In Part 1 of this series, we covered some basic information on getting started. We introduced you to Capts. Conway Bowman and Dave Trimble, two of the best shark fly fishing guides on the West Coast. We mentioned the 5 basic steps in shark fishing, and went over some guidelines on how to find the best shark fishing spots.

In this post, we’ll go over what to do once you arrive at your starting point. 

A nice Mako comes to the boat

An apex predator on the move…courtesy Conway Bowman

Setting up a drift…

Once you get to your preferred area, slow down and assess the wind and current. Since you’ll be letting the boat drift while creating a chum slick, you’ll need to position your boat at the up-drift end of your target zone.

Note that we said “up-drift”, not “up-wind”. That’s because, while “up-drift” usually means “up-wind”, strong currents and/or light wind could result in you drifting in a direction other than directly down-wind

If you’re not sure of the drift direction, cut your motor and use your GPS to track which way you drift. Or, start your chum slick and watch the direction the slick is pointing. If needed, adjust your position so that you’ll drift through your target zone.

Setting up the chum slick

Sharks can detect odors in the water at incredibly low levels. The idea behind a chum slick is to create a trail of fish-attracting smells in the water behind your boat. If all goes well, sharks will detect the slick, and follow it to its source.

The Big Freeze

In Southern California, frozen chum is the usual starting point for building a slick. It’s created by running fish or fish parts through a grinder, then freezing the resulting mess in containers.

In the “old days” we ground our own chum, and froze it in empty milk cartons. Now you can buy one- or four-gallon plastic chum buckets in most local tackle shops. Just be sure to call ahead, sometimes supplies are limited. Refills are also available for the large buckets, and will save you about $5.00.

To use frozen chum, the block is allowed to do a controlled thaw in the water. This “hands-off” approach creates a continuous slick behind the boat. which is one of the keys to successful sharking. This is a huge advantage over having to ladle fresh ground fish over the gunnel a scoop at a time.

Prep and deploy your chum block

When you’re ready to fish, cut or drill four holes (about 1/2″ in diameter) in the lid of the bucket. Capt. Bowman recommends keeping the holes fairly small: “You really don’t need a lot of chum in the water to attract sharks. If the fish are there, even a slow trickle will draw them in,”

After making the holes, tie a rope to the handle, drop the bucket over the side, then tie it off on a cleat. If properly managed, a single 4-gallon bucket will last about 8 hours. Keeping the chum block frozen until you actually put it in the water will help. 

After you’re done fishing, keep the lid with holes in it for use with your second bucket. If you have chum left over from the second bucket, reseal it using the original lid (the one without holes in it), and toss it back in the freezer when you get home.

Sometimes it doesn't take a lot of chum to get them going!

Doesn’t take a lot of chum sometimes! Photo courtesy Conway Bowman

Some chum slick tricks

If the drift is really slow, leave the chum bucket in the water, and use the boat’s engine to move SLOWLY in the direction of the drift (this is often called “power chumming”). You might need to power chum a quarter mile or so just to get things started. But watch your speed… if you go too fast, you’ll pull the handle off the bucket.

If no frozen chum is available, or you want to really spice up the slick, mash or grind fresh fish carcasses while on the water. You can sometimes get these from local fish markets. It’s a lot messier than frozen chum, but both Conway and Dave do it on a regular basis.

Both captains agree that tossing additional chunks of fish into the slick can be counter-productive when fly-fishing for sharks. If there is a steady stream of chunks in the slick, the sharks will often hang back behind the boat, well below the surface. They’ll stay there, eating the chunks, and never come within fly-casting range.

Maintaining order in your chum slick…

Interrupting the slick is a bad thing. Moving the boat with the bucket out of the water, or running out of chum are big mistakes. Having a boat run through your slick can also put you back at Square Zero.

Be sure you keep an eye on the slick, and fix any problems immediately. In today’s crowded waters, make sure your radio is on, so you can try to warn off boats crossing through your slick. 

Along similar lines, don’t disrupt other people’s slicks. If you’re in an area where other people are fishing for sharks, Capt. Trimble recommends trying to keep at least a couple of miles distance if you’re passing up-drift from a boat chumming for sharks.

A BIG mako comes to the bucket. Courtesy Randall Bryett

That’s one hungry fish! Photo courtesy Randall Bryett.

Waiting for the fish to appear

OK…your chum slick is going, and you’re waiting for the fish to show up. After the first ten minutes of staring out the back of the boat, you’ll be tempted to put on some tunes, kick back, and take a nap. Don’t do it! Keep an eye out for activity behind the boat.

While some sharks come into the slick fired up, and swim right to the boat, many others will be a bit skittish. They’ll remain deep, or outside of casting range. These fish can be teased within striking distance, but you have to know they’re back there in the first place!

So keep an eye out for signs of fish well back in the slick. It can be just the tip of a dorsal fin breaking the surface, a dark shape moving across the slick, birds hovering just above the surface waaay behind the boat, or a myriad of other signs.

Sometimes a school of mackerel or other baitfish will appear in the slick, feeding on bits of chum. If the mackerel suddenly disappear, there’s a strong possibility that a mako is nearby (the mackerel tend to ignore blue sharks).

How long should you drift before moving?

With a typical moderate wind (3-10 knots), Capt. Bowman recommends waiting at least 90 minutes before going to another spot. You need to give the slick time to disperse, and for any fish that finds the slick to follow it to your boat.

OK…you have a fish behind the boat, what’s next?

Teasing may be needed to get the fish excited enough to strike. Then you’ll need to make a good presentation, set the hook properly, and wrestle the fish to the boat. We’ll cover that in Part 3