Harry Murfet

An exciting new sport fishery has emerged and it adds another dimension to the usual bread and butter fishing that is associated with Tasmania's North Coast.
Mako sharks have always been present in Bass Strait waters but it is only in recent years that a few innovative anglers, sick of catching couta, pike, salmon and flathead, decided to target these gamefish. In doing so, becoming pioneers of Bass Strait game fishing.
Makos are a pelagic species, roaming the ocean in search of food that consists of squid and, in the case of Bass Strait, school fish like mackerel, salmon, mullet and couta. While most North Coast makos are juveniles in the 30 - 50 kg. range, there are plenty of reports of fish hooked, lost and landed over the 100 kg mark this year.

A word of warning before we continue though. You have probably heard the horror stories about mako sharks-all true-and a 100kg mako is a formidable fish, especially boatside. Advice like this will help prepare you for the situation when it arises, but will by no means guarantee you success. If you hook a large fish and have any doubts whatsoever, err on the side of caution and quit while you're ahead. The stories of makos trashing boats is NOT a myth, it happens too regularly-I've seen it happen.

My team's first mako encounter was on the cliffs off St.Helens, fishing out of a friend's 7 metre Sportfish. He has a reputation as a very competent game fisherman.
We had burleyed for 1 ½ hrs  when the balloon disappeared 30 metres behind the boat. The fish went deep and after an hour of backbreaking fun the 130 kg. Mako was boatside. First, in went the flying gaff, then the tail rope. Once secured (not that easy holding 130 kg of  muscle) its throat was cut so as not to mutilate the carcass. Half an hour later, after much congratulating and back slapping, the nerves had settled and the four of us struggled to heave it over the gunwales.
And. -that's when it happened!
As it reached the point of no return, the point of balance just before it fell to the floor of the cockpit, it reared its head and started thrashing wildly. Ben faired worst, he was right near its head and furthest aft and while scrambling to safety, the gaff hook impaled his foot. By this time Mike had leapt upon the beast, knife in hand, muttering something about "  */'^ scratching the paint job" the damage had risen to; one foot, one battery box, one esky, one gaff handle, and unfortunately a fair bit of Mike's beloved paint work.  The rest of us escaped unscathed but shaken. Treat them with respect.

The most important ingredient to success in shark fishing is the burley. Sharks hunt primarily by scent and they eat fish not cows so a finely mashed concoction of fish and oil is perfect. The end result of this mix can be bulked up using bread to soak up the oil and throw in some larger chunks to sink a bit deeper and provide a visual attractant. We use minced fish and oil frozen in a 20kg. block then placed in a blue bin and constantly topped up with water and scooped out with a 2 litre jug. The block thaws slowly and provides an ideal dilution of burley. This can be also supplemented with pieces of couta that we catch while waiting. This technique works well and lasts for about 3 hours but relies on someone constantly working the burley bucket so the stream isn't broken. Luckily we have a good team and my mate "Macca" nominated himself as burley boy early on. Even when fighting a fish he's trying to keep the berley flowing. THAT's COMMITTED!

Location is the next ingredient to throw into the mix. I've heard as many theories on where to fish as I've heard on how to raise the kids but I have had only one sensible piece of advice on each. They're your kids, raise them how you like and to catch a fish, you have to think like a fish.
What do Makos think about? FOOD!  Find their food and you will find the sharks.
A typical day for us will start like this, we'll head out to a reef system about   eight miles off the coast, once nearing the spot we keep our eyes peeled for any signs, birds, schools of fish, colour changes, debris. Usually one of these is present in the chosen spot so we motor into the breeze for 5-10 mins. to set up a drift over our chosen location. Read your charts and watch your sounder as any form of structure in an otherwise barren area will attract baitfish to some extent. But if a likely location looks barren and lifeless don't be afraid to keep searching wider. There is no need to travel out to 70 metres if there are baitfish and birds working in 40 metres.

OK! Now we have berley and a location to start drifting, we will look at tackle and other necessary gear.
Firstly, at least one quality outfit is required. A fighting belt and harness are important for comfort during prolonged fights. Perhaps the most overlooked area is your landing gear. Quality equipment will make the job of securing your catch a lot easier and safer. While you can gaff makos up to around 40 kg. with a conventional fixed handle, a heavy duty flying gaff is a must for fish over this size. A flying gaff allows the fish to move away from the boat at that critical moment after the point goes in. It really is a spectacular and nerve racking event. It also gives you something easier to hold on to and can be tied off to a cleat. A good flying gaff will have a 6-7 foot pole that detaches from the hook freely but holds it in alignment. The hook will be sharp and made of tough ½" stainless with a gape of 6-8 inches. The larger gape allows a larger bite and so a more secure hold. The best I've come across are hand made by the Gaff-man and are distinguishable by their gold anodised handles. A close second are those made by Dimax who produce a great light-weight fixed range.
After the commotion of the first gaff shot dies down you should follow up with a tail rope. A good tail rope would ideally be a length of 12 mm. silver or nylon rope about 5 metres long and a short length of 5 mm. stainless wire around a metre. A small snap clip completes the tail rope and allows it to be adjusted and slide freely. (see photos).
Now, with the wildly thrashing Mako at the side of the boat, you will need to pick a moment to club it solidly over the head and take a knife in through the gills to sever the main arteries and allow it to bleed. Mako makes for great eating, similar to gummy shark.

The standard shark rig consists of a 2mm. stainless wire trace of 5 m. with a hook of around 10/0 to 11/0, double crimped to one end. This is attached to the main line with a heavy snap and ball bearing swivel. Baited with a slab of couta, salmon, squid or similar, it's suspended under a balloon which is in turn attached using a rubber band, cotton or a wire bread bag tie. Hooks to use are basically the game style produced by Mustad, Daiichi and Maruto. The hook doesn't have to be huge but does need to be a strong style and razor sharp. Importantly the hook needs to be exposed, not hidden, especially in the case of circle hooks which are increasing in popularity now.
This rig set about 20 - 30 metres behind the boat will be your main rig. Secondary rigs can consist of deep bait with a large sinker, in place of the balloon, set at mid depth or as a back up, rigged and ready should a fish refuse the set bait and turn up at the boat.

Mako sharks are a dynamic, spectacular and powerful fish and your respect is deserved. To catch one is a great moment and will make your day but it also has the potential to break it. Double check all your gear and make sure you are prepared. You will be travelling off shore and it's not the hustle and bustle of the East Coast, there may not be another boat for miles. Make certain your vessel is seaworthy and carries all the necessary safety gear and its prudent to contact your local Coastal Patrol or Port Authority to advise of your intention. On the same note you will be participating in a game fishing frontier so let's look after it while we have the chance.
       Now all the members of our team have caught a fish we only keep the odd small specimen for a feed. The urge is there to bring back a big shark to show off, but they look far better swimming around the boat.

The Boat Shack provides custom tackle rigging, tail ropes, gaffs, traces etc and 15kg. blocks of Salmon for bait and berley.
Contact us on 6423 1676 or come in and talk to us at Mersey Slipways on the Wharf Access Road, West Devonport.

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