The Gulf of Maine offers great summertime sharking opportunities.
The frozen bait bucket slowly bobbed in the water seeping small flakes of bait into the current. The slick of bait running off in the tide is the invitation to resident predators that lunch has been served.
I cut my teeth fishing the offshore waters off the coast of southern New England from my early teens into adulthood. I spent thousands and thousands of hours targeting giant tuna, searching the waters south of the Vineyard and Nantucket for swordfish and trolling the canyons from the Hudson to Hydrographers in search of marlin, tuna or whatever other exotic species we could catch. It was my passion. I ate, drank and slept it. In 1990 I moved from Rhode Island to Kennebunkport, Maine and refocused my efforts to inshore fishing for striped bass. It was a great change of pace and still a challenging target, especially on light tackle. I used to tell my all my friends it was great to get up early go fishing and still be back in time for a late breakfast or early lunch. Offshore fishing however always remained in my DNA. Every year I still find myself drifting along the near offshore grounds of Gulf of Maine fishing for sharks.
There are five species of sharks available for the sport fisherman in the Gulf, blue sharks, makos, threshers, porbeagles, and the occasional white shark. The blue shark is far and away the most prolific shark here, as it is throughout the world. On an average day of fishing one can expect to tangle with many of these spiny speedsters, plus have the chance of hooking a huge mako shark. The current Maine record for Mako is 760 pounds, and was set in 2001 by a guy fishing from a 20-foot center console, only 18 miles offshore. Larger fish are fought and lost every year.
The first sharks of the season make their appearance late in June or early July as the surface water temperature rises above 60 degrees, and generally stay through mid September.
Locating sharks in the Gulf of Maine is a relatively easy task. There are dozens of ports one can sail from, between Gloucester Massachusetts and Boothbay Harbor, Maine. From any of these ports it is less than a 20-mile steam to the shark grounds. The waters of the Gulf are laden with hundreds of humps, banks and ledges. The abundance of structure in the Gulf of Maine is truly remarkable.
The largest and most predominately-fished area is Jeffrey’s Ledge. It runs offshore about 20 miles east of Newburyport, Massachusetts north and east to an area about 20 miles east of Kennebunkport, Maine. The high part of Jeffrey’s Ledge rises to about 165 feet. The water on either the east or west side of the bank drops off to over 500 feet in some places. If I am looking for large numbers of sharks I like to fish in the deep water on either side of the bank. There are also hundreds of similar structured bottom contours well inside of Jeffrey’s Ledge that are much smaller but equally as productive.
My last shark trip of the season in 2020 was in mid -September. We only traveled 7 miles offshore. By noon my charter had caught 15 blue sharks, 1 thresher and jumped off a mako. The primary criteria I use fishing the inshore humps is attempting to plan my drift so I am fishing in water with a minimum depth of 300 feet, 400 feet is even better. Water depth along with nearby structure and water temperature of 65 degrees or more is ideal.
The presence of a temperature gradient is an important key to shark fishing success. Any sudden jump of one or two degrees in sea surface temperature is what you want to look for. During the summer months a temperature gradient will usually be accompanied by a weed line and the other telltale signs of life such as slicks, birds, and bait.
Drifting natural baits, either live or dead, in a chum slick does the job fishing for sharks. The quality of the chum you put in the water is extremely important if you want to be successful. You should use the freshest, highest quality bait available for both your hooks and your chum. Good quality shark chum is available from several dealers in the area, purchased in frozen five-gallon buckets.
Dispensing the chum into the water is done with great ease with the use of an automatic chummer. The automatic chummer simply consists of a plastic milk crate suspended from a cleat on your boat. Take the cover off your frozen bucket of chum, place it upside down (open side facing the water) into the automatic chummer hanging it off the mid-ship cleat. This should be done so the chum bucket is just touching the surface of the water. The natural rocking action of the boat will cause the frozen ground chum to thaw and dispense slowly through the openings in the milk crate putting a beautiful chum slick into the water. I like to hang the chum off the mid-ship cleat so it doesn’t interfere with the action in the cockpit. One five-gallon bucket should last about 6 hours.
Rods & Rigs
Stand up style 30- to 50-pound outfits are best suited for these sharks. Most of the action will be Blue sharks in the 100- to 250-pound range, but you always have to be ready for that hot mako that might come screaming through your slick at any time. One thing about the makos of Maine, they are big. Mako’s under 200 pounds are more the exception than the rule in this area of the North Atlantic.
I like to use single strand wire for my leader material. Number twelve; 174-pound test, coffee colored, 10-feet in length. Circle hooks are required for all bait fishing in the state of Maine. I find that light leaders, small hooks, and medium-weight standup gear make for superb sport.
We use a unique method for suspending our hook baits at the desired depth in the water column. Instead of using a piece of styrofoam or a balloon as a float, leaving something unwanted in the water after a hook up, we do the following. Take a styrofoam float about eight inches in length and three inches in diameter with a hole bored out down the center lengthwise. Put this float on your fishing line by threading the line through the hole in the center. Then thread a three or four once egg sinker on to you’re fishing line, and tie on a 325-pound test snap swivel. Attach your leader with your fresh hook bait to the snap swivel. As you are letting your bait out, allow the line to slip through the float until you reach the desired depth. When your bait is where you want it, take the line at the end of the float closest to the rod tip, double it over the float and secure it with a rubber band. When a fish strikes, the rubber band will pop off. The styrofoam float will simply slide on your fishing line as you fight the fish. The egg sinker stays out of the way above your snap swivel, enabling you to tag your catch, release it unharmed, and get back to fishing within minutes. You will really appreciate this method when the action is fast and furious. Your float and sinker are always there, right on your line. You will spend more time fishing with baits in the water, and less time looking for things to rig up with and rigging.
Fresh hook baits are the final and most important piece to this successful shark fishing equation. WHAT YOU USE FOR BAIT IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN THE QUALITY OF YOUR BAIT. Herring, mackerel, squid, bluefish, or pretty much any other fish either whole, filleted, or in chunks, all work well as long as they are fresh.
The use of rattlers positioned on your leader just below the snap swivel, or vinyl skirts over the hook bait are sometimes used to enhance the baits appeal, particularly on flat calm days. If you use high quality bait, present it in a natural fashion, and employ some of our Gulf of Maine techniques, you are sure to enjoy great success catching sharks wherever you fish.