The tope belongs to the same family as blue sharks and the notorious man-eating tiger sharks. Like all sharks, a tope is a powerful fish, capable of swimming at high speeds. Its body is a streamlined, blue-grey (sometimes sandy grey) mass of cartilage and muscle. The tail is deeply forked, and the front dorsal fin and pectoral fins are large, helping it to manoeuvre tight angles easily.
Sand and rock resident
Many anglers believe that tope live mostly over sand in the summer months; this isn’t entirely true. Though sand and gravel are good places to look for tope, boulders and even very rough ground (where there are rocky reefs or large sand bars) receive attention from the sharks. The prey they hunt plays an important role in where you find tope.
Tope are reputed to be a solitary fish -and this is in fact the case most of the time. What can appear to be a shoal is probably little more than a loose pack of fish over a favoured feeding area – though in a few places, such as the Lancashire coast and parts of the Hampshire coast, anglers see vast numbers of tope inshore together. In most areas, however, the shark is solitary.
Follow the feeding
Efficient hunting and killing machines with a superb sense of smell and rows of serrated teeth, tope take a back seat only to porbeagle sharks as ambush artists. Tope prey mainly on whiting, mackerel and pouting. Crabs, eels and small flatfish such as flounder and dabs are also part of a tope’s diet. Along parts of the Cumbrian coast big tope are regularly taken over rocky ground on large peeler crabs. On the east coast anglers use eel sections, also an effective bait.
The key to successful tope fishing is plenty of rubby dubby and ultra fresh hook bait.
Sharks reproduce in a variety of ways. Some lay cased eggs while others – like the tope – bear live pups. The gestation period of tope pups is about ten months to a year. Mature female tope move inshore in early summer and give birth to about 20 pups in shallow water. The small fish – about 15in (38cm) long – form schools and remain in shallow water, feeding on small crustaceans, fish and worms.
Handle with care
Tope need to be handled gently. Without the support of the sea to help contain the weight of the vital organs within the body cavity, small blood vessels can rupture. Badly treated fish can bleed to death. Only the best fish should be brought carefully into the boat for weighing on a scale fitted with a cradle (something which is similar to the scale used by carp anglers).