Tope Fishing Strategies

Though numbers are declining, the tope’s habitat, its inshore migration to reproduce, and its willingness to chase a variety of foods, makes it an attractive prey for anglers.

The tope (Galeorhinus galeus) is a member of the shark family with a world-wide distribution. As a sea angling species, the tope fights better than most of the sharks that anglers fishing British waters can expect to catch.

Identification of the tope is quite simple. The body is sleek, generally brownish-grey on the back and upper sides, paling to a clean white belly with no other variations of colour. The tail is probably the most distinc-tive feature for the angler. It is notched quite deeply and there is no in-dentation or pit at the base of the upper lobe of the tail. The teeth are relatively small, conical in shape, and extremely sharp with serrated cutting edges. The eyes have a membrane over the surface of the cornea, similar to the third eyelid that one finds in birds, that can be drawn across the eyeball. There are five small gill slits positioned just clear of the leading edge of the pectoral fins. Male and female fish can be readily distinguished by their fins. The anal fins in the male fish are accompanied by elongated, hooked, fleshy appendages called ‘claspers’.

The tope found in the North Atlantic are normally between 15-45 lb, sometimes exceeding 60lb. The British Record (rod-caught) is a magnificent tope of 74lb lloz taken in 1964 by Ack Harries off Caldy Island, South Wales.

The larger tope that visit British shores are almost always females, and certainly in the summer months one can expect to hook a female from the shore because at that time the pregnant females come close-in to give birth to their pups.

Miniature ‘replica’

Unlike most of the small ground sharks, which ‘lay’ purses containing the embryo young, the tope is a live-bearer. An average-sized female tope can produce as many as 50 miniature replicas of herself.

Tope differ from the pelagic (living or feeding at or near the surface) sharks by being almost totally bottom-dwelling. It is rare to find the tope in the upper layers of the sea although the fish will venture into shallow water—sometimes hardly deep enough to cover the fish.

Under normal conditions the tope will frequent the sandy bottom of waters from the shore out to the Continental Shelf. In places such as the Wash and the Thames Estuary tope feed on the immature flatfish that form the bulk of resident fish. At those times when fishing is slow on the bass storm beaches, particularly in the late evening, tope venture into the extreme shallows.

Tope Galeorhinus galeus

But there must be no more than a trickle of surf. They probably move in to seek out the flounders that also dwell on the bass beaches.

Not all of the tope’s food is fish, for they take crabs and other crustaceans. The size of the meal does not appear to play an important part in the fishs hunting strategy because they will chase quite small fish; even an angler’s mackerel feathers can be greedily attacked. Fish such as the tope and blue shark hunt in a pack, and the individual fish has to grab what it can. Only when cruising over open ground will these fish take a bait in a gentle, selective manner.

There are a number of tope hot-spots that are favoured by sea anglers. Luce Bay, in the south of Scotland has come up with some fantastic tope. Alistair Gilmour, from Dromore, landed a fish of over 60lb which entered the Scottish record list. In Ireland, there is Tralee Bay in the area around Fenit Pier, which has produced many fine tope. There are plenty of fish—not huge by Caldy standards—in the south-west and farther up the coast there are numerous tope grounds.