Shark Angling Techniques

Although it is no longer the preserve of the rich alone, sharking will never be cheap—nothing but the strongest, best quality tackle will help you in a fight with a specimen shark Kevin Linnane writes:

Shark angling has been a popular, though elitist, sport on the West and South Coasts of Ireland since the mid-1920s. Wealthy British anglers used to fish Bally cotton in Co Cork for the blue shark, and Achill Island, on the West Coast, for porbeagle. At Achill, Lord Sligo took many porbeagle of up to 300lb and Dr O’Donnell Brown landed one of 365lb (a European record which stood for many decades) from an 18ft punt transported to Achill specially for the purpose. He even brought his own mechanic to look after the outboard.

Nowadays, however, Irish sharking is available to more people in more places. The entire South Coast is good blue shark water. Charter boats can be taken out from Dungar-van, Cobh, Cork Harbour, Kinsale and Courtmacsherry. The occasional porbeagle and six-gilled shark are also taken along this coast.

In the West, porbeagle predomin-ate on the Clare coast and in Galway Bay, while blues are most common off Cahersiveen, Clifden and Killala Bay. Although the Irish porbeagle record still stands at 365 lb, much larger fish have been encountered.

The greatest problem on the West Coast is the availability of boats. Some areas, particularly in the South-West, have tremendous potential but have never been fished. Exciting angling can be expected by the first people to fish them.

The traditional approach to shark angling is float fishing on the drift with mackerel bait on a 12-15ft steel trace. Rubby dubby is used to attract the sharks. Many thousands of fine fish have been landed with this method but, during the past few years, new techniques, equipment and a new respect for the fish, have revolutionized the sport.

The most exciting technique has been that introduced by Jack Shine. Jack loves porbeagle fishing but dislikes boats, so he started shore fishing for shark off the rocks in Co Clare. This is a highly specialized form of sharking and requires endless patience, but Jack proved it could be done and landed many fine fish, weighing up to 145lb. The Clare coast has always held a good stock of smallish porbeagle and Jack knew they often came close inshore. He chose five locations on a 40-mile stretch of coast where mackerel were plentiful, and landed porbeagle.

Specimen sizes

Four species of shark are sought in British waters, the blue shark being the most popular. Specimen sizes are as follows: blue 100 lb, porbeagle 150 lb, thresher 120 lb, mako 200lb.


Blue—30 lb-class Porbeagle—50 lb-class Mako, thresher and large porbeagle—80 lb-class 12ft glassfibre beachcaster (6lb test curve) for shore


To match above for boat use; Q 1/2 U1 side-cast for shore; multiplier for trolling Line 30lb b.s. Nylon with 2-2.5mm wire biting length of 2-3ft and 10ft wire or nylon; 3 1lb nylon and 10ft wire trace for shore


Mackerel or pollack from all five. No doubt other parts of Britain would also be suitable-North Cornwall is an obvious area. For shore sharking, Jack’s tackle comprises an ordinary 12ft glassfibre beachcaster with a 6lb test curve, and a 6 1/2 U1 Alvey side-cast reel loaded with 400 yards of 3lib b.s. Monofilament. The 12ft rod limits you to a 10ft wire trace but means you can cast half a mackerel about 75 yards.

Distance gaffing

Hooking and playing a porbeagle from the rocks is difficult, but landing it is even trickier. Jack’s answer is graded sewer rods. Lash a gaff head to a thin sewer rod, add progressively thicker rods to pro-duce the length required, and you have an easily portable, extendable gaff. Four sewer rods make a 12ft gaff which is surprisingly easy to use and well worth the time to make.

In the course of his experiments, Jack found that retrieving the bait slowly through the water was more successful than leaving it suspended on a small float. This, plus the fact that porbeagle have larger eyes than blues, led me to the conclusion that they rely more on their eyesight than on their sense of smell to locate food. So, Leslie Moncrieff, Mike Prichard and I evolved an effective way of trolling for porbeagle.

The idea is simple—a mackerel or pollack is towed 50-80 yards behind a boat at 2-3 knots. To be effective, however, the bait must be presented properly and not allowed to spin. To achieve this, I use an 80 or 100 hook on a 12-15ft trace. This is attached to 50-112lb b.s. Line, used on a 60 to 90 multiplier and a heavy boat rod.

The trace is made up of 9-12ft of heavy-duty longliner’s monofilament attached to a 3ft ‘biting length’ of 275lb cable laid wire such as Duratest 49-strand. (An all-steel trace is not necessary because only the bottom few feet prevent the shark biting through the line, the rest merely prevents breakage by abrasion from the shark’s rough body.) Size 60 swivels are used to join the main line to the trace and to join the wire and monofilament. About 10in above the hook, 3in of light copper or stainless steel wire is crimped on. This is used for tying on the bait.

The bait is filleted from the tail up to the back of the head. The hook is then passed from the mouth, through the oesophagus, and left hanging freely between the two fillets. The mouth is then tied shut with the wire to prevent the bait sliding down on the hook. This rig tows very realistically.

