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MONSTER HUNTING: TWELVE BIG SHARK TACTICS

When a shark strikes, pandemonium ensues. Here's how to make it happen more often.
By Zach Harvey
Tags: offshore

Sharking fishing is a mix of incredible tedium and incredible anticipation followed by either more tedium or by heart-pounding excitement. Sharking’s single greatest challenge is to manage the tedium—to make a total, split-second shift from watching a small fleet of bright-colored bobbing balloons, to grabbing a rod, feverishly dumping it into free-spool and quickly cranking down and setting the hook hard enough with two or three violent full-body snaps that would break any lesser fish’s neck. Pandemonium ensues. After hours that looked dodgy, life gets no better.

This writing, based on input I’ve gathered from dozens of sharp sharkmen over dozens of years, will lay out solid nuggets of toothy-critter wisdom that might put you in contact with that massive mako or thresher.

1. ALLOCATING YOUR BUDGET
A common newcomer mistake is putting a priority on the color of their reels. If money’s tight, try to borrow a couple 30- and 50-pound-class stand-up setups. You might even want to track down an 80 to hold the ten-pound live bluefish.

Instead of a single bucket of bunker chum, think two (or more), and buy copious amounts of the freshest jumbo mackerel and squid available; also, you’ll want a Gatorade or squeeze-type water bottle, a family-size jug of bunker oil, a tub or two of one of the many shark potions around and perhaps some craft glitter. Point is, you’ll want good hook baits and an awesome chum slick more than you’ll want $10,000 worth of rods and reels. You’ll also need to half a 55-gallon drum to contain your chum concoction, and maybe a lanyard to hold a couple of hanging baits for added attraction. A subscription to a good sea-surface-temperature (SST) service like Roffers or Oceantemp.com isn’t a bad idea, either.

2. STAGGER YOUR SPREAD
Most shark specialists favor a four- or five-rod spread. The nearest bait—sometimes called the shotgun—fished on the reel with least line capacity, might go 20 feet below the nearest balloon and ten feet off the upwind side. The next bait, set 40 or 50 feet down with the help of an appropriate-size bank sinker attached just above the steel leader via a sturdy rubber band, might go 50 feet outside the first balloon. A third bait goes another 50 to 100 feet outside bait number two and is set down about 80 feet.

"Ladling the chum continuously maintains an even flow to the slick, and keeps at least one guy’s head engaged when the collective thousand-yard 2 p.m. stare sets in."
If your depthsounder is showing a thermocline, it won’t hurt to put a bait at or slightly above it. The outermost bait should be your live bluefish, skipjack or bonito. Livie may have a tendency to foul the other baits, so set it first, and send it way out. Fish at least one bluefish fillet, maybe dressed with a teaser, skirt, or other bit of semi-subtle flash. Set at least one whole or plugged mackerel bait, and if you can find anything of a tunoid persuasion, set out a strip of that, too.

3. LOOK FOR TUNOIDS
Big makos, threshers, tigers, hammerheads, duskies and more are known to hang with schools of skipjack tuna (mushies), bonito, false albacore, small yellowfin and bluefin tuna. If you spot any of this stuff, some other bait, birds, etc., you may have found monster-shark mecca.

4. DO YOUR CHARTWORK
Before your hunt, cross-reference the most up-to-date SST with a chart, and look for areas where temperature breaks coincide with fishy structures—ledges, gullies, ridges, wrecks or rockpiles—between 30 and 50 fathoms. There’s no magical temp guideline, but if you can find a slug of 67- or 68-degree water riding up against 63 or 65, you may have a winner. Many mako specialists I’ve consulted favor temps between 66 and 73 degrees. That said, you’re looking for clean, clear, blue water, not snot-colored, wind-mixed soup, so in your quest for the perfect temp break, don’t forget that big sharks can tolerate cooler water and the bait and the quality of the water will often trump a three-degree edge. You’re looking for fish, not for water.


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