Mako sharks – Daniel Paull
The Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) is the most streamlined, spindle shaped member of the Mackerel Shark family. Along with its distinctive long and conical snout and triangular dorsal fin, this species has short pectoral fins and a crescent shaped caudal fin. Their slender teeth, which curve inward and have no cusps at their bases or serrations along their edges, are easily separate from Great White, Blue, Thresher and Porbeagle Sharks. There is evident countershading on this particular species of shark; dorsally, they are a metallic blue colour whilst ventrally, they are a snowy white. These sharks are pelagic, solitary and fast swimming and have been known to travel vast distances of water in search of breeding grounds and prey. One individual shark is known to have travelled 1322 miles in 37 days with an average of 36 miles per day.
Shortfin Mako Sharks thrive offshore in both tropical and temperate waters, from the surface down to depths of over 150 metre. These sharks are potentially dangerous and have attacked people on some occasions, most of which have occurred when a shark has jumped and landed in a boat after it has been hooked by recreational game fishing anglers. Whilst breeding, litters of 4 to 16 pups are common. Older embryos eat some of the eggs while still in the uterus. Female Mako Sharks usually reach sexual maturity once they attain a length of over 3 metre s. It is believed that large female specimens may rest for up to 18 months before the next batch of eggs are fertilized by a sexually mature male.
Overfishing of the Shortfin Mako Shark, mostly in the northern hemisphere, has seen it listed on the world’s endangered list, making this species more vulnerable than ever before.
Mostly known for their large size and fighting ability, Mako Sharks are targeted by many anglers around the globe. They are also known for their acrobatic ability that is far superior to many other game and sports fish on the planet. As most people would agree, the Mako Shark has only really just scratched the surface as a popular Tasmanian game fishing species. This specific shark has been the reason why many people have taken up game fishing, purchased boats and joined various clubs and forums. Along with only a few other rival species such as the Southern Bluefin, Yellowfin an Albacore Tuna, the Shortfin Mako has attained the crown as one of Tasmania’s premier game fish. On the North West coast, many people are limited with the option of targeting a specific game species. The Mako, along with other species of shark, is a great fish to target. They are grand and as illustrious as many other popular game fishing species on the East and South East coasts of the state.
I have been effectively targeting Shortfin Mako Sharks for a number of years now from our 6.70 metre Caribbean Reef Runner and 4.20 metre Quintrex Hornet. Fishing from the Hornet has adds another element to catching the sharks altogether. When I first began targeting sharks with my father, the thought of just leaving for the boat ramp was enough to get me keen and interested in the sport. On my first shark fishing adventure, I was lucky enough to witness Jamie Harris fight a solid Mako of about 150kg to the side of the boat. Along with the capture of my very first Mako of about 50kg, this particular Easter fishing expedition would boost my fishing experience to a whole new level. Fishing became my own personal ‘frontier’ and I was only too keen to get out and wet a line at any place, at any time.
As the main driving force behind my fishing, the Mako Shark has become my favourite species—especially on the North West coast where I live. There is something special about attracting a shark to the stern of your boat while having a leisurely bottom bash. Once lured to the back of the boat, you can literally decide the fate of the fish and who gets to catch, film or hand feed it. Although not as difficult as working hard bodies around a sand or mud flat for large Black Bream in an East Coast estuary or casting for flighty Brown Trout on a really bright, calm day on the Great Lake, shark fishing affects people in many different ways. Whether braving the elements on a nasty, rough day in a game fishing tournament or heading out on your own little mission, I believe that pursuing sharks is one of those elements to really complete a keen angler.
While attempting to target the Shortfin Mako, or any shark for that matter, I believe it is vital to have some level of understanding about the fish you are looking for. Each shark has its own individuality and personality. Some specimens will be placid and gentle once lured to the boat but others can become aggressive and dangerous if provoked. As mentioned before, Mako Sharks have the ability to leap to astonishing heights and can become very dangerous once hooked. Sharks that have not eaten in a while will play up to the best of their ability while those who have had plentiful supplements of food will often be docile and dive deep once engaged. Many people, including myself, would agree that fighting the fish to the boat is the easy part, landing the specimen is a completely different and difficult matter.
