I hooked and fought a mako off Burnie in 35 meters of water the fish rampaged around fairly quickly due to the shallow water and required a lot of maneuvering by the driver. We eventually landed the fish 4¼ hours later and it was a lazy 200kg! Our estimations at the time put the fish at 140 to 160kg however it was like a barrel and was carrying a lot more weight than expected.
After subduing and cleaning the beast outside the boat we attempted to pull her in. Mason and I heaved on the tail rope, however despite our best efforts we were unable to raise more than her tail. I submit my contribution to the effort was not a great deal after the long fight and if it were not for pelvic floor muscles the event would have been a messy clean up!! (At one point Mason even commented that he may have been getting weak in his old age although he later retracted this statement).
As a result a long tow home was opted for that had us back at the ramp at 10pm. This highlights that if a sizeable shark is encountered a decision should be made erring on the side of safety at some in regards to the craft in which your standing is suitable in that the fight may go for some time depending on the gear and location.
The rig consists of a 400lb trace and I have found that the blue 400lb PVC covered multi stand wire is great. Although there are other types both thinner and stainless steel available the PVC wire is readily available, easy to handle boat side and does not cut into your gloved hand. It can be brought pre rigged with a decent hook from most tackle outlets and should be 3 - 4 metres long.
Attached to this a 12/0 hook is a good start and although some prefer larger ones I prefer a non suicide mustard "7766D dura-tin". The rig is attached to your double via a snap swivel and a rubber band can be used to secure a balloon onto the top of one leg of the double. This allows the bait to be suspended about 6 metres under the water and the balloon is an excellent indicator of a strike. A good flying gaff, fixed handle gaff and 8mm tail rope are also required and on occasions the shark may have to be clamed to be handled with the use of a "priest" of some sort.
With bait fresh is best and a whole squid mackerel or a section of couta are great however should be rigged in a way that will allow the point to be exposed running parallel to the bait and penetrate on a take. Sharks are also partial to a slab of tuna if you are able to provide one. Both the squid and tuna are soft and allow the hook to be hidden in the bait and again penetrate on a take.
These fish, like most species of game fish are limited and are under pressure wherever they go with this in mind I again promote tag and or release. I find only taking one or so mid size specimen per year is ample to feed myself and all of my extended family. The fish are extremely hardy and suit well for recovery after release and testament to this I often encounter healthy specimens with numerous long line hooks decorating their jaw lines. If you catch a tagged fish and are unsure what to do take the tag to your local tackle shop and they should be happy to assist.
A dot in the ocean
When selecting a place to start the best advice is find a location with structure on the bottom and bait fish of some form. There are numerous reefs and bommies off the coast and although they can be difficult to find check your local sea chart and find a deep hole or rise. Somewhere nearby you will most likely find bait. These patches of bait can often be found in open featureless water and show on the sounder. Most likely the cloud will be couta, squid or mackerel and is a good starting point.
Any bait should not be too difficult to find and on regular occasions I have seen mackerel showering the surface in patches the size of football ovals. These also provide good entertainment whilst waiting for a shark and activity creates activity. Catching these fish is both fun and provides fresh bait and surplus can be used in the burley bucket. If you have braid then bottom bouncing can produce dusky or tiger flathead around 400mm or larger. Deploying a squid jig to self troll in the trail will often hook good number of squid.
I think that a good starting point is around 7 miles which is around 40 to 50 metres of water and the wind should be pushing you along at about walking pace or so. If the wind is stronger then deploy a sea anchor to slow your drift. The speed of the drift governs the size of your trail and the amount of ground you cover. Only experience by trial will best determine drift speed and again this is highly dependent on your vessel weight and type. When the wind drops away it can be a little annoying for shark as your trail will begin to balloon up although it can still be effective if some ground was covered prior.
We have seen and caught large sharks in very shallow water and for example from personal experience Mason has seen and hooked fish as close as 2km, with this particular mako from the Wynyard area going 130kg. A friend and I lost one around 140kg just 3 miles from the Burnie break wall, although one this occasion our drift had come from the aforementioned 7 mile mark.
