Fishing for Sharks

For the angler in search of big game, sharking represents the most rewarding sea fishing available in British waters. Here we describe what equipment to buy and the best tactics to use.

Since sharks grow to a size much bigger than normally caught, most anglers assume that their equipment must be scaled up and that it should be heavy and strong. Consequently, many anglers buy rods and reels suited to fight and land fish many times greater than any ever caught in this country. This imbalance in tackle is further endorsed by charter boat skippers who tend to provide overheavy tackle for the angler without his own sharking equipment.

Heavy tackle is not needed

Heavy boats rods and extremely large reels loaded with 130lb b.s. Line are well beyond the requirements of any of our sharks since none make the fantastic 400-to-600-yard-runs of marlins and tuna for which such equipment was developed. Only very long runs require such heavy lines: this is because the pressure of the water on the line during a long curving run (or its resistance as such a length is being moved through the water) would break a lighter line. Since the average angler can only produce a pull of 25lb with, say, a 7A, no angler would ever need a line much heavier than 30lb b.s. Moreover, the weight in water of any of our sharks cannot break the line, for the weight of the fish in water is only a fraction of its weight in air.

Considering the fighting qualities of the various species liable to be taken, and the weight to which they go, the following types of tackle are recommended so that each would allow the fish to give the best sport: blue shark—30 lb-class tackle;

BASIC SHARKING RIG porbeagle—50 lb-class tackle; mako, thresher and large porbeagle—80 lb-class rod and reel. Each one of these tackle classes can be reduced to a lower one with increasing experience in catching shark.

The terminal tackle, because of the size of baits used and the size of sharks’ mouths, should consist of large 60 to 100 good-quality hooks, attached to a biting length of 2 to 2.5mm diameter braided wire, because a shark’s teeth are liable to cut through anything else. The biting length, 2 to 3ft long, should be attached to a further 10ft of slightly thinner, similar wire or long-liner’s monofilament nylon to withstand the abrasive action of the shark’s skin.


Bait in shark fishing consists of whole fish used either singly if the fish is large, or in number if they are small. The favourite bait is mackerel which as a shoal fish probably represents the commonest natural food of sharks. However, any other species may be used and many sharks have been taken on pouting or pollack. Various methods of mounting the bait are used with the head or tail pointing up the trace. Each method should ensure that the bait does not come off when first taken, for sharks rarely swallow the bait at once. Natural presentation is not essential, for the movement of the bait should give off the erratic vibrations of an injured or sick fish.

The off-the-bottom rule

Since sharks are usually mid-water or surface fish, the bait should be fished off the bottom. This is achieved by attaching a float, either a balloon or square of polystyrene, to the line once the depth set for the bait has been reached. The float should always be as small as possible so as not to produce resistance once the bait is taken. This off-the-bottom rule on bait presentation is not absolute, for many sharks are taken with the bait on the bottom fished as a flowing trace.

The method of fishing depends very much on the area, the wind and tides, and both drifting and fishing at anchor are successful. In each case, the use of rubby-dubby is almost essential, especially if blue shark are sought. Any shark swimming through its trail of fine particles will follow them to source and find the bait. The presence of the fine, oily particles of food prompts the shark into feeding.