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Go light to increase thrills while still winning most of the battles.
By Kevin Falvey
Tags: offshore

I know I'm going to get slammed by some of you for writing this bit, if not for being impractical, then for being hypocritical.

Most times, I never fish shark with less than 30-pound class tackle, and that's on the short rod and pitch baits. Fifty-pound tackle is the gold standard in my slick, insurance against a big mako or thresher, or even just to minimize the time spent getting line back from a Boeing blue shark.

But the fact remains that most of the fish most of us will catch most of the time while plying the inshore waters out to 30-fathoms are easily bested by such stout gear. Lighter tackle is easier to handle, cheaper to buy and allows a pup mako or 80-pound blue shark to give a good showing of itself. That's one reason I use the light stuff.

A second reason is that I find myself fishing more and more with kids, with women and with anglers with – let’s be polite - "more life experience." Crews in these categories have an easier time handling lighter weight gear.

Third, I have become fond of sight fishing for shark, a technique first shown to me by sharkers on the West Coast. While California mako maniacs are renown for trolling for shark, they also drift and chum. But unlike most of us here in the Northeast, they don’t put any hook baits into the water. Instead, they let the bag do the work to bring the fish close to the boat, then pitch a fresh bait to the fish when they show themselves. The modus operandi is to have a variety of outfits at hand, and, upon seeing the shark, baiting her with tackle appropriate to her estimated size. The technique is based on the theory that without baits or chunks in the slick you'll get no shark hanging back and deep. It works, though your chances at a thresher are limited since they like to stay deep most of the time, and I am not prepared to say at this time whether its more or less effective than traditional bait-chum-chunking shark fishing. But it is fun, provides a backup plan for those slow days, and is also well-suited to the half-day, spur-of-the-moment trips to 20 fathoms, where you just grab a can of chum and a few baits while skating from work early. Of course for me, as long as I take a few pictures, it is work, so no harm done!

So these are reasons to consider light tackle sharking. Lets explore the subject in more detail starting with a definition of "light."


"Mr Mako's favorite first run trick is to charge the boat and use the slack that develops to shake free. Don't let it happen."
There are a variety of lightweight, almost palm-sized reels available today capable of applying enough drag, and possessing enough line capacity to handle the long, strong run of an apex predator. At the "heavy" end of light tackle are reels like Penn's 16 VSX or Shimano's Tiagra 16. These are two speed reels, with machined aluminum frames, lever drags and a wide range of drag settings. Spool up with 30- pound mono or 80-pound braid, and you'll have plenty of line capacity while still retaining a wide enough drag range to ensure free-spool.

Even lighter reels suited to tangling with sharks include Daiwa's Saltist, Shimano's Tallica Series, and Okuma's Makaira reels, with two speeds, a lever drag and line capacity exceeding 300 yards with 40-lb mono and more than 500 yards of 80-pound braid. In case you’re not counting, 500 yards is more than a quarter mile of line.

At the lightest end of light tackle are star drag, single speed conventional reels in size 4/0. You can use spinning tackle as well, though I prefer conventional reels for sharking for their better line control and free spool ability. You need to feed a shark, letting her run with the bait before setting the hook. That said, there are spinning reels that allow a fish to run with the bait and have the gearing and drag to stand up to an apex predator. I use them successfully for live-baiting stripers all the time, but since I don't use them for sharking personally, I can’t recommend any with confidence.

Bottom line on reels: look for 200-yards capacity of 60-lb braid plus 25 yards of 80-pound mono shock leader and the ability to apply 20-lbs of drag. (80# is overkill for this tackle on a strength basis--you cant pull that much drag; but you want the abrasion resistance.) You want true free-spool and a loud clicker. Your tackle man is the best source for this info if you are at all unsure.

You'll want to match your reel to a fast-taper rod about six feet in length, with ring guides. Rings are less maintenance than rollers, and as long as you make sure the guides are made to stand up to braided line, that's what I suggest. An outfit like this makes it easy to cast a bait to a shark patrolling near your boat, but no so close that she's eating the chum out of the bag. Your local tackle dealer is the best source of matching a rod to a reel, but you can buy good quality off the rack rods for this purpose. Some examples for reference include the Ocean Tackle OTI 400 G3 or Shimano Trevall F series rods in MH or H. Many of these are labeled as the "jigging" category, but will serve well in sharking and will stand up to long, prolonged battles and beat the fish, without beating you up in the process.

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