The big challenge of sharking around Britain

Although British waters don’t produce exotic big game species, they are fairly rich in sharks. There are four sporting sharks to aim at, not counting the monstrous, but plankton-eating, basking shark.

Far less common are threshers and makos. Threshers are leaping, long-tailed sharks, found all round Britain, but most often seen and caught off Hampshire and Dorset. Makos were much more frequent visitors to British waters in the 1950s and 60s, most often taken off the southern coast of Cornwall. These magnificent jumping fish are the target of every dedicated shark angler in Britain.

catching Mako sharks in Britain

Makos are perhaps the roughest, toughest shark to stray with any regularity into British waters. This highly aggressive fish is a proven man-eater in other waters and one of the most exciting catches around Britain.

British blue shark

The skipper prepares to gaff aboard a larger-than-average British blue shark of around 95lb (43kg). Medium to large sharks rupture internally once out of water, so only gaff fish if you’re going to kill them.

flying gaffs and tailers for shark fishing

For sharking, flying gaffs and tailers are essential. A frenzied shark can shake the handle of a fixed device out of your grip, but with a flying gaff or tailer the handle detaches, leaving you still in contact with the fish by means of a rope.

ready-made sharking traces

Most ready-made sharking traces use plain or plastic-coated (below) multi-strand wire and are often too short. Try to avoid these – they can fray on a shark’s teeth. Trevor recommends you use single strand trolling wire to make up your own traces instead.

sharking equipment

This 50lb (23kg) class outfit is ideal for porbeagles, makos and threshers, though it is a bit heavy for the average blue shark.

The rod (1) is the Shimano Twin Power 763050R, with a roller tip and takes a gimbal (b). Check that the rod can take one of these by seeing whether the cap at the end (c) comes off. The reel (2) is a TLD25 loaded with 50lb (23kg) line. It has lugs at the top to take the clips on a shoulder harness. This butt pad has a gimbal bar which prevents the rod slipping out. The crimps (3) and heavy nylon (4) make up the 3.7m (12ft) rubbing leader. The Seamaster hooks (5) are ideal for sharking.

sharking mistakes

If you aren’t careful, you can get in a dreadful tangle – as they seem to have done here. A wire trace, tangled round 50lb (23kg) line, can quickly saw through it.

Baits for sharking

A tasty mackerel duo on a 10/0 Seamaster hook (left) is ideal for most medium-sized sharks, though it is a bit big for small blues. You might have to scale up to three mackerel (right) or even more for a monster thresher, or if the mackerel are small.

small blue shark

Tailing a small blue. Conservation of shark stocks is possibly even more important than for other species because sharks produce very few offspring. Tailing is a good way to land small sharks without harming them.

Where to go sharking

Shark fishing is, perhaps surprisingly, within range of most British anglers.
Blues and makos Looe, Mevagissey and Falmouth in Cornwall are good places for blue sharks, and possibly makos too. Kinsale and Courtmacsherry are the Irish blue shark ports.
Porbeagles are found off Wick in Scotland, Lymington, and Keyhaven in Hampshire and Bembridge on the Isle Of Wight.
Bude in north Cornwall and Appledore in north Devon are also good porbeagle ports. The North Sea off the coast of Yorkshire may also turn out to hold decent stocks of porbeagle sharks.
Threshers can be taken from ports in all these main areas.

In case you thought there were no monsters off British coasts, there have been several huge threshers to 800lb (363kg) caught in nets. In the summer of 1991 a thresher hooked off the Isle of Wight fought for an unbelievable five hours.

If a tackle defect exists, the weight and power of a fish like that soon pinpoints the problem. At the end of five hours this shark was still strong enough to break an 80lb (36kg) rod built by a major tackle company.

The fault no doubt lay with the exhausted angler. After five brutal hours, he couldn’t believe the fish could take off on another run. Instead of easing up, he clamped down in a last-ditch effort to stop the fish. The inevitable breakage occurred, and the fish of a lifetime was gone. Make sure you check all your gear thoroughly.

bait marker balloon for sharking
The bait marker balloon rushes past as a porbeagle takes a fancy to his mackerel off the Isle of Wight. With a heavy fish a harness as well as a butt pad can help by spreading the strain.

Basic Rig For Sharking

basic rig for sharking

This rig is one which will catch you sharks all over the world. Replace the balloon and stop knot with a drilled bullet to freeline a bait at depth. However, this is not recommended for beginners. A balloon tells you where your bait is, helping you avoid tangled lines.

