Every year when the water warms up down south Sharks tend to migrate north along the NJ shore fathom lines. Although you can catch Sharks all through the summer the best month is usually June and they will bite fairly steady into July. Once the water warms in August things tend to tail off and they move north. If however the water stays in the 60s and there is bait around they will stick around a bit longer.
Sharking is serious business. You need heavy tackle, flying gaffs, bang sticks and most of all a crew that knows what they are doing or someone can get seriously hurt or killed. Tackle usually consists of 50 Ė80 pound rods and lever drag reels with several hundred yards of 80-pound test. Messing with the drag while fighting a fish is a no-no and Sharking is no exception. All of your drags should be preset at the dock with a hand scale so theyíre set to 20% of the line breaking strength. Make sure to heat up the drag before setting them by stripping off several feet of line with the drag engaged. Rigs are made of braided wire to keep the shark from chewing through the leader.
The most prized Shark in NJ waters is the Mako because they make great table fare are the most acrobatic off all the Sharks. Makoís have been known to fly 20 feet out of the water when stung by a hook and a few have actually jumped in boats. Right behind the Mako is the Thresher. Although they are not as acrobatic as the Mako they are great eating and fierce fighters because of their long tail fins. These Sharks have tail fins as long as their bodies. Our most abundant Shark in Jersey waters is the Blue Shark but they arenít the best for eating. Years ago we used to have a lot of Hammerheads and Tigers but they donít seem to be around in the numbers they used to be. We also have Great White but they are rare and on the endangered species list and can not be kept.
The most dangerous part of Sharking is when they are along side the boat. Leadering and releasing or landing Sharks is best left to someone with a lot of experience. Never wrap a leader around your hand or glove. If the shark decides to take a run you can get injured or worse yet pulled over and drowned. To prove my point, Billy Verbanus, 41 was an experienced Shark fishermen. He was fishing off Ocean City MD in the summer of 2002 and had a 400 pound Mako alongside the boat. He attempted to leader the Mako by coiling the leader around his hand and the Shark decided to take one last run and dragged him over the side. He surfaced 90 seconds later but was unconscious and could not be revived.
If you intend to keep a Shark itís best that you leave the shark tied over the side, shoot him with a shot gun or bang stick and wait until youíre sure heís checked out before attempting to do anything with him. Iíve seen sharks out of the water for several hours and they were still kicking when brought back into the dock. For this reason, itís always best to gain your Sharking stripes with an experienced crew. Charter boats are the way to go so you can learn the ropes before attempting to tangle with one of these beasts yourself. OK.... Now on to fishing...
First and one of the more important things youíll need to do is pick a spot. Most people tend to look for clean blue water in the 60 to 70 degree mark with some structure around. Good Shark structure is typically a combination of a distinct fathom line/drop-off and a wreck.. Based on what the wind is doing youíll try and choose a spot so that your drift will take you over several pieces of structure on a single drift. This is best done with a good detailed paper map of the area and comparing it to the conditions you encounter that particular day. If the wind is blowing hard youíll try and choose a spot where the structure is a bit more spread out since your drift will be long. If itís a light wind then you look for a concentrated area of structure since your drift will be short. Depending on the wind a daylong drift can be as short as a few miles or as long as 10 or 12. Once you have the structure you want to fish located the trick is to set the boat up in a position that will take you over that structure. If you have a GPS best thing to do is stop the boat in the general area youíre going to fish and let it drift for 10 minutes or so to determine which way the drift is running. Once you determine that you set you starting position accordingly.
Now that youíre set up on the drift itís time to get the chum in the water. Most people float a 5-gallon bucket of Bunker or Mackerel chum on the surface with a chum net or bag tied off to a stern cleat. Some sharpies will also use a 2nd chum bucket with a 10-pound weight in it and send it down 30 feet or so. Once you get the chum is set up its time to get your bait and rigs in the water. Baits are usually whole Mackerel or fresh Bluefish fillets. Both are very oily and work well for getting a Sharkís attention. Fresh Bunker fillets also work but are not as effective as the aforementioned baits. If you havenít got any fresh Bluefish bring along an extra lighter pole since 9 times out of 10 your chum will attract the blues and you can catch and fillet a few.