Punch it back
We work on the 3 hour principle as a basic guide to the time taken for a shark to appear. I have been out and seen sharks immediately and some times gone 4 trips or more without seeing one. On other occasions I have seen 3 or more on one trip, so patience and other activities are the key to biding time during the wait.
The other most important factor is burley, some like a flood drifting back as thick as smoke from a grass fire however at the very least all you need is a little-often. A steady unbroken flow of fresh fish being munched up in your burley pot with the regular addition of some chicken pellets and tuna oil is perfect for the job. The pellets soak up the oil and take it down into the water column. The trail should be around the width of a small suburban street and you should see a steady stream of small chunks of fish drifting back and down as you drift.
There is some debate between stainless steel and plastic as to the best type of pot. Personally I prefer the plastic one as when you work a dull thud is emitted into the water which in its self can be an attractant to sharks. The stainless pots seem to give off a clanging sound which to me does not sound appetising and I think can scare fish (although this is my preference, plenty of success has been had by both so go with what you have). Some regular shark fisherman pre mince and freeze bags of burley and deploy it in the pot or snap top, holed buckets. As the mince melts it breaks up, drifting back with the same effect as punching the pot. The key to success is an unbroken trail so be vigilant with keeping an eye on the pot. Keep the tuna oil up to the pot and work it regularly.
Mako may miss the baits and come straight to the boat which is a fantastic sight. Some of them are a little frisky and can and will have a little nibble on your boat, burley bucket or what ever so be prepared for a few scars. Scratches to your motor can be reduced by raising the leg a little so the back edge of the cavitation plate is just out of the water leaving the skeg as a sacrificial nibbley.
"Danger" Will Robinson
These fish are a tenacious predator and should always be treated with great caution and respect. I have heard and first hand been party to one such horror story in 2004. After my wife tagged and released a 70kg number another smaller specimen of 85kg arrived and was hooked up. The decision to take the shark was made by the angler, as he was on the first trip of the season and was after some flake. The fish came easily and was cleaned and left boat side. After some time the fish was pacified and brought aboard where the completion of cleaning was undertaken. Luckily we always put the sharp dangerous end toward the rear of the boat.
Prior to poking life into "Terminator" Mason turned to reposition the shark. At that point it decided to come to life and stood on its tail thrashing around in the boat to a degree that even the gunwale tops had teeth marks in them. The melee went for around 5 minutes to a point where my wife made like incy wincey spider on the dashboard, whilst the rest of us held the tail rope. The shark was pacified however left the boat looking like a hand grenade attack at the Red Cross blood bank.
It was not all fun and games at the marauding shark had smashed the fuel management unit off the filter. The weather was 3m plus and getting worse and there were 3 other larger shark pacing backward and forward around the boat. Luckily we were able to remove it from the loop and reconnect the motor to the fuel filter system. We headed home happy in the knowledge that it could have been worse- like 200kg of shark!!!
Again safety first and stay out of the way of the sharp end as I have seen entrails and fillets of mako still pulsating several hours after capture and unlike tuna these fish always have something left when they come to the boat. They have earned the reputation of blue dynamite and there energy can be seen when hooked as they often make spectacular jumps during the fight. If you are unsure about this type of fishing and are keen to have a go, I suggest you get someone with experience to give you some advice or go with you.
Anywhere along the coast is great for mako and they can be targeted anywhere from Stanley to Port Sorell all of these locations now have great ramps or facilities to get you on the water. One thing I must mention is that other species of shark other than mako and blue (whaler) shark are encountered in the straight. Those are 7 gill shark and very rarely white pointers. I know of at least 3 encounters over the past 5 years and the white pointers are usually smaller juvenile sharks and can be slightly brown in colour. If you are unsure of the species or can not identify it the rule of thumb is don't take it because it could land you in a little hot water.