Summer is the best time of the year to target most Tasmanian game fishing species. Sea surface temperatures between 15.0 and 20.0 degrees seem to suit the Shortfin Mako Shark better than any other. Prey is another important element to consider while targeting sharks, as apex oceanic predators, these fish will follow bait species across the globe. Here in Tasmania, prey items consist of Albacore and Striped Tuna, East Australian Salmon, Barracouta and Arrow Squid, if these species of fish are around, you can almost guarantee that a hungry Mako will be following closely behind. Locations such as the shallow and nutrient rich waters of the Bass Strait and the Continental Shelf off the East Coast of thee state are typical hot spots for Mako Sharks.
Enticing makos to you
Burley is the most important element while trying to catch many cartilaginous species. Bulk loads of fresh, natural burley is the key to success, whether it is minced Striped Tuna or Barracouta, some form of oily attractant will need to be in the water in order to draw a fearsome Mako to your vicinity. I personally favour minced burley over that of simply dropping a Tuna frame into a burley bucket, not only is it a more clean practice, it is far more effective. With minced burley, you can create a wide spread burley trail that will stretch for miles with a constant stream of small fish fragments and chunks. Mincing selected fish can be an issue, unless you have an industrial grade mincer or garden mulcher. People can choose to purchase burley from selected fishing and tackle stores located across the state or to simply create their own.
Baits are probably the easiest element to fathom while targeting Mako Sharks. Fresh, oily and natural baits are usually the way to go while fishing in any salt water scenario. Once lured to the stern of a boat with burley in the water, Mako Sharks will readily eat just about anything. I have even heard of one incident where a 140kg model swam up to the back of a boat and scoffed a well presented Brown Trout! East Australian Salmon, Barracouta, Arrow Squid, Calamari, Striped Tuna and large Yellow Eye Mullet are by far the best baits to use while bottom fishing and burleying. One method of actually catching Mako Sharks is to attach a party balloon with a rubber band above the snap swivel on a doubled line. This method allows anglers to float large bait items out behind the stern of the boat. To present the shark bait, pierce the hook through the bait item only once, a well exposed hook will almost guarantee a mouth hook up and a healthy fish. If the hook is hidden within the bait, the fish will often swallow the bait resulting in a damaging gut hook up.
Gear you need
Mako Sharks can be successfully caught on most conventional gear, ideally, an overhead reel with a smooth and reliable lever drag system is the way to go. Shimano make an excellent range of overhead game reels to suit all elements of game fishing. The Shimano Tiagra 50WLRS would have to be the best all round reel for pursuing Mako Sharks and many other pelagic species. Loaded with 24kg monofilament line and a pre set drag of approximately 8kg, a Tiagra 50W will never let you down. Light line class game fishing has become pretty popular over the past few years with many anglers choosing to downsize their outfits and line classes for more sporty and drawn out captures. Small overhead reels such as the TLD 30A 2 Speed and Tiagra 30WLRS are leading the light weight game fishing scene by a long shot. Personally, I think that most people will use a rod and reel combination that they feel is suitable for the job. If you can’t decide on what particular outfit to purchase, ask around at your local tackle store for any information on gear speculations or general advice.
15kg to 24kg stand up outfits are the undisputed way to capture Mako Sharks. Taking a little more skill than simply sitting in a game chair, stand up tackle allows you to feel the immense strength and fighting capabilities of the fish. As most hardcore shark fishermen will agree, standing up to fight is the best and only way to hook, fight and defeat any aggressive pelagic species, including large, raging Mako Sharks. The Beastmaster, T-Curve Tiagra Game and Backbone Elite range of saltwater game fishing rods are far superior to many other rods on the market. Custom built rods are another great way to go while targeting Mako Sharks. Created from a trusted rod builder, custom sticks can often be stronger, better built and better looking than other factory made products.
