Click, click, click, zzzzzzzz…ah music to my ears after such a long winter. It’s time to talk about my favorite type of fishing and one that I’m regarded as an expert at: Shark fishing. Cape May has some of the finest shark fishing on the east coast. Cape May is home to three tournaments that attract anglers from all over the east coast. One reason Cape May has such great Shark fishing is the number of wrecks and lumps along the 20 and 30 fathom line. Wrecks and lumps create “structure,” which is ideal for holding bait such as Mackerel and Sea Bass, which Bluefish feed on in early spring. Another reason the waters off Cape May are home to many species of sharks is that areas along the 20 fathom line and the Delaware Bay are nursing grounds where sharks lay their pup.
After the Bluefish show up and the water temperature hits the 60s it’s time to start Shark’n.
Sharks are perhaps the most perfectly evolved animals on earth as well as one of the oldest. Sharks are prehistoric, rarely ever get cancer, and they are the apex predators. Some species of Shark can smell a drop of blood in the water over a mile away. Sharks such as Makos are capable of swimming at speeds of over 45 miles per hour and jumping out of the water more than 15 feet. Thus, they are regarded by many anglers as one of the top game fish in the world. Thresher and Mako Shark also taste great.
Shark fishing requires certain “tools of the trade,” many of which can be purchased at tackle shops as well as hardware stores.
The chum bucket is for – you guessed it – holding a bucket of chum. A milk crate works best with foam floats on each side to keep it from scuffing the hull of the boat. Rig half-inch line through the corners and leave enough line to tie to the cleat of the boat.
Use wireman’s dikes to cut the wire leader near the hook to release the Shark. Bring at least three pair, as they may fall overboard during a release.
A pair of cowhide gloves are needed for leadering the shark, as well as a 12-guage bang stick, available at tackle shops, or a 20-guage shotgun to shoot the shark. A tall rope with cable, which most tackle shops have, is used to control the shark at boat side.
Choosing the right tackle for Sharking is key…if targeting Makos, Threshers, Blues, Tiger, and other large Sharks 150 lbs. and up, then 6 foot 50-100 lb. rods with 50 and 80 class reels are the ticket. Spool reels with 80 lb. line. Attach a shark float with rubber bands to the line above a 400 lb. snap swivel. You will need a rig for each rod. You can buy Shark rigs or make your own. Make sure to bring extra rigs. You will also need at least two 5’-6’ gaffs with 4″-6″ hooks. Use a flyer gaff at your own risk! Last but not least, “put on a skirt”…on one of your fishing lines or two. Bright colors such as yellow, orange, red, or pink work best.
Bait that works best for Makos, Threshers, and most Sharks, is Bluefish, Mackerel, and False Albacore, Skipjack and, of course, fresh Tuna. For chum, I like to use Bunker and Mackerel. I fish three lines for Threshers. The first rod I set out 75 yards from the boat, and 6-15 feet down with fresh filets. Set the second rod 40 yards from the boat, 25-40 feet down with a Butterflied Mackerel or small Bluefish. The third rod is fished 8-16 cranks off the bottom with filets. I fish this line 15-20 feet from the boat.
When fishing for Makos, I fish four lines. I set the first rod with a skirt and Bluefish or Skip Jack. I set this line out 100-125 yards and 6-15 feet down. The second rod is set up with Mackerel filets, set out 50-70 yards, 30 feet down. Set the third rod out with a Butterflied Bluefish or live Bluefish. This line is set out 40-50 feet from the boat, 30-50 feet down. The fourth rod is fished at the transom of the boat with a skirt and filets. I set this line down till I barely see the skirt. Shark floats with rubber bands are used to control your depth and set your lines out. Make sure to set the clicker on the reel in free spool.
A day with 10-15 mph winds and 64-71 degree water temperature is ideal for Sharking in the spring. Drifting is preferred for Makos and Threshers, so “setting your drift” over a structure is very important. First, set out your chum to establish your slick, then set out your lines and wait. When a Shark hits, let him run, count 8-20 seconds, set the drag to strike. Quickly reel the line up until it gets tight. Set the hook two or three times to get a solid hook set and “let the game begin!”
Getting the Shark in the boat requires “team work.” Boat side is where a lot of people lose their Sharks, get hurt or worse, get killed. The first rule: “when the Shark is ready, be ready.” When the shark is at the boat, the angler backs off the drag to quarter-strike. The leaderman grabs the leader. Then the shooter with a clear shot shoots the Shark on top of the head four inches behind the eyes. The shooter puts the tail rope on the fish and ties it to the cleat of the boat. The leaderman gaffs the Shark in by the gills. If the Shark is dead, put him in the boat. Tie the fish up and “head to the barn!”
Sharking is great fun but it requires both safety and skill. Things can happen so fast. The best way to learn how to shark fish is “hands on.” Charter a boat, go out with someone who knows how to shark, or ask the people who work at the local tackle shops.
Stephen Spagnuola, a graduate of Visual Arts, New York City, worked as art director for many ad agencies in New York before leaving advertising to pursue fashion photography, and worked on such magazines as Stuff, Flatiron, and Zink. Stephen is a freelance photographer and marketing director for Sea Tow Cape May.. Visit Steve online