Vol 37 | Winter Issue | Jan 1, 2012
Article by Capt. Bruce McGuigan
In 1974, Peter Benchley wrote the novel “Jaws”. In the summer of 1975, the movie was released and ran for 9 months, breaking all existing records for the movie industry. Across America, a new heightened awareness and fear of sharks was erupted. In fishing communities along the coast, something else stirred. The main character, Quint (based on real life shark fishing legend, Frank Mundus) inspired an entire young generation of shark fishermen.
Since the summer of 1975, shark fishing has gone through a fair amount of change and refinement. Back then, most of the shark fishermen wanted to be Capt. Quint, and as a result, the Penn Tackle Company sold a lot of large 12/0 and 16/0 reels. Overall, massive tackle was used – large hooks, large cable, large baits, etc. After all, that’s exactly what you need to catch a giant shark. Fortunately, reality sank in and there was a realization that most of the shark fishing to be done along the Atlantic coast was for species of sharks other than the Great White.
Thirty-five years later, shark fishing has become a standard part of the fishing season. The month of June has, for many years now, been the time when small boaters, as well as charter boats, can travel offshore and try to catch a shark.
For new boaters and those who are unfamiliar with offshore fishing, shark fishing can be an intimidating venture. Keep in mind, in the early to mid-70’s most of us had no prior experience in fishing for sharks. There were no books written about it, no Saltwater Sportsman magazine articles to show us how to do it, and no local captains to guide us. For that matter, there was no Coastal Fisherman to show us pictures of anglers with their catch and let us know where they were caught.
Today, shark fishing is mainstream. There is plenty of information on the internet, in magazine articles and “how to” books, in tackle shops and even from other fishermen who can help guide you on your first trip.
What You Will Need
The tackle end of shark fishing is relatively simple, and while the initial set-up may shock your pocketbook, it is still a relatively inexpensive offshore venture. Ideally, a boat should be equipped with three or four 30 to 50 lb. offshore outfits. Your choices are wide and varied. Most small boaters prefer a lever-drag reel with a stand-up style rod and suitable fighting belt and harness. For terminal, the following list may help:
Rig Making Material
400 or 480 lb. Dura-test cable or 300-530 lb. monofilament
1.5 to 2.8 size crimps
#12 or #15 Marlin wire
3412-C 8/0 – 10/0 hooks
7699 8/0 – 10/0 hooks
Rosco 2/0 – 4/0 ball bearing swivels
Assortment of shirts
100 to 200 lb. ball bearing snap swivels
Assortment of egg or trolling sinkers
Flying gaff with 4 to 6-inch hook
Cockpit harpoon in place of flyer (note that harpoons are not I.G.F.A. legal and may not be used in I.G.F.A. regulated tournaments)
Balloons or Corks
Pliers with a cutting edge
Mackerel, bluefish or tuna
Slick dripper for dispensing bunker oil
This is a basic list of what you will need to get started. You will certainly tweak this list as needed.
As to where and when to fish, shark fishing has changed little over the years. Around 15 years ago, there were quite a few shark fishermen who broke with the traditional 20 fathom area to fish and ventured further offshore in search of sharks. While they have had good success fishing in 50 fathoms and deeper, there are still plenty of sharks to be caught in 20 fathoms. Going further offshore does not necessarily make for a more successful trip. Keep in mind, the majority of sharks (particularly makos) have a migration that puts them off of our coast from late May through the end of June. These fish have been following the same migratory route for thousands of years. Their migration coincides with the path followed by tuna, bluefish and false albacore. So, the bottom line is to try and find the bait. It could be in 100 fathoms, but it could also be in 20 fathoms.
The area known as the Fingers is the widely accepted shark fishing hot spot. Areas along the 20 fathom to 30 fathom breaks from Chincoteague to Cape May offer excellent haunts for mako sharks. Look for structure or edges where water depth fluctuates significantly. These hills and valleys often help to congregate the bait and sharks. Keep your eyes open for life. Sometimes the presence of other marine life is a good omen for sharking. Bait on the surface or on your depth finder, birds, breaking fish, sea turtles and ocean sunfish are all good signs of life.
Temperature is critical for finding sharks. Typically, by the middle part of May when water temperatures are in the mid-50’s, the first sharkers of the year will start fishing. While the water is still on the cool side, most of the catch is made up of blue sharks and bluefish. As we approach the 3rd or 4th week in May and water temps have climbed into the 60’s, the first mako of the season is typically caught. As with any species of fish, sharks swim in water they feel most comfortable in. As a rule, 60-70 degree water temperatures are prime for mako sharks.
As of late, with the advent of sea surface temperature imaging, many captains predetermine where they will fish based on warm water eddies. Temperature breaks along the eddies have come to be just as important as depth changes. Don’t overlook them!
Once you are at the fishing grounds, the boredom and excitement begins. Most captains use frozen chum dispensed out of a chum bag or crate. Bunker oil and a slick dripper are sometimes used in combination to put out your slick. The general idea is to let the tide, current and wind be your captain. As you drift along, your chum will hopefully attract the sharks.
Placement of baits is typically in the chum line from the surface down to the bottom. The use of corks or balloons helps to suspend the baits at different depths so you cover the entire water column.
Now, it’s a waiting game. Shark fishing for me has always been an exciting fishery. Some people may say that shark fishing is 8 hours of boredom punctuated by a 1/2 hour of excitement. For me, it is peaceful and the anticipation of that first bite of the season, or of the day, is what keeps you waiting patiently. In what other fishery can a small boat get the opportunity to fish a large fish relatively close to the Inlet? If you haven’t shark fished, give it a try. There is plenty of information out there. Capt. Mark Sampson has written a great book on shark fishing and it is available at local tackle shops. Mark has pioneered the local shark fishery and runs the Ocean City Shark Tournament at the Ocean City Fishing Center each June. He typically is more than willing to spend some time and give advice to novice anglers. Elsewhere, local tackle shops and marinas can help get you started in your new endeavor.
Since “Jaws” set the wheels in motion, some things have changed. A few fads have come and gone, but shark fishing is still basically the same – a little bit of peace and boredom with quite a bit of excitement. Get out there and give it a try!
Capt. Bruce McGuigan is owner of Capt. Mac’s High Performance Tackle on Rt. 54 in Fenwick Island, DE