Hooking a fish on the troll can be very difficult. Often the shark snaps at the bait, holds it a while, and then drops it. If this happens, it is best to stop the boat immediately and let the bait drop back on a free clutch. The porbeagle will usually strike again as the bait sinks. ‘Teasers’ are often used with considerable success. A line of six to eight mackerel, tied on without hooks, is towed on the surface between the boat and the baits. The noise created by this string of fish slapping and banging along the surface attracts the porbeagle. Then, as soon as a shark appears, the teasers are hauled in. If they are not, the shark may take the teasers but leave the hookbait alone.

Trolling and the use of teasers has many advantages over the usual rubby dubby system. Gone are the days of obnoxious smells and queasy stomachs, and a half dozen mackerel are enough for a day—an important factor in these days of declining mackerel stocks. Even so, m s rubby dubby and float tackle are still best for blue shark.

A few years ago it was accepted practice to kill all shark. Few, if any, fish were released alive. In recent years, however, most of the shark caught on the more important charter boats off the Irish coast have been released.

This tremendous change in atti-tude is the result of an investigation by the Irish Inland Fisheries Trust into the natural history of the blue shark. This body recruited the more reliable charter boat skippers on the South and West Coasts to tag and release captured blues to establish their migration patterns. The skip-pers co-operated enthusiastically and by October 1978 there were nearly 3,000 tagged blues. Recap-tures are occurring all over the North Atlantic, but it will take years to build up a complete picture.

The ‘put-’em-backalive’ concept has changed blue-shark traces. When a shark is hooked in the mouth, the hook is easy to remove, but if it is hooked deeper, the trace must be cut if the fish is to be returned alive. This means that the fish has to contend with wire in its gullet and a valuable trace is lost.

To overcome this problem, crimp another heavy-duty swivel on to the trace instead of the hook. Then crimp on an additional 3ft of wire, pass it through the eye of the hook back to the swivel, and crimp again. The hook is now attached by an 18in loop which, when cut at one end, slides straight out, leaving just the hook in the fish. It will shed this in due course.

As well as saving the lives of many valuable fish, the IFT tagging experiment also revealed a correlation between water temperature and the number of the blue shark caught. At sea temperatures between 13°C and 13.5°C, an average of 1.3 shark were caught each day; between 14°C and 14.5°C, there were 7; between 15 °C and 15.5°C, 21.3, and between 16°C and 16.5°C, 21.8. If the water is below 14°C, it is simply not worth fishing for blues.

The most commonly caught British shark is the blue. It is the easiest to locate, hook and land. Nevertheless, it is a poor relation to the porbeagle, thresher and make Of these, only the porbeagle is commonly fished for with specialized techniques.

The blue shark is a warm water species, and most captured in British waters come from the South Coast. Few have been taken in Scottish waters, but this may be because few fish for them there.

Warm enough for blues

The North Atlantic Drift ensures that water temperatures are relatively high along the North and West Coasts of Scotland. Since blues, in particular, inhabit deep water well offshore, with drifts between headlands being exceptionally productive, boats working farther out off the Welsh coast, the Scottish Solway coast, the mouth of the Clyde and between the many West Coast islands and the Scottish mainland could catch far more blues than at present. Certainly, long-liners and lobstermen working off Caithness have been troubled by ‘packs of blue-backed shark, 6-9ft long.’ And handliners off Dunnet Head have had cod snatched from their feathers by ‘blue-coloured shark lying underneath the boat.’

Blues have even been recorded in Orkney and on the East Coast. Ron Harper, a Scottish angler, had a large blue shark circle his boat for some minutes while fishing in the Firth of Forth out from Dunbar.

Thresher sharks deserve more attention from anglers than they get at present. Numerous sightings of these superb fighting fish are reported every year around Britain, but relatively few have been landed.

The waters around the Isle of Wight, pioneered for porbeagle by Trevor Housby and others, seem a good area for big threshers. It was here that Jim Aris broke the record with a fish of 295lb while fishing from the Gosport-based boat Shark Hunter in 1978. The threshers ap-pear to prefer sandy ground and they come close inshore, unlike the blues.

Many threshers have been spotted in the Solway Firth off the Kirkcudbright shoreline, which is a mass of sandbanks, shallows and fast tides. Other fish have been seen off Ayrshire, and it would not be surprising to find them in the Clyde.

Although traditional float-fished baits, such as mackerel, should take threshers, the specialist using a ledgered bait on the bottom, or a flowing trace over sandy ground could meet with success. Threshers can also be caught with the trolling techniques, pioneered by Mike Prichard, Leslie Moncrieff and Kevin Linnane, which have proved very successful with porbeagle. In particular, ‘teasers’ should be rewar-ding. Shoal baits—several small fish strung on multi-hook tackle—are rarely used in Britain, but there is no doubt that they too can be an effective method for big shark.