Tackling a shark

The gear you need for sharking is mostly pretty simple. The skill lies in finding the fish, knowing when to hit a run, and playing them out, rather than in complicated variations on bait presentation.

With the possible exception of the Scottish coastline, sharking around Britain is a summer-only occupation. As yet, it is also mainly a sport of the south and west. This tends to make sharking a holiday adventure, rather than a regular occurrence, for most anglers.

This is something you should consider carefully before you splash out on an outfit you’re going to use only a couple of times a year. Hiring, or using the gear provided by the skipper, are good alternatives. If you still want to buy your own gear, consider where you want to fish, the likely size of your quarry, and whether you want to fish light or heavy.

Blue shark is the main target off the Atlantic coasts of southern England and Ireland. A monster British blue weighs up to 150-200lb (68-91kg), but most are in the 30-50lb (14-23kg) range – no bigger than the average tope.

A 30lb (14kg) class rod, with a medium-sized boat reel, such as a Shimano TLD20 or a Perm Senator 6/0, is a pefectly adequate outfit for this. More importantly, the same rod and reel are good for tope and general bottom fishing.

Porbeagle and thresher shark are rather different propositions. Both commonly reach weights of over 250lb (113kg) and both can top 450lb (204kg). While a big blue can show speed and stamina, the average fish in British waters is a sluggish performer. The same cannot be said for threshers and porbeagles.

You can certainly take both species on 30lb (14kg) gear, but most experienced anglers prefer a 50-80lb (23-36kg) class rod, matched with a decent-sized big game or a big general boat reel, such as the Penn Senator 9/0, or the Shimano TLD25 and Beastmaster 50/80.

A strong metal spool is essential, as is a smooth drag – sharks can run a long way. A lever drag is very useful under these cir-cumstances, as you can preset it and they are very smooth.

The Shimanos are more expensive but you get what you pay for. Where big shark are concerned, only the best will do. Aheavy fish well hooked but with a pressing engagement in South America is no respecter of inferior tackle.

Snappers and benders

Many boat rods aren’t as good as they look in the tackle shop. They may have defects which don’t appear until they are under stress. Nevertheless, there are a few clues to watch out for.

Some manufacturers use alloy tube inserts to stiffen the lower butt section. However, they bend under heavy pressure, leaving you with a banana instead of a fishing rod. The alloy also tends to corrode when in contact with sea water.

A metal collar at the top of the hand grip is also something to avoid. When the rod bends, this collar has no give – so a great deal of pressure builds up at this point, which can snap the rod.

Good quality rods come with good quality fittings, so check them carefully. Roller rings are pleasant to use but not essential. On rods under 50lb (23kg) they can be too heavy, ruining the action. The best rollers are made by the American company Aftco.

The business end

On top of a rod and reel suitable for your target shark, you need some terminal tackle – some already made up into traces and a few accessories. A butt pad, with a gimbal bar if your rod is fitted to take one, is essential, while a shoulder harness is very useful, particularly for bigger shark.

Rigs are not complicated but they must be strong. A 3.7m (12ft) long rubbing leader of 400-500lb (181-227kg) longliner’s nylon protects the line from the shark’s skin if it rolls on the trace. A 1.2m (4ft) wire trace of 300lb (136kg) b.s. single strand trolling wire deals with the teeth. The nylon is joined to the wire by a big game snap link, so you can change trace quickly.

Big hooks – sizes 10/0-12/0 – aren’t as sharp as smaller ones, so make sure you keep them sharp. Avoid stainless steel hooks – they take a long time to rust should you break off. Mustad Seamaster hooks are plated with cadmium and tin to provide some corrosion protection, but they won’t stay with a fish for life.

Shark practices

Most sharks are taken drift fishing with baits set at staggered depths. Blues and porbeagles usually take baits at 6-15m (20-50ft), makos come at any depth and threshers generally fall to deep-set baits.

Suspend the baits beneath a partially inflated balloon, which acts as a bite indicator and, more importantly, a bait support.

Bags of rubby dubby (minced fish, oil and bran) hang over the side of the boat to create a smell lane. The constant stream of mashed fish particles can bring the sharks in from miles away.

Bait is single or multiple whole fish, depending on the size of shark you’re after and the size of the bait fish. In the south, porbeagles chase mackerel shoals, so a mackerel on the hook takes most of the fish. Off the north of Scotland, porbeagles hunt codling and coalies, so a live fish of either species usually does the trick.