Terminal tackle tips
Terminal tackle is the most important element to consider in many aspects of fishing. Shark fishing requires tough and durable terminal tackle to stand against the brutal fighting strength of the species. Hooks, snap swivels, crimps, wire traces and monofilament lines will need to be in top shape in order to tackle a Mako Shark. Along with the more reliable J-hook, the circle hook is starting to get more popular than ever before. Using sharp, 12/0 to 20/0 circle hooks will nearly guarantee a perfect mouth hook up. Not only does a circle hook ensure the survival and safety of the shark during and after the fight, it often improves the fighting and aerial displays of the fish. Plastic coated wire traces are a must while fishing for many shark species, using multi strand wire traces ensures that the shark will not bite through the trace once it has been hooked. Try to avoid using stainless steel wire traces as these will take longer to rust away if the shark is lost. Pre rigged shark fishing traces can be purchased from nearly every tackle store in the country. I prefer to produce my own traces with the methods and tackle that I know and trust. 4 to 5 metres of trace is usually enough to tackle any sized shark that may swim up to the stern of your boat, I try and use smaller traces with smaller specimens as longer traces can often cause chaos on the deck. Monofilament traces of up to 500lb accompanied with circle hooks have been proving successful in some scenarios, with the hook often being removed completely from the fish.
Once a Mako Shark is hooked, the most important task to complete is to start the engine and move away. Some Mako Sharks can be unpredictable and will dive under the boat, attack the boat or even jump into the boat. Some sharks will swim straight to the boat once they are hooked so it is important to move away from them as soon as possible. Take the fight slowly; wear the shark out before bringing it alongside the starboard side of the boat. Some anglers will rush and wind the fish straight to the boat; this will often result in disaster. A shark is no different to any other species of fish, just be patient and fight the fish calmly. Don’t get over exited and blow your chances of landing a fish of a lifetime. Once the shark has been defeated, the next step is to decide what you are going to do with the fish.
There is really no possible way to subdue a Mako Shark peacefully, except for the usage of a 12 Gauge, which, obviously, is banned by the IGFA. Over the years, people have used an arsenal of techniques and weapons to dispatch large Mako Sharks, from flying and fixed handled gaffs to baseball bats and firearms, all of which create a lot of havoc. How to dispatch a shark is completely up to the angler, I personally favour the more peaceful methods requiring a blunt object. Having said this, I will probably never take a Mako Shark outside specific shark fishing tournaments. I think that the method of tag and release is by far the best and most satisfying way to target Mako Sharks these days and I encourage all game fishermen anglers to pick up the tag pole once in a while.
The Waiting Game
With the usual by catch of familiar species such as Barracouta, Striped Trumpeter, Ocean Perch, Arrow Squid, Tiger and Sand Flathead, Gummy, Seven Gilled and School Sharks and the occasional Snapper or Nannygai, burleying in the Tasmanian waters can be very enjoyable. With more species than you can throw a rock at, patience becomes no longer an issue for beginners and children. Most bottom and mid water species can readily be captured on simple paternoster, running sinker and weightless rigs, along with artificial lures and plastics such as chrome slices, knife jigs, Gulps, Squidgies and squid jigs. While burleying off the East Coast, depth can be an issue with some people as dropping an enormous paternoster rig into 300 metre s of water is harder than it looks! Most thread line outfits will do the job as far as bottom fishing goes, Shimano and Diawa both make excellent rod and reel combinations for bottom bouncing. 30lb, 50lb and 80lb braided lines are needed whilst fishing in any deep water scenario, using thin diametre braid allows you to feel every single bite up until the imminent hook up.
I believe that conservation is our ultimate goal, fishing for the future as it has been said. With numbers starting to slowly decrease, the fishery needs to be managed in some shape or form. We have all faced the possibility of the species being banned in Australian waters; I would hate to see the Mako, and other popular species of pelagic game fish, banned from being captured by recreational fishermen. Once you have successfully caught and landed a mako, you will never forget the experience—it is a species that most anglers will set out to catch at least once in their lives. So with that said, get out on the water and catch your very first Mako Shark, just beware of the consequences of overfishing, greed and environmental debate! I personally believe that once you have gained an understanding and appreciation of these fish, you might just want to take a photograph and release them to fight another day.