Bluefish baits are prepared by filleting a fish like you would if you were going to eat it but leaving the skin on one side of the fillet. Hook the bait lengthwise through the wider part of the fillet. If youíd like you can slice the tapered bottom section of the fillet in half to form 2 tails to add some action. Mackerel need to be rigged on the hook with cooper rigging wire. You insert the hook into the Mackerels mouth, feed it down the throat and force the hook out the bottom an inch or 2 behind where the gill plates meet. Now take your cooper wire and pierce it through the nostril, they eye of the hook and out the soft under jaw. Wrap it several times around the outside of the jaws and the hook to keep the fishís mouth closed and the bait tight to the hook. OK, now setting your baits up in the slick...
The usual drill here is to drift 4 lines at different depths with the use of floats and keep one pole rigged in the boat and ready to go for pitching. Pitching comes into play if you see a shark boat side and can pitch bait to it. The deepest line is the furthest out and the shallowest closest into the boat this way it keeps the rigs in the chum slick. The further the chum gets back in the slick the further it sinks.... You want to divide the water column up into 4 depths. As an example, if you were fishing in 150 feet of water youíd want the lines at 120 95,60 and 30. To do this youíd send the deep line out first. Put the bait in the water with a 4-ounce bank sinker tied to the swivel with copper rigging wire and count out 130 feet. At that point youíd tie on a balloon or rubber band a noodle float to the line and let the float drift out 100 or so feet behind the boat. Youíd do the same for the remaining lines until you have all 4 lines staircasing down the slick at the various depths you selected. Put the rods in the holder with the reel in free spool and clicker on and let the games begin!
Many times itís the e waiting game.... Sharking can be very exciting or pathetically boring. Youíre either waiting for them to come into your slick or itís an all out frenzy. Sometimes they bite and other times youíll spend the day scratching your head wondering what youíre doing wrong. Itís a game of chance so donít expect to catch every time you head out. If youíre fortunate enough to get a strike be ready to rumble!
Your best indication of a strike will be the float bouncing up and down or disappearing completely. The person who is on deck should always be wearing a gimble belt. Take the rod out of the holder in free spool, point the rod tip at the Shark and as heís taking line or when the line comes taught stick him 3 times with the lever drag in the strike position to set the hook. Now put your pole in the gimble belt, hold and keep your pole tip up and have the rest of the crew clear the other lines. If heís taking line donít try to reel against him. Use the leverage of the pole tip and the resistance of the preset drag to tire him and reel when you can get line. If you start getting low on line start the boat up and chase the Shark down being careful to keep the line tight at all times.
OK now if your lucky the Shark is rolling alongside the boat and itís decision time. Do we leader the fish and release it or attempt to land it and take it home ? You should be prepared to do either and have the boat running in case you have to turn in a hurry to keep the Shark in position or out from under the boat. These are 2 totally different procedures and can vary depending on the size and state the Shark is in when he comes up alongside the boat... Leadering and releasing the Shark is a lot less complicated then trying to land the Shark. You simply get as much of the wire leader in as you safely can and cut it with pliers above the hook. If itís a Mako Shark and heís still green then be careful. I some cases itís better to be safe then sorry, cut the line and give him the leader. Shark rigs are much easier to replace them your arm or your gear.
If you decide to attempt to land the Shark there is a simple rule of thumb. Keep the people inside the boat and the Sharks out. First thing you want to do is quiet him down with a bang or 2 of the shotgun or bang stick. If heís not that big you can attempt to tail wrap him and drag him backward with the boat. You can also try and fly gaff him and let him on the fly gaff rope and tire himself out. Under no circumstances should you risk attempting to bring a large live shark in the cockpit. You need to make sure heís dead. If you have a swim platform thatís a good place for him. If you have sturdy fly bridge then tie a rope off the tail, stick it through a support and hang the Shark upside down off the side. In some cases if the shark is too large and you donít want to run the risk of damaging your boat you might end up with a very slow ride home dragging the shark in the water behind you.
Given all the commercial fishing pressure on Sharks for their cartilage and fins their numbers are in decline. Your best bet is to snap a picture and release them, especially if itís a Blue. If youíre lucky enough to latch into and land a Mako or a Thresher and youíll put the steaks to good use then thereís nothing wrong with keeping one. But do yourself and others a favor.... Just keep one and release the others so future generations have a chance to battle these beasts. Nothing like fighting a majestic animal like that and watching it swim away.... Makes my heart pound just thinking about it...
Oh.... I almost forgot one important point. Sharks are now included in the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species list so you will need a permit to fish for them. You can get a permit online at http://www.nmfspermits.com
Once again, and I canít stress this enough.....Sharking can be very exciting but dangerous business. If you and your crew are new to Sharking do yourselves a favor and charter some professionals to show you the ropes.