Solitary makos

All the makos hooked in British waters have come from the South, and the West Country seems best for them. They are loners, and have often turned up unexpectedly when few other sharks were about. While they undoubtedly feed on the sur-face, they also have a preference for rough ground, and have been found with conger eels in their stomachs. At times they have been hooked relatively close to land. As well as float-fished baits, specialist tactics used for threshers or porbeagles should also be considered.

The waters around the Isle of Wight and North Cornwall are pro-bably Britain’s best known areas for porbeagle shark fishing. Nevertheless, fish in both areas have been conspicuously absent at times, and are well known for their roaming. I have often fi ‘hed for them in one area and had a bonanza, but returning to the same spot the following day didn’t get a single run.

This was not always because the previous day’s fish had all been killed. However, despite assurances that the small numbers of fish killed by anglers do not adversely affect stocks, there is already plenty of evidence with skate and bass, other slow-growing species, that overfishing, both by anglers and commercial concerns, can dangerously reduce stocks. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to conserve sharks as much as possible. If you want sport in future years, release as many as possible unharmed.

When Jorge Potier landed his world-record breaking porbeagle (465 lb) at Padstow, Cornwall, on July 23 1976, marine biologists saw fish of that size as a rarity—’a record that may never be beaten’. Shetland porbeagle are noted for their weight, however, and I feel that the record will be broken soon. In 1976, Peter White took a 404lb porbeagle off 4-

Sumburgh Head in the Shetlands, to shatter Dietrich Burkel’s Scottish record and put Scotland firmly on the porbeagle map. And although William (Derrick) Runnalls took a 458lb monster off Padstow in 1976, 1978 has to be Scotland’s year. On one day in August, Eric Manson’s boat Sulla took four huge porbeagle, including two over 400lb. Peter White matched his previous best of 404 lb, while Lee Phillips caught a 450lb fish, which, unfortunately, was foul-hooked and so is unlikely to be accepted as the Scottish record. Nevertheless, this was one of the most successful porbeagle trips ever. The biggest shark I ever hooked, estimated at over 300 lb, fell to a mackerel bait after it had first taken a lesser spotted dogfish which I had hooked on the bottom. The shark came near to the boat three times, but each time dived away and was finally lost when the line frayed on the anchor of another boat. Dogfish is hardly a typical shark bait, yet of all the big shark taken by Sulla, only one had anything in its stomach, and that was a dogfish.

The rewards of innovation

To be successful with sharks, I believe a thorough rethinking of tactics is necessary. Not only did my big shark take an unusual bait, it was also hooked in an unusual area—a noted thornback mark away from tide-race or reef. There are plenty of stories of bottom-anglers hooking fish which they could not stop, and my guess is that many of these fish are porbeagle. Some of the ‘halibut’ which have broken free in the north of Scotland have probably been large porbeagle too. In the initial stages of the fight, halibut swim to the surface to investigate; hardly the sort of reaction which smashes line on the bottom.

I am certain that large shark —porbeagle in particular—can be located in shallow inshore water, as often as not close to the bottom. Although most fish have been caught on float-fished mackerel in deepish water, specimens are to be expected from reefs and soft ground inshore. There they can feed on pollack, ling, conger, dogfish, flat-fish and ray. Why chase fast-moving mackerel shoals when there is such rich feeding elsewhere?

Lighten the load

Most shark anglers also fish with too heavy tackle. Even 80lb b.s. Is too heavy. Instead, choose a large reel carrying at least 400 yards of 50lb line. No angler can break 50lb line against a fish, but a big shark can snap even 80lb line at the knot if it runs you out of line. A big shark will often pick up a bait and not stop. With not enough line, panic sets in even before you can strike. But with a minimum of 400 yards, you could land a record-breaker. | Mike Shepley’s spotlight “ Inside Scapa Flow there is an area of 1 ground off the rocky cliffs of Hoy. Within a hundred yards of the shore, the seabed slopes down gently to a smooth mud and sand bottom in ten fathoms of water. Nearby is the Island of Graemsay, and between Graemsay and the Orkney mainland port of Stromness is a tide-race which runs in from St John’s Head and the Pentland Firth. The tide-race curls round the back of Graemsay and on to Scapa in a huge eddy.

Hoy would not be considered a good shark area by most anglers, but I have hooked a huge porbeagle there. Although this fish was lost after a long fight, other (or the same) huge shark have been contacted in several incidents since. Moreover, longliners have often had their set lines torn to pieces by sharks along the seaward side of the Orkney mainland and outside Hoy.

The famous cod mark at Dungeness is known affectionately as the ‘Dustbin’. It is an eddying cauldron where natural food is available for the smaller fish, which in turn attract larger predators. Here in Scapa is a similar situation: plenty of tide nearby, a natural eddy full of fish, and deep water not too far away, with plenty of reefs containing pollack, coalfish, ling, dogfish and small conger. Judging by the large average size of northern porbeagle, 400lb fish are a real possibility for hardy anglers.